Sanjay Dutt’s maiden attempt to enter electoral politics has come to nought. The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the plea to stay his conviction in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case.
Dutt had been found guilty of illegal possession of weapons and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He has contested the verdict in the Supreme Court and is currently out on bail. Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act debars any person convicted for more than two years from contesting.
Dutt, who was named the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow, and had been conducting a high profile campaign, took the news stoically.
Speaking to newsmen at party general secretary Amar Singh’s residence in Lucknow, he said: “I will continue to work for Lucknow and the Samajwadi Party.”
Speculation swirled in Lucknow about Dutt’s likely replacement. Though initially Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan was a clear favourite, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav declared at a Gorakhpur rally that she was not a candidate. Other names being discussed were those of another ex film star MP Jayaprada, and Dutt’s wife, Manyata.
Asked if his wife Manyata would replace him as candidate, as has been suggested in some quarters, he said Yadav and Singh would decide. “We are holding discussions. I will abide by the party’s decision.”
In his petition before the Supreme Court, Dutt, citing his family background and the fact that he had been absolved of any involvement in the Mumbai blasts per se by the special Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court, pointed to the case of former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, presently MP from Amritsar. Sidhu, convicted for killing a person in a road rage case, had got the order stayed, enabling him to contest.
The three-judge bench headed by CJI K.G. Balakrishnan, which heard the case, however, maintained that its power to set aside the disqualification provision in the electoral law could be exercised only in very exceptional circumstances, and this was not one of them. “We do not think this is a fit case where conviction and sentence could be suspended,” the order said.
It noted that Sidhu’s case was different as he was a sitting MP when he was convicted, but that he voluntarily resigned his seat and sought re-election.
Opposition parties have welcomed the decision. “Had Dutt been allowed to contest, it would have set a bad precedent,” said senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon.