Patronising the rich and famous

Tags: Op-ed
Patronising the rich and famous
EXCLUSIVE ENGAGEMENT: Sahara chief Subrata Roy being taken by the police after the court handed his custody to them in Lucknow on February 28
When India was on the verge of freedom and the first interim government was sworn in, the ministers went to seek the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi at his camp in Bhangi Colony in Delhi. Bapu had told them that they should strive to serve the poorest of the poor and the most underprivileged of India’s millions. He had also advised if they did that, India would become a true democracy.

More than six and a half decades have passed, and if present events are to be considered, we have become a democracy subservient to its rich, famous and powerful. They get served by the law, they get special treatment when they are ordered to be imprisoned, they are privileged when being investigated for serious crimes, and even after they are convicted, they are favoured while serving their sentences. On the other hand, the poor are framed, brutalised and do not get efficient legal aid. When they are imprisoned, it feels as if the key to their jail cell is thrown away after they are locked up.

A few months ago, Mumbai was rocked by the case of the runaway Aston Martin owned by one of the companies from the Reliance empire, which while being driven wildly down Pedder Road in the dead of the night, had ploughed into an Audi and another sedan. The impact with the Audi was so great that it got pushed over the divider and rammed into a private bus approaching from the opposite direction. The other car was also pushed aside and yet, the Aston Martin ploughed on and came to a halt a few 100 metres down the road. The accident could have caused serious/fatal injuries, but it did not. The driver abandoned the car and escaped in an escort car that was trailing it. Neither did the driver bother to check about the well being of the passengers in the two cars it had dashed into, nor did the people in the getaway vehicle bother to check the damage caused to the cars and their occupants. They just picked up the person driving the Aston Martin and ran.

Since the accident is being reported by the media, there has been a lot of comment and anger. While there was speculation about the identity of the driver, social media knew who was driving the Aston Martin that night, but the police are clueless. Then a driver working for Reliance emerged and confessed. He had caused the accident, panicked and escaped, and was now surrendering; case solved. The police did not seem to be bothered as to why did a driver get an escort vehicle. Why did a driver who had just totalled quite an expensive car get the privilege to escape in the getaway vehicle? Why did the police not question the occupants of the getaway vehicle, let alone not arrest them? Who were the cops patrolling in the area where the accident took place? Of course, then the victims were handsomely compensated and the case evaporated. Another case of a VVIP escaping justice, perhaps?

Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt has made a mockery of his prison sentence. He received a fair, some would say generously lenient trial, after an exhaustive process of law; he was found guilty and sentenced. Some say he got away with a light sentence, that may or may not be so, but today his imprisonment is being turned into a joke. Dutt gets parole as per his desire. If his wife is ill, he gets parole. If she is very sick, his parole is extended. Are all prisoners whose family members get sick, granted parole? If they do get parole, is it extended so easily? So if Sanjay Dutt is so privileged, why not commute his sentence and pardon him, so he can nurse his wife back to health and bring up his children too? The poor, of course, will get no such considerations.

Sahara boss Subrato Rai was ordered to be arrested for disobeying the Supreme Court. The media had access to him, but the police couldn’t find him. He was with his ailing mother, but he wasn’t present with her. He could not be found in his palatial abode, but he was ‘most probably’ there itself. Finally, when ‘he’ got ready, he surfaced and got himself arrested. And where is he taken? Not to the Central Jail, not even to a lock up in a police station, but to the plush and privileged forest bungalow and detained there. VIPs and the media have access to him. He is at liberty to speak to the media and issue statements to the media from his ‘jail’. So it’s more like a picnic, than imprisonment. But such are the privileges the rich and famous are accorded with. Would such facilities be offered to the poor? Never.

In a democracy, aren’t we all supposed to be equal? In our democracy, at least we have created a class who is above all the institutions — a class which is above the law, can’t be touched by the police and is insulated from the process of justice — a class of modern day maharajas.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)


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