Munnabhai is one of the most adored actors of Bollywood. The son of Sunil Dutt and Nargis is also known for some of his mistakes and follies. Be it his reported tryst with drugs or his life changing adventure with weapons.
Just days ago, the Supreme Court of India, sentenced him to prison for 5 years thus confirming his crime of illegally possessing the AK-56 assault rifle. In the same judgment, the Court upheld the death sentence to one of the Bombay blasts mastermind (or we may call it Mumbai blasts to satisfy the proud Marathis) giving a sense of closure to the victims.
The court's judgment came two decades after the blasts ripped India's financial capital and claimed over 200 innocent lives. Yet the Court's delayed but welcome pronouncement has been discussed in the main stream media only for its impact on one man, Sanjay Dutt, our Munnabhai.
There is an outpouring of support for the veteran film star, with the news media choosing to present only his side of the story. His emotional statements about being a good human being, a lover of the country and his suffering over last two decades is being played out in a manner that virtually shows the judiciary like an insensitive monster. Fellow actors, politicians and former judges too seem to reflect upon the Court's judgment as a grave assault on the fine man called Sanjay Dutt.
What is happening on the 24X7 TV screens is however a far cry from the complete truth.
I do not doubt one bit that Mr Dutt is a brilliant actor and perhaps a fine human being. Even I would have been happier had the courts found him not guilty. I suspect even the judges who delivered the judgment would love to see Mr Dutt as a free man but they had a duty to perform and could not let boisterous and ill-couth TV anchors interpret the law.
The Courts don't work to please me or the personal preferences of even the judges. They have a larger purpose to defend. Fortunately, they are also deaf to the ill-informed cacophony on India's well marketed News Channels.
The discourse in the News Channels wants us all to believe that Mr Dutt did not in fact possess dangerous weapons illegally? They wish to sideline the simple fact that it is a crime to possess an AK 56 from an underworld don and that there is a law that defines the punishment for it.
It will indeed be dangerous if laws are interpreted by courts taking into account the perceived humane-ness of the culprit in their general life demeanour. The goodness in any domain does not give a license to violate the law of the land.
There may be hundreds of persons in jail today, rightly so, for similar or even less heinous crime. Have be bothered to look into their pedigree and their humane-ness before sentencing them? No. A crime does not become any less if the person committing it happens to have a million followers shedding tears or is known for a million good things. If court judgments infer guilt based on the popular perception of the guilty then anyone can claim immunity from punishment for misdeeds.
I heard one film personality on a news Channel yesterday saying that Mr Dutt's should not have been given such a punishment as he is not a terrorist and that the court too had not declared him as one. Very true indeed. The gentleman did not realize that had Mr Dutt been found to be a terrorist he would have got a much harsher punishment and not what he got. The court sentenced him for the misdeed he did and not for more or for less. Another film industry friend of Mr Dutt's friend seemed to indicate as if securing an AK56 from an underworld don is just like stealing a candy from a friend and Mr Dutt was punished too harshly for that. It is amazing to see how their proximity to Mr Dutt and their knowledge about his everyday fine demeanour seem to have blinded them to the act Mr Dutt indulged in. Being a Bollywood star doesn't entitle a man to possess dangerous weapons without the threat of possible punishment on getting caught.
I am relieved that the courts rejected the marketed perception and upheld the rule of law. A democracy doesn't give the News Channels a right to air only the sentimental and sensational viewpoints but indeed to also present the bare truth. The facts are much simpler than the histrionics on the TV channels. Mr Dutt has been found guilty for a crime he did.
On a personal note though, I am an admirer of Mr Dutt's acting and hold his family in high regard. Yet, I can't see why that should be the basis for judging all his acts in life. I too wish the court had found him worthy of lesser punishment but it didn't and that for me is the end of the story. I am least competent to be a super judge discussing the merits of the case. Let each institution do its own job. It is time that the TRP crazy news channels learn something from the courts and do their job impartially rather than act as the pseudo conscience keepers of the society.
At the same time, if Mr Dutt is granted pardon by the Governor, I shall be a happy man. Again, he should be pardoned if the Governor finds it a fit case for his mercy. The pardon would not make the court judgment wrong- as I fear many high headed journalists will conclude. It will only be an outcome of the considered view of the Government in this specific case and shall be an outcome of a legally exercised authority. Again, the institutions have to do their job.
While the fear of the holy News Channels and erudite Editors likely description of the pardon as “Government’s favour to the rich and famous”, should not work against Mr Dutt, the Governor’s rejection of the mercy plea too, should be seen as an outcome of a due process of law. Let anyone's stardom or the lack of it become an irrelevant factor in matters of law.