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Sunday, March 24, 2013


By Swapan Dasgupta

The British Empire, it has been suggested by at least one historian, was built on the principle of “Ornamentalism”—an innovative euphemism for pomp, splendour and pageantry. When it came to rewarding the distinguished men (women rarely featured) who served the Empire, the authorities were more than mindful that India is extremely status-conscious. One of the perquisites of loyalty, apart from Knighthoods and Rai Bahadur/ Khan Bahadur titles, was the privilege of being exempted from personal appearance in the civil courts.

Independent India has often made a fetish of repudiating the legacy of Empire. There is a sneer that invariably accompanies the invocation of the ‘colonial legacy’, despite the endurance of Lord Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code. In practice, however, our present-day rulers appear unwilling to dispense with the more iniquitous facets of Empire, particularly when it comes to privileges for the well-connected and the loyal.

Nothing highlights this more than the contrived outrage in rarefied circles of Delhi and Mumbai over the conviction of actor Sanjay Dutt under the Arms Act by the Supreme Court and his consequent five-year jail sentence (of which he has to serve some 42 months).

That many Bollywood producers whose films starring Sanjay are at a midway stage will be deeply upset by the apex court judgment is understandable. There is also likely to be considerable sympathy for his family and the deep embarrassment to his sister who represents a Mumbai constituency for the ruling Congress Party in the Lok Sabha. In addition, there are those who lament the misfortune that has hit the son of Sunil Dutt and Nargis, both highly regarded public figures. The case of Sanjay Dutt is indeed tragic.

Appreciating and sympathising with a personal tragedy is one thing but extending it to the realms of public policy is altogether different. This crucial distinction, plus the principle of ‘equality before law’ appears to have escaped the understanding of stalwarts such as Press Council chairman Justice Markandeya Katju and some other political and personal friends of Sanjay. With his penchant from going from the sublime, Katju has even suggested that Sanjay’s stellar role in popularising Gandhi-giri through a popular Bollywood film should be taken into consideration in judging the quantum of punishment. Sections of the political class have cited Katju’s pseudo-judicial opinion to argue for a pardon.

And the Law Minister Ashwini Kumar who, strictly speaking should not be commenting on individual cases, has let it be known that the Governor of Maharashtra K. Sankaranarayan “will use his discretionary power when there will be an appeal to him. He has the power to pardon”. Since the Governor is a political appointee who has served the Congress Party well in the past, the Law Minister’s use of the term “will” (as reported in Indian Express of March 23) assumes enormous significance. There is an inescapable suggestion that a pardon for Sanjay Dutt is pre-determined.

The law, as Mr Bumble famously said, “is an ass”. It may also be unmindful of the “quality of mercy”; but the scales of justice are held blindfolded. There can’t be one standard for Sanjay Dutt and another for the others convicted in the same case. If Sanjay is to be spared the ordeal of serving time in jail, a corresponding degree of generosity must be the norm for the others, including the 10 who have been awarded life imprisonment and Yakub Memon who is to hang.  

It is important to recall the magnitude of Sanjay’s offence. He is not being punished because he happens to be a star and the son of famous parents. His offence is grave because he used his privileged position to arrange a safe venue for a cache of arms and explosives that had been received from Pakistan by the underworld to organise the serial blasts in March 1993 that killed 257 innocent people and seriously injured another 713. What Sanjay did was not merely brandish an AK-56 assault rifle and a 9mm revolver before a mirror and pretend he was Rambo. He directly facilitated a massacre of monumental proportions, an offence that was no less serious than the massacre by Pakistan-trained terrorists on November 26, 2008.

In fairness, as the Public Prosecutor has pointed out, Sanjay should have been prosecuted under the stringent TADA. Instead, the CBI, for reasons that don’t need too much probing, dropped the charges under TADA and prosecuted him under the Arms Act where conviction involves a lesser quantum of punishment. Now that the punishment has been sanctioned by the highest court, there is a clamour to spare him all further punishment.

In 1994, shortly after Sunjay had first been arrested for his role as a facilitator in the Dawood-organised act of terrorism, I met Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who told me ominously of an impending “civil war” in India. Having heard him out, I gently asked him why, in that case, was he pleading for leniency for Sanjay. In his inimitable style, Thackeray retorted: “What that boy needs is three tight slaps.”

In a normal case of truancy, three tight slaps delivered by the Tiger himself may have done the trick. But Sanjay wasn’t guilty of bunking school or whistling at a passing girl. He knowingly participated in the logistics of mass murder. The Establishment may see this as akin to rash driving, but are we obliged to forget? 

Sunday Pioneer, March 24, 2013


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written Sir. In total agreement with you. No single individual is bigger than the law of the land.

Anonymous said...

Swapan is a brilliant combination of great knowledge, incisive understanding and indomitable courage. We need more guys like him.

I like Sanjay a lot but that doe not mean anything when it comes to justice. We all are equal in the eyes of law.

Anonymous said...

This trait is very peculiar to India & Indians alone. Not only do elevate the film actors to superior status worshipping them but the actors also take themselves seriously & throw their weight around.

This applies not just to filmstars but also to Indian political class & their children & great great grandchildren.

When Salman Khan spent a few months in jail the people started praying for him. He announced very grandly about "donating" some amount of money towards giving a facelift to the prison which made all praise him even more.

Indian film fraternity thinks they are not citizens of India but some big contributor financially without whose films India itself would collapse. Recall how SM Krishna defends brattish Shah Rukh Khan.

Whereas America is totally different.When young Lindsay Lohan had to spend some time in a rehabilitation center rest of the fraternity including Matt Damon pointed out the necessity of disciplining her.

Whereas Sanjay Dutt right from his early years was a drug addict. It was the sheer clout of Sanjay Dutt that tried to prop him up. He was sent abroad to learn everything from tap dancing blah blah as they imagined he would conquer Bollywood after his extended stay abroad. Was launched in a forgettable film with Shakthi Kapoor who was a nobody then.

R.D.Burman's music to main hero's role proved ineffective as it was Shakthi Kapoor who caught discerning audience's attention with his NATURAL INHERENT flair for dancing.

The same way Vinod Khanna typecast as villain outdistanced Amitabh Bachhan when paired together.

Sanjay Dutt could never get over his drug addiction. Despite Subash Ghais , catchy dialogues etc he comes across as one USELESS actor.

In Bollywood it is only Zeenat Aman who has always been disarmingly HONEST.

Anonymous said...


It was the sheer clout of Sunil Dutt that tried to prop him up.

Rita Narayanan said...

your comment about the three tight slaps says it in Mumbai competition over Pak cricketers/film stars stirs a huge ruckus, would be nice if the boat remained even in the water.

Srinivasan Jain's doc was so indicative that the elite in India cut across party lines when their interests are concerned.

It is all very sick indeed. God save this country!

Dr.Jigar Chandarana said...

U r echoing the voices of mass Indians
Good going.

Anonymous said...

Dear Swapanda,

Your having a go at the establishment is understandable citing from British times. But what must be borne in mind is the law is not only enacted to serve as a deterrent but to serve it together for its penitentiary value. This is where the judgement lies today to decide whether this individual is capable of not only abetting a crime but even posing a remote risk of abetting the crime. Prison is also a correctional facility but that's the reason why we use the services of the judge to pronounce a judgement else we could use decision support application software to hand out sentences. Calling for a prison term without examining the facts and future risk surrounding the case is like getting bullied out of our common sense by the knowledge of the law. But an understanding of the law or the lofty term 'jurisprudence' might help us not being such a pedant.

To buttress the argument of upholding the law at all times, one must also consider justice delayed is justice denied. The judgement comes after a gap of 20 years where the accused has served a partial sentence and suffered the ignominy for the remaining time until the judgement was pronounced. To my mind, that is also an argument for a low dosage of "time served" which seems to escape from our judgement process. However, ironically his being a celebrity is shored up to uphold the constitution's equality before the law but strange enough, most of us don't realise they are turning a a blind eye and stone deaf ear to the damage to his celebrity status which is proving to be his downfall. Well, sure there is a price to pay for your popularity. He paid it amply together by serving a partial prison sentence which is good enough to dent anyone's standing in any industry. However, since he wasn't excommunicated by his industry or society at large, it didn't really bring a lot of joy to the people around who are now gunning for him in the name of equality before law. It's fact and that too an undeniable fact that there is a human proclivity to derive great joy in seeing someone fall from a rise.

Also, the statement that the rich and the connected can get away with anything is a farce. We all know, people's lives have been destroyed by mere accusations and allegation.Monica Bedi, the starlet is one such fat example who faded into oblivion. However this man have come out tops not because of this connections but his connections with masses, that is hard enough for most of us to digest.


Anonymous said...


The frequently chanted "Justice delayed is Justice denied" applies to lots & lots of people in Indian prisons.

Why this selective bleeding heart for Sanjay Dutt ??

The other cliche that people derive joy from seeing someone fall from a rise is NOT true. Hitherto disproportionately & unfairly apotheosized on facing retribution elicit gratification from the masses.

In India the rich & connected do indeed get away remaining unpunished. Often in various colleges it is only the well connected brats that take to ragging & invariably go scot free.

Whatever @Sajan has written reads like Mahesh Bhatt & Subash Ghai's corny dialogues.

Surprisingly when Monica Bedi was handed out harsh sentence it was Abu Salem ( not sure about the name) the co accused who was deported from Portugal to face punishment who candidly expressed his shock telling she was not a CRIMINAL in the sense that he was to merit such a harsh punishment.

pr0xy79 said...

would it be wrong to say that both Afzal Guru & Sanjay Dutt played the same logistical support roles during respective terror attacks but met with very different judicial verdicts?

Rajesh P said...

This article by Swapan moved me to start the following petition. Please support it:

Anonymous said...

Forget the clamour for pardon, what boggles the mind is that all this while he has been tried only under the Arms act while the rest of the convicts were all tried under TADA.

uff.......courts are asses too

Kirit Joshi said...

It is a time to rewrite judical process. It was said, "Law is blind". New definition is, "Law sees it black and white.".

Shikari said...

What really surprises me is the flimsy ground on which the people supporting Dutt are seeking pardon. Just to sample the arguments are

1. It was a mistake of youth
2. His father was a great patriot
3. He has brought Gandhi back to screen
4. He has suffered enough and is repenting his actions

To sum up in one word BULLSHIT

This is the same guy who years after coming out from the jail, was caught on jail speaking to the very same gangsters who are known to be the perpetrators of this very same crime. When a Yasin Malik is seen with Hafiz Sayeed, people go hyper and ask for his arrest. How is this any different if not worse since we can clearly see that he has not yet even broken his ties with the criminals who participated in the act with him?
We are willing to ask for a juvenile to be hanged for a crime committed by him. But if a 33 year old grown man commits a crime, it is a mistake of youth. Seriously?

That his father was a great man is accepted. But he was also his father and he did what was his responsibility for his family. We on the other hand owe a higher responsibility to the nation, and by letting a criminal go unpunished are we fulfilling it

PS: those idiots saying that he should be pardoned because he played Gandhi, what’s next, lets drop the rash driving case against Salman as well, after all he has been such a good man in so many of his movies.... not to forget he served the nation as the greatest spy India never had

Shikari said...

typo... i meant he was caught on tape... and quite vivid discussions of exchanging gifts etc... these tapes are from the time when he was making Kaante