A few hours after walking to freedom from Pune’s Yerwada jail , actor Sanjay Dutt suggested his celebrity status had worked against him. Quite to the contrary, the bare facts of the case show the Bollywood star is actually lucky to have escaped the stigma of being convicted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, a stringent terror law.
Indeed, all of the people who were convicted of transporting or storing the weapons that Dutt was convicted of possessing remain in jail, serving much lengthier sentences under TADA.
The facts speak for themselves. Dutt was in close contact with Anees Ibrahim, brother of Dawood Ibrahim, both of who are the main conspirators behind the 1993 Mumbai blasts. The fact also is that despite possessing three licensed weapons, Dutt felt the need to procure AK 56 rifles for ‘self protection’.
The court accepted Dutt’s self protection argument but never asked how this logic can possibly apply to hand grenades which too the star procured and kept at his home in Mumbai’s Pali Hill.
Let’s take other facts and these are all culled from court records and testimonies on oath: Dutt was waiting at his residence for the consignment of arms to arrive. It came hidden in the frame of a car. Dutt provided the tools to prise out the hidden weapons and told his guard to stand at a different location from where the car was not visible.
Then, of course, there were phone records to prove he had indeed been in conversation with Anees Ibrahim and importantly, the disclosure came from Dutt himself.
So, there were a few people including Baba Mussa Chauhan and Magnum video owner Samir Hingora who went to Dutt’s house to deliver the consignment of arms. Similarly, there were others like Manzoor Ahmed whose car was used to bring back the weapons from Dutt’s residence. Also, there was an old woman by the name of Zaibunissa Kazi who kept the consignment in a bag in her house for a few days.
Each of them - Chauhan, Hingora, Ahmed and Kazi - were convicted under TADA. Ironically, Sanjay Dutt, the man at the centre, who received the consignment and then kept an AK and then admittedly destroyed it, was sentenced under the Arms Act.
Zaibunissa, at best a storer of weapons unlike Dutt, an active seeker of prohibitive assault rifles, is still rotting in an unknown cell in an unknown prison. Dutt, however, is back, as Munna Bhai.