Key Bollywood personalities and Press Council chief Markandey Katju have sought pardon for actor Sanjay Dutt, handed a five-year prison term by the Supreme Court for acquiring guns illegally.
The BJP, however, asked the sentence to be implemented. Dutt, who stole hearts with his popular Munnabhai series as an ungainly ruffian-turned-Gandhian pacifist, was first arrested in 1993 and has spent 18 months in jail.
The actor, who has four weeks to turn himself in to jail authorities, was found with weapons given by the gangsters who carried out the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai.
In a letter to Maharashtra governor K Sankarnarayanan, former SC judge Katju urged clemency. Under article 161 of the Constitution, the governor has powers to waive prison sentences. Dutt's wife Manyata is also said to be contemplating a meeting with Katju.
Katju pleaded that the events took place 20 years ago and the actor had "suffered a lot". Also, Dutt has not been held to be a terrorist and had no hand in the bomb blasts, Katju argued.
"No doubt Sanjay Dutt committed an offence by having a prohibited weapon without licence, but in my opinion there are extenuating circumstances," Katju stated.
A Raj Bhavan official, however, said: "We are yet to get any communication from any person, so there is no question of reacting to what is appearing in the media." Sources in the Raj Bhavan added it would not be easy for the government to grant a pardon to Dutt.
Former Bombay high court judge justice Suresh Hosbet explained that the Governor alone couldn't act on the application for pardon since he will have to consult a council of ministers before deciding on the issue.
The state government, on its part, was cautious in reacting to the issue. Home minister RR Patil said he had not received any requests for pardon. In Delhi, Union law minister Ashwani Kumar said he would not comment, although he added the governor would decide on the appeal, using his discretionary powers.
"There is rule of law in the country. It is equal for everyone - be it a common man or an influential person," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
Kamala Malkani, a survivor of the 1993 blasts who lives in Worli said: "Being a celebrity shouldn't give him the perks to place an appeal against the SC decision. If this is the case, people will commit crimes without fearing of any kind of punishment."
Meanwhile, many parliamentarians extended support to Dutt. While actor-turned-Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan said she would appeal to the Maharashtra Governor to pardon Dutt, tourism Minister K Chiranjeevi said: "Supreme Court has given a final verdict.
You have to respect it, but at the same time being a friend of Sanjay Dutt, I will definitely see that he should get the mercy of the Governor and other people."