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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

A tale of two arrests

As sorry as we are for Sanjay Dutt, the public response to his sentence is quite different from the outrage that accompanied his last spell in prison, writes Seema Goswami.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2007 01:36 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami

Here’s a mystery for our times. Why is it that when everybody we know was so surprised by the quantum of the sentence that Sanjay Dutt got, there was so little outrage or public sympathy for the star? The most I heard people say was “poor chap”. Hardly did I hear anyone exclaim “what a miscarriage of justice” or “this is so unfair”.

And certainly, there were many reasons for expecting — as Sanjay’s family clearly did — that there would be a public outcry; that Sanjay would be regarded as a martyr or that the public at large would complain about the unfairness of a judicial process that sent a popular actor to jail for so many years.

Apart from the strength of Sanjay’s own hardcore fan following which has stuck by him through drug addiction and terrorism charges, there were several other reasons for expecting the public at large to react differently.

For a start, there was the matter of precedent. The last time Sanjay spent 16 months in jail, there was a widespread belief that he had been treated unfairly and that nobody should be locked up for so long without trial. And during the decade and the half that the Bombay blasts case took to come to judgment, there was public annoyance with a judicial system that took so long to deliver a verdict and there was irritation each time the supremely smug public prosecutor Ujwal Nikam appeared on television. Not only did he convey the self-important air of a minor bureaucrat, he also seemed incapable of saying Sanjay's name without referring to him as “cine actor Sanjay Dutt”.

So, why is there so little outrage now? Why do so few people regard the judgment as being obviously unfair and unjust?

I suspect we will still be debating the Indian public’s mood for years to come but here are some suggestions.

Much of the sympathy for Sanjay was actually sympathy for Sunil Dutt. None of us doubted the father’s patriotism or integrity and we all recognised how much he had done in pursuit of his faith in a secular India: from working for riot victims to entertaining our jawans on the frontier. With Sunil Dutt gone, there is no visible symbol of the family’s pain. We no longer have before us a decent man whose lifetime of service has been called into question.
As much as we like Sanjay as an actor and believe in his essential decency, we also accept that there are many worrying aspects to the case.

First of all, if he needed a gun to protect his family, then why didn’t he use one of the three licensed weapons he already possessed?

Why did he need an assault rifle, a weapon that can kill 30 people each time you pull the trigger?

Secondly, there’s the issue of where he got the gun from. It is now clear that he was given his rifle by Hanif and Samir, two Dawood Ibrahim henchmen who played a key role in organising the blasts. It is as clear that Abu Salem was with Hanif and Samir when the weapon was delivered. So, he wasn’t just looking for a defensive weapon, he was actually consorting with the gangsters who bombed Bombay.

Thirdly, as tape recordings of phone conversations demonstrate, Sanjay was thick with the underworld, happy to chat with Abu Salem and Chhota Shakeel. You could argue, as many have, that he was an idiot, foolishly attracted to the glamour of the underworld. But he was certainly no law-abiding babe in the woods, accidentally caught up in a criminal matter.

Nor has there been anything in Sanjay’s behaviour over the last five years to engender public sympathy. Television pictures of his release from jail after his Tada arrest show a thin, sad-eyed, pathetic, long-haired boy. But the Sanjay Dutt of today is a well-fed, over-muscled, successful actor who has made his name playing romanticised versions of the gangsters he consorted with in real life.

His behaviour off-screen, with his record of womanising and excessive drinking, does not suggest a pathetic figure. Rather he has been content to remain a spoilt, rich Bollywood star.

There may have been more public sympathy for the view that Sanjay had been unfairly treated if the sentences handed out by Judge Kode to the other accused in the bomb blast case had been lenient. But, in fact, the judge has been equally harsh with everyone, sentencing more people to death than have ever been handed capital punishment in a single case in the history of India.

Why should rich, famous Sanjay Dutt deserve more lenient treatment than poor ordinary people, many of whom have spent the last 14 years in jail while Sanjay has been living the Bollywood lifestyle?

And finally, there’s Sanjay’s own arrogance. At the start of the case, he lied. He denied he ever possessed a gun and asked his friends to destroy the weapon. When he flew back from Mauritius to face the cops, he expected a hero’s welcome. It was only when the Bombay Police slapped him around and confronted him with the men who had destroyed the weapon on his behalf that he burst into tears and confessed. Later he disowned the confession and lied to the court claiming that he had never possessed a weapon even as his PR people fed the press a completely different story: that he had acquired the gun to protect his family.

Dutt was so arrogant that he saw no contradiction between telling the court that he had never owned a gun while trying to win our sympathy by explaining why he needed the gun.

None of this is to second-guess the judgment or to pre-judge his appeal. But if Sanjay Dutt sits in Arthur Road jail and wonders why even those of us who feel bad for him do not believe that his sentence represents a miscarriage of justice, then these are some facts he can chew over.

First Published: Aug 02, 2007 01:30 IST