Celebrity offenders and media attention
Salman Khan Road accident case
Bombay High Court finally granted bail to film star Salman Khan today ending days of media speculation when and which jail will the Bombay super star go to.
Two days back the Sessions court in Mumbai brought curtains down on a 13-year old road accident case in which five persons were run over by Salman’s SUV near his Bandra home outside a bakery. One of them died while four others were injured. The prosecution case was that Salman was driving the vehicle in a drunken state and thus ran over the hapless workers of the bakery sleeping outside the premises on the pavement.
The case pertains to a Bollywood celebrity and therefore naturally it evoked justified media curiosity. Former Mumbai Police Commissioner M N Singh is not an indulgent person. He is prone to labeling anyone a terrorist, even after the person has been acquitted. Yet he confessed that this was a simple road accident case. But because of overwhelming media pressure had to be converted into a case of culpable homicide. What’s the difference? The punishment for a road accident case is a maximum of six months imprisonment. For culpable homicide not amounting to murder, it could extend to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.
Already Sanjay Dutt is serving a long imprisonment for illegal possession of firearms. That’s it. That is the actual proven case against Sanjay Dutt as well. Yet we have TV programmes and media debates both in print and visual media on why Salman was not immediately arrested after the judicial pronouncement? Similar debate was held in the Sanjay Dutt case too asking whether Sanjay Dutt deserved special treatment just because he happened to be a star. Fine. It makes sense not to treat Bollywood stars as VIPs once they commit an offfence.
But then isn’t the system treating them a bit too harshly simply because they are well known figures? Last December Mukesh Ambani’s son Akash bashed his Ashton Martin into two cars, killing two persons. There were eye witnesses who told anyone ready to listen who was at the wheel. Junior Ambani was hurriedly whisked away in his bodyguards’ car and the next day a poor middle aged Reliance company driver Bansilal Joshi presented himself claiming he and not Akash was at the wheel . The Police did not even make bold to go and question Akash and Joshi too did not go to jail for a day. Compare this with Salman who was behind bars for over a month for a similar offence even though he presented himself before the Police the next morning. The media gave this high profile case the most cursory treatment and most editors were not willing to publish or put it out on their news channels till Joshi took the responsibility for the road rage. The owners of the two sedans which were damaged were immediately compensated with the Reliance group giving them new cars instead and the matter was quietly buried. No one heard Arnab Goswami scream and shout, “The Nation wants to Know.” The Aap ki Adalat star proprieter, Padma Bhushan Rajat Sharma never summoned either Mukesh bhai or his son to cross examine them on the whole episode. Eyewitnesses said two persons died but that bit too was blacked out because after all so late at night these were naturally some pavement dwellers who as Bollywood celebrity Abhijeet said “deserved to die for they had no business to sleep on the pavement.” But while media went to town over Abhijeet’s shocking statement, in defence of Salman, there were only cursory mentions in some news stories of two people dying with no details of the dead in Akash Ambani case.
While it was obvious that Akash Ambani too was badly drunk past midnight to get a good grip of his car, no policeman even slapped Section 304A (rash and negligent driving) on Akash Ambani.
In 2006 the Vice president of multinational bank Standard Chartered in Mumbai Niel Chatterjee ploughed his Mercedes car through the crowded Dadar area on Cadell Road one night, knocked dead Ramakant Dhuri, a watchman in a nearby housing society complex. He did not stop even when policemen tried to stop him. They gave him a chase and caught up with him near Mahim. He was in the police lock up that night but bailed out next day and thereafter no one heard of the case. No Section 304 A (II) culpable homicide here either. No media outrage. Even though the Standard Chartered Bank sacked him for his misconduct, the media pretended as if nothing happened. No Police, no media trial, no judiciary. The man though no more an employee of Standard Chartered Bank, walked free thereafter. All, because of right connections here in Delhi.
And in January, 1999 Sanjeev Nanda, the son of one of India’s well known arms dealer Suresh Nanda and the grandson of former Naval chief turned arms agent Admiral S M Nanda mowed down six policemen manning the security barrier on Lodhi Road, while driving in a highly inebriated state. According to eye witnesses Sanjeev coming at great speed in his new BMW hit the barrier and the policemen manning the barrier got hit in the process and fell on the ground badly injured and writhing in pain. Sanjeev Nanda accompanied by his friend Gupta stopped a short distance ahead saw them writhing in pain, lying on the road. In a criminal attempt to leave no trace of evidence, he reversed his car ran over them ensuring their death and then fled the spot. Took the car a little distance away to his friend’s villa in nearby Golf Links and there was getting the car cleaned up when a Police Inspector traced the car to the Golf Links House. In effect Nanda was caught destroying evidence after wilfully committing murder. This was a simple case of premeditated murder inviting Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). But there was bias in his favour from the beginning with the Delhi Police booking him only under culpable homicide not amounting to murder. And we say law is equal to all and Salman Khan or Sanjay Dutt should not be given any special treatment.
These two naïve film actors who faced tremendous adverse media attention initially from the Sanghi variety (Remember how the Shiv Sena led a campaign against Sanjay Dutt film Khalnayak), though later when Sunil Dutt went and pleaded with Bal Thackeray he relented and even gave some protection to the Dutt family.
Lately Salman Khan too tried the same trick and gave Narendra Modi, reeling under the charge of anti-Muslim bias the much needed morale booster just a few months before the general elections by participating in Modi’s kite flying festival in January, 2014. Perhaps this was Modi’s way of returning the favour that noted lawyer Harish Salve was available at hand to secure bail for Salman from the Bombay High Court within hours of the sessions court verdict.