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Penance Vs Punishment

Penance Vs Punishment

Going by verdict of a Mumbai session’s court, actor Salman Khan was guilty of rash driving that killed a person sleeping on the pavement in Mumbai in 2002. However, the conviction was overturned by the Bombay High Court. The state has appealed against the verdict.

As of today, Khan is not guilty. However, a trial court in Rajasthan has sentenced him to five years in jail for killing a black buck. Although he is out on bail and the final verdict would take some more years as the case is likely to go up to the Supreme Court, there is this weird message that comes out from Khan’s troubles with the law: He has been found innocent in a case involving death of a human while convicted to five years’ imprisonment for killing an animal. The protection guaranteed to black bucks as an endangered species, and twists and turns the two cases taken notwithstanding, the irony provided by the present status of the two cases cannot be missed.

Awarding Khan a jail term for killing a black buck is not right. Surely, there should be better ways of punishing a human being for killing a protected species wilfully. Khan could have been asked to donate a huge sum (let’s say Rs 100 crore) for conservation of forests and animals in Rajasthan and asked to go over to the same place where he killed the black buck to work along with the labourers for a fortnight every year for ten years under supervision of forest authorities and news camerapersons, without disturbing the sanctity of the forests. Film clippings of his tending the forests could have been used to convey the message of conservation and also that one cannot get away by violating the law. Khan’s hard-earned money could have been used for conservation too.

What is the point in putting him behind bars? Was not jail invented originally to keep violent people segregated from society? Is it not time to have different innovative preventive methods of making a model out of those who commit varying crimes rather than put them along with rapists and murderers as if they all deserve uniform treatment? And when will Indian law-makers and dispensers think of turning jails into actual penitentiaries?

Ministers Ill

Not long ago, Manohar Parrikar was the Union Defence Minister, who had for colleagues Arun Jaitley heading the Finance Ministry and Sushma Swaraj heading the External Affairs Ministry. But it is evident now that all three of the top ministers in Narendra Modi’s Cabinet after the first reshuffle in November 2014 were ailing while the media hailed the reshuffle as a decisive step for ensuring effective governance.

Not that the media can be faulted for this approach because it goes by whatever is dished out by politicians. Nor did anyone have an inkling that the three were ill. While months later Swaraj went public with her kidney ailment and received hundreds of offers for a kidney from stranger donors, Parrikar’s illness is still not confirmed.

Parrikar is today the Chief Minister of Goa, where the BJP formed the Government last year despite losing the polls. But the exact nature of Parrikar’s illness is not confirmed yet. There have been certain reports that said Parrikar is “suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer,” while this has been officially denied by doctors who attended to him in Goa and Mumbai. He is at the moment abroad and has made the strange arrangement of having three top ministers to govern the state in his absence and coordinate with him via video conference on important matters.

Should he not be naming a temporary successor as Jayalalithaa had done when she was in jail and later in hospital? Is the Goa BJP less equipped to deal with the challenges of succession or temporary succession than the AIADMK? Should the state’s governance suffer because an individual is seriously ill?

If Swaraj tweeted about her illness well before she went for a transplant and Parrikar’s illness, though not its exact nature, was announced by the Goa government, Arun Jaitley’s state of health was a secret that journalists in the national capital faithfully kept it to themselves for a few weeks before one of them went ahead with an online piece. This too looked timed as an introduction for Jaitley to confirm his illness just before he had to be admitted in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences for dialysis.

Jaitley too needs a kidney transplant. While the speed at which VIPs get kidney transplants done while mere mortals are subjected to paper work to meet the organ transplant laws of the country makes for an entirely different story, what is striking in these cases is the collaboration of the media to keep the news of serious ailments of ministers holding important portfolios a secret.

Even if one were to accept the argument that they had got to know about it quite late, the question arises as to why none of them have thought it necessary to ask whether the nation had the right to know about a person’s illness. My personal opinion is that politicians are very determined people who can fight illness better than normal humans and hence in a position to function normally even when they are ill. But at least most journalists don’t think so, going by their reports and questions asked when Congress’ then President Sonia Gandhi was first reported ill in the early part of this decade.

At least one of the three VIPs who is now ill was on record then that the ‘nation had the right to know’ what kind of illness Sonia Gandhi was suffering from because she was the ‘most important person’ in the country. For the record, Gandhi was president of her party and UPA chairperson but the Government was run by Manmohan Singh and assisted by veterans such as Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and A K Antony. The Congress party had Ahmed Patel and many more experienced leaders (who are at the moment running rings around Rahul Gandhi) to look after it.

Yet the media and the BJP insisted that the nature of Sonia Gandhi’s illness was a matter of public interest. The media also pried to get reports from abroad that Sonia Gandhi successfully underwent surgery at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. While it may have been better if Gandhi was forthcoming as Swaraj, the media owes an explanation to the public why it maintains one set of rules for treating the Congress and politicians of other Opposition parties and another set of rules to deal with the BJP and its VIPs.


(Published on 16th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 16)