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And if he wasn’t well-connected?

columns Updated: Nov 15, 2009 01:45 IST
Vir Sanghvi

Don’t India’s politicians get it? The significance of the Jessica Lall case goes much beyond the fact that a young girl was murdered and that her killer was finally convicted.

The true significance of the case is that it symbolises the growing divide between the educated middle class and India’s bloated, corrupt political class.

Try looking at it from that perspective and you understand immediately why the case still has the power to anger, infuriate and move all educated Indians in a way that few other issues can.

A no-good son of a politician walks into a bar carrying a gun. The girl behind the counter is educated, well brought up, models and anchors TV shows for a living. She is bartending for a lark and so refuses to treat the politician’s son with the deference he is accustomed to. Angered by the girl’s ‘insolence’, the boy pulls out his gun and shoots her dead.

From that point on, the political class closes ranks. Favours are called in, phone calls are made, and instructions are issued. The police contaminate the crime scene and damage the evidence. The forensics guys are nobbled. Bullets are switched and lies are told. When the case comes to court, the boy is acquitted.

The acquittal angers the middle class. One of their own has been killed in full public view. They are not going to tolerate this injustice. To the astonishment of the political class, they retaliate using the tools of the new information age: TV debates, SMS campaigns, internet petitions.

The politicians think that they can withstand the storm. They get one of their own to defend the boy in the appeal and outlandish theories are floated in court. But nothing works. The public outrage is too strong. The murderer is sentenced to life imprisonment.

Given that the system is so obviously tilted in favour of the political class, the case represents a rare victory for the educated middle class. For once, justice has been done. A politician has failed to keep his worthless son out of prison. A decent girl’s pointless death has finally been avenged.

My guess is that even now, after the saga has entered modern Indian folklore, our politicians still don’t understand why we regard the case as a watershed in the battle between ordinary, educated Indians and the venal politicians who manipulate the system.

How else do you explain the Delhi government’s behaviour over Manu Sharma’s parole? By any standards, what the Congress regime in Delhi has allowed is an utter and complete scandal. What’s worse is that shameful lies are now being told to cover up for the government’s venality.

The conventions governing parole say that if a convict has to attend some significant event (his daughter’s wedding, his mother’s funeral, etc.) then he must make an application asking for time off. An investigation must be conducted into the reasons offered and only if it is found that these reasons are legitimate can the convict be allowed out of jail for a brief period.

Contrary to what the Delhi government is now suggesting, parole is rarely granted. In Tihar jail, for example, less than 10 per cent of parole requests have been granted over the last year. And the vast majority is still pending, awaiting investigation.

In the case of Manu Sharma, parole was granted for a reason that is already so unusual as to raise eyebrows — Manu wanted to check how his business was doing. Two other reasons were tagged on. His grandmother had just died and his mother was unwell.

The Delhi Police, which was asked to investigate the reasons, reported entirely accurately that a) Manu’s business was doing okay, b) his grandmother had died a few months ago so the rites were over and c) that his mother was fine.

Ignoring these recommendations, the Delhi government went ahead and granted Manu his parole for a full month. It says now, by way of justification, that it relied on the Chandigarh Police, who reported that there was no threat to law and order in Chandigarh if Manu came there. The investigation of its own police force was disregarded.

It gets worse. Not only did Manu get a month of parole on these bogus grounds but the Delhi government then granted him yet another month of parole even though by now it was staggeringly obvious that all of the made-up reasons for requesting parole were humbug: Manu’s poor sick mother was actually addressing press conferences and not lying in some hospital bed.

And how did Manu regard his good fortune? Why, he did exactly the sort of thing that got him into trouble in the first place. He went to a bar in Delhi late one night and got into a brawl. When the police were called, he fled.

How insensitive do India’s politicians have to be to not realise the message such behaviour sends out to educated Indians? What we are being told, in effect, is this: you may have got your guilty verdict, but how does it matter? Our boy will be sprung from jail whenever we like. He will still go to clubs and bars. And he will still get into brawls. So there! You can stuff your SMS campaigns, internet petitions and TV debates. We are politicians. We look after our own.

Can it be a coincidence that even after the case hit the headlines, Opposition parties offered only a tepid response? There were no calls for the chief minister to resign. No demands for fresh elections. No jail bharo campaigns, etc.

When it comes to its children, the political class is united. It’s them first. And it is the rest of us afterwards.

But I don’t think that any of us will let it be. We recognise what the politicians are up to. They think that if they hold firm, the issue will die down and all of us will find other things to worry about. After all, they managed to get Manu out of jail without anyone noticing. If the murderous idiot had not got involved in a bar brawl, we wouldn’t even have realised that far from suffering in jail, he was living it up at Delhi’s most exclusive clubs.

The politicians are wrong. This time — just like the last time — we are not going to forget. We want to see justice done. We want explanations. We want accountability. We want to see somebody punished.

Because ultimately, justice is more important than politics.