Does the beleaguered actor deserve the outpouring of sympathy? Is Judge P D Kode's decision to hand down a sentence of six years of rigorous imprisonment too harsh? Is Union Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi right in saying that he feels that Dutt has 'suffered enough?' My answer to all three questions is the same: No!
A common joke doing the SMS rounds goes that Sanjay Dutt is a 'Munna' but is certainly not a 'Bhai.' A stranger reading this would be left with the impression that the actor is an innocent little lamb among the big bad wolves of the Hindi film industry. This is simply rubbish.
Sanjay Dutt was born in 1959. That means he was well into his thirty-fourth year when he was arrested in 1993. A man that hasn't gained a modicum of common sense by that age is certainly not a man that can be trusted with any kind of firearms, leave alone an AK-56.
Incidentally, for the benefit of all those arguing that Sanjay Dutt is being 'penalised' because of his celebrity status, I would like to point out that the actor has already got a huge break by being charged under the Arms Act rather than under TADA's draconian provisions. (Not that the Arms Act, in any case, permits a private citizen to own an assault rifle such as the AK-56!) That said, I think the judge was right in ruling that it would be unfair to describe the actor as a terrorist. But the whole episode throws light on the gray area between anti-terrorist legislation and the Arms Act that was designed for a more innocent age.
It also underlines the leisurely pace of justice in India. Sanjay Dutt was arrested in 1993. Why has it taken 14 years to pronounce sentence? Small wonder then that Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam confesses that the sentencing felt like freedom for him since he could finally lay down the burden of the case with a clear conscience.
Incidentally, did you hear anybody express any sympathy for Nikam, who has been receiving threats for the better part of the past decade? Or do Sanjay Dutt's supporters believe that 'mental torture' and 'stress' are conditions that afflict only their pal?
What, by the way, were the factors that 'stressed' Sanjay Dutt?
Literally millions of people are forced to deal with the consequences of a family member suffering from cancer or other life-threatening disease. That does not drive them to drink or drugs. Come to that, even Sanjay Dutt's sisters, both of whom are younger than him, responded with greater dignity and responsibility after their mother's death.
Even imprisonment does not seem to have shoved a modicum of common sense into Sanjay Dutt's skull. In November 2000 the police allegedly taped him talking to the notorious Chhota Shakeel. The release of those tapes' transcripts proved too much even for Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray (who had stood by him when his father's Congress colleagues were dropping out of sight in 1993).
This conversation reputedly came within days of Sanjay Dutt receiving exemption from appearing in the special court for two months; at such a time he had no business talking to any suspect acquaintance, even if the conversation were confined to inanities about the weather.
The actor was subsequently asked to confirm whether he had indeed spoken to Chhota Shakeel on the night of November 14, 2000 as the tapes indicated. Sanjay Dutt then told Judge A P Bhangale that he could not remember anything much from that evening because of all the liquor that he had consumed. Full points for honesty perhaps, but after all this it is utter nonsense to claim that this man is any kind of a role model for youth.
Finally, what does the media brouhaha say about us reporters? Did we really have to tell the world that Sanjay Dutt slept in his own clothes during his first night in jail, or that he had a banana and a cup of tea for breakfast the next morning? Did listeners really need to be told precisely which barrack of the Arthur Road jail had the honour of hosting the actor? And while television reporters were only too keen to shove a microphone under the nose of anyone from the film fraternity, did you see any channel interviewing anyone who had lost a friend or relative in the Bombay Serial Blasts?
Actors are fond of flaunting their credentials as social activists. Perhaps the greatest social service that Sanjay Dutt could perform in his troubled life would be in ramming home the twin messages that actions have consequences and that nobody is above the law.