The Congress-led state government seems to be in a dilemma.
With several key personalities seeking pardon for actor Sanjay Dutt, handed a five-year term sentence by the Supreme Court for acquiring guns illegally, a section within the state Congress fears that the move could create anti-Congress sentiments and affect the party's performance in next year's elections.
Samajwadi Party leaders such as actor Jaya Bachchan are in favour of helping Dutt out, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Party are opposed to the idea.
Sources said senior Congress leaders in New Delhi were working out a solution on the grounds that the Shiv Sena and the BJP had supported Dutt in the past following his late father Sunil Dutt's appeal. This time around, the actor's sister MP Priya Dutt is lobbying hard with all-party members.
Party spokesperson and Union information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari sent out positive indications on Friday when he told media, in his individual capacity, that the government could consider pardoning Dutt.
Ally Nationalist Congress Party's senior leader DP Tripathi has also supported pardon for Dutt.
An MLA close to the actor told HT on Friday that besides filing a review petition in the Supreme Court, Dutt could also appeal to the governor. "The apex court and high court have endorsed that he is not a terrorist. He deserves pardon because he has served his jail term in a responsible manner and has not acted against the country at any point of time," he said, adding that Priya was expected to give a statement in a day or two.
Sources in the state government said chief minister Prithviraj Chavan would have to make a recommendation to the governor. Chavan, however, did not speak on the issue.
State Congress president Manikrao Thakre said the SC should take a decision compassionate ground in Dutt's review petition. "The state government and the governor can consider pardon only after the court procedure is over," he said.