This is the second and final part of the article. Mr. Bapu Satyanarayana takes us through four case studies. Though the four persons he refers to are indians / or of indian origin, the difference, as he points out, lies in the system. In the indian system, more often than not, hoi polloi are meted out a different treatment than creme de la creme. Compare this to his fourth case study where justice is not only swift, but the high contacts of the accused could not change the diktat of the court of law.
Salman Khan’s hit and run case
Salman Khan has acted in more than 150 films – many of them are block-busters. The film producers have exploited Salman’s macho personality to build a screen image of a man with a heart of gold which made his fans hero worship him. This explains why Salman suffused with his self importance was involved in a controversy. For the 49 year old actor called ‘Bhai’, nemesis caught up when the Additional Sessions Judge D. W. Deshpande sentenced him on May 6, 2015 to five-year rigorous imprisonment finding him guilty of culpable homicide on clinching evidence. All evidence showed that Salman was driving under the influence of alcohol on September 28, 2002 when he ran over people sleeping on the pavement and killed one Nurulla and injured four others. ‘Hero Bhai’ Salman vanished and was arrested only a day later. It also transpires that Salman did not have a driving licence. It was expected that Salman would be jailed but instead it was conviction at 2 pm and interim bail at 4 pm! Justice A. M. Thipsey says, “It is not a case where I should keep him in jail till his appeal is heard and decided… we can’t take pleasure in seeing that someone is inside…why his right should suffer when his appeal is admitted and kept pending”. Until the next hearing on July 15, he was on bail and even permitted to leave India. The Bollywood fraternity came in droves to support Salman Khan including the redoubtable Aamir Khan who also anchors the tele-serial Satyameva Jayate. The strangest of all arguments is that Salman Khan has donated Rs.49 crore as though it will compensate for any violation of law. In this sordid drama, the only silver lining is the 240-page verdict of the Additional Sessions Judge.
Sanjay Dutt Case
A popular Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, son of the illustrious couple Sunil Dutt and Nargis, was arrested under TADA and convicted in connection with the 1993 bomb blast case on the charge that he was in possession of a 9 mm pistol and an AK-56 assault rifle. During the trial it was established that he had connections with the underground don Dawood Ibrahim and that he tried to destroy the weapons. On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court convicted him to five years’ imprisonment. Like Salman Khan his film image through blockbuster films – Munna Bhai MBBS and the image of Gandhigiri in the film Lage Raho Munnabhai catapulted him to be the darling of his fans that he can do no wrong. He received sympathy from his film industry friends who believed that he was innocent. It was owing to the connections of his father, the late Sunil Dutt who belonged to the Congress Party and later of his sister, also an MP could have played a part in watering down the charges from TADA to conviction on the Arms Act. The General Secretary of Congress Digvijay Singh jumped to his support while Justice Katju advanced strange argument saying that Sanjay suffered for the past 20 years whereas he got married twice during this period. Sanjay Dutt being granted bail frequently for one reason or the other had become normal charade with the result he has been out of jail for 40% of the time. Since the film industry’s more than Rs.200 crore were riding on him the ostensible reason for giving bail was that it would help the larger purpose of employment in the film industry!
Jayalalitha’s Disproportionate Assets Case
The trial of Jayalalitha is a saga of 18 years delay, involving 7 judges, 130 adjournments. In the judgment pronounced on September 27, 2014 the special court convicted her and all accused to 4 year simple imprisonment in connection with disproportionate assets case amounting to Rs.66.68 crores. On hearing the verdict, Tamil Nadu literally exploded because she has enormous fan following. It is reported in the section of the press about 244 fans committing suicide! It was the first case of a Chief Minister, in office, having to step down. However, in May 2015 a single judge bench of the Karnataka High Court overturned the trial court verdict and acquitted all, and Jayalalitha has been sworn as the Chief Minister once again. According to the judge there was an arithmetical mistake and the actual amount was much lower and hence did not constitute disproportionate assets. However, after much vacillation the Karnataka government on June 5, 2015 issued a notification appointing Counsel B. V. Acharya as special counsel to appeal on behalf of the State government to argue the Special Leave Petition to be filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict acquittal.
Rajat Gupta’s case in the USA
Rajat Gupta, a high profile businessman of Indian origin, has made a name for himself in the USA, and is more famous for his charity work. He too has a huge fan of admirers. He is part of the charmed circle claiming intimacy with the likes of the former President of America, Bill Clinton, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a host of others. He was convicted on the charge of insider trading and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and had to pay a huge fine. Rajat Gupta’s lawyers have argued that he did not accrue ‘direct financial benefit’ (reminds us of our PM Manmohan Singh’s recent statement) from the insiders trading. This, however, did not weigh with the court in its verdict in permanently banning him from serving as an officer or director of a public company which the lawyers contend is a ‘heavy price’ that Rajat Gupta was ordered to pay. The apex court even denied Rajat Gupta’s appeal against the life ban. Bill Gates, Kofi Annan and several prominent businessmen and humanitarians asked the US Judge to show favours when it was known he would be sentenced. Kofi Annan in his letter said “I urge you to recognize Rajat Gupta for the good he has done in the world to give him the credit he deserves for helping others and to take into account his efforts to improve the lives of millions of people”. Rajat Gupta’s reputation for charity was so legendary that one of the members of the jury was moved to observe, “We wanted that the allegations weren’t true but at the end of the day the evidence was just overwhelming”. In the end, the law of the land triumphed and Rajat Gupta was sent to jail.
The three cases – Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Jayalalitha – which are only the tip of the iceberg, show how the Indian system works in favour of the high and mighty. It makes a mockery of the oft quoted statement that whosoever you may be, the law is above you. The tragic reality is that vast majority of the poor and the helpless languish in jail for decades for petty crimes. It is the running theme of our so called world’s largest democracy whereas in the USA, which we are fond of running down on many counts, have shamed us as far as upholding the law of the land is concerned. It has held a mirror to us showing the black face of hypocrisy by making an example of the legends like Rajat Gupta not being spared when they cross the Lakshman Rekha.
MR. H. R. BAPU SATYANARAYANA is a freelance writer based in Mysore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org