The collective conscience of the nation is in hospital, it would seem. Sanjay Dutt's innocence is being proclaimed by all and sundry even though he is guilty of possessing dangerous weapons. Now, the apex court has to decide: will it be the 'collective conscience' or hard facts?

Few people it would seem don’t have an opinion on Sanjay Dutt’s innocence. From Justice Katju to Digvijay Singh, everyone has joined the gang which is rooting for a pardon for the actor convicted of possessing arms in a notified area in the March 12, 1993 serial blasts case in what was called Bombay city then.

No less than Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had to intervene and make sure Dutt, arrested under the draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities(Prevention) act (TADA), would be shown some leniency which translated into him being released on bail to begin with.

I don’t want to argue on whether Dutt is innocent or not but the prosecution in the blasts trial, which went on for over a decade, produced a lot of evidence to show how Dutt could not have been innocent of knowing about the arms cache. Hand grenades, AK 56 rifles and pistols are not just toys for boys, they are weapons which mean business and the underworld gifted it to Dutt.

This was painfully brought out in the trial and that pistol cost nothing less than Rs 40,000, Ujjwal Nikam special public prosecutor for the trial pointed out in court. Why should a known underworld man, Abdul Qayyum, arrested much later, gift a pistol to Dutt was the question Nikam had asked then to designated TADA judge P.D. Kode.

I still remember an ageing Russi Mulla and the rather courteous and dignified Kersy Adjania coming to court everyday. They were the people who were asked to destroy the weapons by Dutt and for this they were convicted along with others. They were the arrows to use the Supreme Court's by now famous terms.

Would they on their own have volunteered to destroy these weapons, I wouldn’t know. When the final day for Dutt’s sentencing arrived, he was in the court, tense, and he cried pleading that he was the only support for his daughter. Many others had wept, too, including Zaibunissa Qazi who was accused and convicted of storing the cache of arms. She too had children and was worried about their future.

From the moment the trial began in Arthur Road jail, everyday there would be a massive crowd of supporters waiting for their beloved Sanju Baba. Baba would fondly wave as he made his way inside the fortified trial court.

On the day Judge Kode absolved him of the terror charge, there was much relief all round. Sanju Baba is not a terrorist, everyone sighed. But he was guilty of possessing those weapons and for this he had to be convicted.

When I spoke to Vinayak Devrukhkar on the day the Supreme Court had reduced Dutt’s jail term to five years, he was puzzled. Vinayak’s sister and brother had died in the serial blasts while waiting at the Century Bazar bus stop on March 12, 1993. He asked me, “Can you tell me why everyone is talking about Sanjay Dutt? I mean so many people killed and all that but TV is only talking of this man.” But TV was not the culprit it seems.

Even a person of Mr Katju’s eminence thought it fit to blog and demand that Dutt be pardoned. He had been absolved of the terror tag after all, right? If Dutt can be pardoned, so can a whole host of others whose lives were spent rushing to the trial court everyday and finding themselves in prison with no one to plead for their mercy.

Television and print too was breathless about Dutt’s fate: will he go to jail, what can he do now? Can he seek a pardon, can he file a review petition? These were some of the devastatingly penetrating questions that were asked.

The Dutts maintained a stoic silence and issued two statements stating their viewpoint. It’s been a bad time for the family as Congress MP Priya Dutt pointed out and 20 years has been a time of punishment and trial.

Sanjay has some three and a half years to go in jail, unless he gets a miraculous pardon now from the Governor as has been suggested by Mr. Katju. Will the collective conscience of the nation be satisfied then, I wonder.

The collective conscience has obviously been placated by Yakub Memon’s death sentence being upheld, but a tad dismayed at ten death sentences being commuted. It took a beating after the apex court refused to show any leniency to their favourite actor.

But then, even the Supreme Court can’t satisfy the collective conscience all the time can it?