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Why Maharashtra governor is right in not pardoning Sanjay Dutt

Mercy brigade petitioning for the actor should remember this: he is actually a very lucky man. He has escaped the stigma of being punished under a terror law.

analysis Updated: Sep 24, 2015 19:01 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times
Sanjay Dutt,Sanjay Dutt mercy petition,1993 Mumbai blasts
Actor Sanjay Dutt with his wife Manyata as he leaves his residence to return to Yerwada Prison in January 2015.(Kunal Patil/ HT Photo)

Maharashtra Governor Vidyasagar Rao has done the right thing by rejecting former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju’s plea seeking pardon for well-known celebrity actor Sanjay Dutt.

Let’s start with a no-brainer: we have all enjoyed watching Sanjay Dutt on the big screen. As ‘Munna Bhai’, Dutt endeared himself to many, but after he was convicted and sentenced to jail for a five year term for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, did Justice Katju perhaps err in mixing up his screen persona with his precise role in procuring and storing arms that can be accessed only by terrorists organizations and the underworld?

Why did Katju and many others in Bollywood make a sudden clamour for mercy? According to the letter Katju wrote to the President where he pleaded for pardon, he said three things: that Dutt had already spent 18 months in jail, that he was now married with two small children and three that the actor had to struggle for several years after coming out of jail. Katju made the argument that the actor took five to six years to restore his damaged career, that producers shunned him because they weren’t sure when he might be sent back to prison.

Several of Dutt’s colleagues added to the list of reasons. Their logic was that Dutt had made a mistake, that after all he comes from a good family, that he suffered for the 20 years that the case was in court and that we should now let bygones be bygones because he only kept Chinese assault rifles for the protection of himself and his family.

But let’s look at the cold facts of the case minus the emotion and the money concerns that lace Bollywood’s defense of the star. The facts apparently played a role in the rejection by Governor who was rightly conscious of the fact that the star had been sentenced by the highest court of the land.

The fact is that Sanjay Dutt was in close contact with Anees Ibrahim, brother of Dawood Ibrahim, both of who are the main conspirators behind the Mumbai blasts that killed over 250 innocents, the maximum in any terror attack in India so far--more than in the 26/11 attacks.

The fact is that despite possessing three licensed weapons, Dutt felt the need to procure AK 56 rifles for ‘self protection’. Give this logic to MN Singh, the joint commissioner of police who investigated the blasts and he rightfully says, “The explanation doesn’t cut any ice. One doesn’t go running for help to gangsters for self-protection. There are government agencies to fall back on and in his case it was easy to get government help.” True, as the son of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, a Congress MP, Dutt could easily have turned to a government agency. The most troubling question of course is--why did Dutt keep hand grenades? The ‘self protection’ argument can hardly be stretched to the possession of hand grenades.

Let’s take other facts and these are all culled from court records and testimonies on oath: Sanjay Dutt was waiting at his Pali Hill residence in Mumbai 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 he also 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 that 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.

Has anyone asked who Zaibunissa’s parents are? Has anyone explained that she was at best a storer of weapons; that the weapons were not meant for her in the first place? Do we even realize that unlike her, where her house was used as a transit point, Dutt kept an AK 56 till well after the Mumbai blasts on March 12, 1993?

I remember meeting Sanjay Dutt’s lawyer in the year 2006, after he had only attracted punishment under the Arms Act and posing as Zaibunissa’s daughter, had asked him about the obvious disparities. The lawyer, a relieved man then, had not minced words and said, “If (TADA) was not applied to Sanjay Dutt, the people in the chain should not have been put under TADA. It’s the same chain.’’

I had argued the same case--on this platform--after Katju first asked for pardon, holding up Kazi as an example of someone who deserved equal if not more mercy. The retired justice had then argued that he would also seek pardon for her.

Sanjay Dutt is actually a very lucky man. He has escaped the stigma of being punished under a terror law and the TADA court judge even went to the extent of saying he was not a terrorist. The mercy brigade will do well to remember the facts of the case--their subject is not scarred for life.

Next year--and that’s only some months away--Dutt will walk free after completing his sentence and unlike Kazi, the actor will resume his life as a Bollywood celebrity.

First Published: Sep 24, 2015 17:44 IST