Sanjay Dutt and Bombay blasts: A lateral view

The Supreme Court has given Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, popular for his role as a Gandhi-loving gangster in the ‘Munnabhai’ films, an extension of four more weeks before he surrenders and needs to return to jail to serve the rest of his prison term, in a case linked to the 1993 multiple blasts in Mumbai. There has been intense debate, and the social media is flooded with strong opinions on both sides of the divide, with fans of Dutt clamouring for pardon for him.

Moving beyond partisan debates, it’s time to take a close look at the issues involving Dutt’s case, and some disturbing facts about the business of justice for those responsible for the Bombay blasts and the carnage that ensued.
Charges filed against Dutt need to be re-examined from another angle. With due respect to hype created about Dutt having been sentenced to five-year jail term for illegal possession of weapons, only a part of news is being given importance. Dutt’s possession of weapons is linked with the 1993 Bombay blasts case, without paying adequate importance to whether this can be accepted as complete and factually accurate reason responsible for his crime. Did Dutt really acquire those weapons because of 1993 blasts or some other factors compelled him to do so? It may be recalled that the Bombay blasts were allegedly organised by Dawood Ibrahim, an international criminal, apparently as a reaction to demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The demolition was followed by widespread riots across the country, including Mumbai, than known as Bombay.
Dutt had confessed to having received arms from underground criminals, from which he retained the AK-56. He also claimed that he kept the weapon as his family was under threat following the Babri Masjid demolition. The point to be noted here in is that the actor feared about his family also being targeted following the nation-wide riots. Sadly, the credibility and legitimacy of his fear has not been given much importance. Even though this is backed by evidence about the entire country having been affected by riots following the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Equally relevant is the fact that Dutt played no role in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, which included a series of bomb explosions on March 12, 1993. They led to more than 250 fatalities and injured over 700 people. Also, there is no proof of Dutt ever having used the weapon, he had illegally acquired, causing destruction on that fatal day (March 12, 1993) or earlier.
True, in keeping with Indian law and order Dutt needs to serve sentence for illegal possession of weapons. At the same time, his stand on keeping them for his family’s security needs to be given more importance. If the Indian security forces and the police personnel could be depended upon for providing adequate security when the atmosphere was tense following demolition of Babri Masjid, the riots would not have occurred throughout the country. Nobody, whether a Muslim or Hindu, would have fallen victim to those riots. The Babri Masjid would not have been demolished. In this context, the timing of Dutt illegally acquiring the weapons cannot be ignored. He did not possess them before the mosque’s demolition. He did not possess them before the riots affected Bombay.
Besides, Dutt’s illegal possession of weapons can’t be linked with series of blasts of 1993 Bombay-blasts. He had acquired them two months before this fatal day, when the city he was residing in was reeling under the impact of riots. Yes, he is correctly accused of having acquired them illegally and that, too, from wrong sources. But then, at that time, he was probably more concerned about the security of his own family than other formalities.
Ironically, the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment regarding Dutt as a part of its decision on the Bombay serial blasts. The two main accused in this case, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are still absconding. They have not been yet tried and arrested. The court upheld death sentence of Yaqub Memon, brother of Tiger Memon. The death sentence of 10 others was commuted to life as, according to apex court, the convicts had been behind bars for 20 years and their economic condition was weak. The court pronounced its verdict on appeals and cross-appeals filed by and against 100 people, including Dutt, who were convicted by special TADA (Terrorists and Disruptive Activities-Prevention Act) in 2006. While delivering its verdict, the court also said that management and conspiracy of the 1993 blasts was done by Dawood Ibrahim and others in Pakistan. “The accused were trained in bomb making and to handle sophisticated weapons in Pakistan.” Considering that this charge does not apply to Dutt, it is surprising that verdict regarding accusation against him was not handled separately.
Given that Dutt can’t be charged for being a terrorist or having played any disturbing role in the 1993 Bombay blasts, his case needs to be viewed from a different angle. It needs to be linked with the riots having taken place, following the demolition of Babri Masjid. As mentioned earlier, Dutt acquired weapons as a means of self-defence and not for any offensive activity. The fact that he did not use the weapons in any disruptive or disturbing activity proves this further.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that several individuals have stepped forward seeking pardon for Dutt. Yet, it cannot be ignored that when pardon is being sought it is also equivalent to tacitly accepting Dutt’s involvement in Bombay 1993 blast cases. This perhaps adds credence to the stand taken by Dutt that he has not applied for pardon and is not going for it. He has also laid stress on his being a “law-abiding citizen,” who loves his country and its citizens.
Besides, let us also accept the fact that the Indian police system has on numerous occasions failed to provide adequate security to citizens of this country. The demolition of Babri Masjid and accompanying riots are just two major examples of this weakness. Equally tragic is the fact that seldom have rioters been instantly taken into custody. Till date, numerous individuals responsible for demolition and nation-wide riots have not been pronounced as guilty. Certainly, committing a series of murders is a more heinous crime than that of possession of weapons for protecting one’s own family. Against this backdrop, rather than secure pardon for Dutt, greater importance needs to be given to factors which compelled him to acquire illegal weapons. His case should not be linked with 1993 Bombay-blasts. It needs to be re-examined against the backdrop of Babri Masjid’s demolition and the accompanying nation-wide riots!
(Nilofar Suhrawardy is a freelance journalist. She is the author of Ayodhya Without The Communal Stamp, In the name of Indian Secularism.)