Yes! We have all heard - Supreme Court has disqualified Sanjay Dutt from contesting elections. But the thing is... the Supreme Court has not. It has only refused to remove the disqualification already incurred by him upon being convicted and sentenced under the Arms Act by the TADA Court.
This case has naturally drawn comparisons with that of Navjot Singh Sidhu, the other superstar-convict who got his conviction stayed so that he could contest the Lok Sabha elections. But before I get into the comparison, I must confess that I have not read the order in Sanjay Dutt's case yet, and any comment on the Court's decision would have to be tempered by that limitation.
Navjot Singh Sidhu was tried for the offence of murder relating to an incident that took place in 1988. He was acquitted of the offence by the Trial Court in 1999, and came to be elected as an MP in 2004. But, while he was a sitting MP, the High Court in appeal convicted him under Section 304 Part II, for the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He then resigned from his post of MP, and filed an application for suspension of conviction before the Supreme Court, so as to enable him to contest the elections.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment reported as (2007) 2 SCC 574, allowed Sidhu's application for suspension of conviction after noting that the incident of 1988 had no correlation with his public life because he became an MP much later in 2004, and that it was not a case where he had taken advantage of his position as MP to commit the crime.
This reasoning is rather curious, because when applied to Sanjay Dutt's case, it warrants the same conclusion as Sidhu's. Sanjay Dutt also did not use any public office/post to commit the crime he is convicted of, and the incident also dates all the way back to 1993.
Though the eventual order in Sidhu's case can be credited to other factors as well, because the Court also looked into the evidence against him, but it has to be said that the reasoning of the Court referred above is not happily worded.
In K.C. Sareen v. CBI Chandigarh, (2001) 6 SCC 584, the Supreme Court while dealing with suspension of conviction of a government servant convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, observed that "when a public servant who is convicted of corruption is allowed to continue to hold public office, it would impair the morale of the other persons manning such office, and consequently that would erode the already shrunk confidence of the people in such public institutions besides demoralising the other honest public servants who would either be the colleagues or subordinates of the convicted person. If honest public servants are compelled to take orders from proclaimed corrupt officers on account of the suspension of the conviction, the fallout would be one of shaking the system itself."
The approach of the Court here was to relate the offence to the performance of duties, while in Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Court linked the Post of the person and the power attached with it to the offence. The K.C. Sareen approach clearly makes more sense, because it evaluates the consequences of the order of suspension of conviction on the performance of duties by the person. This approach would also explain why Sanjay Dutt's case is not on the same footing as Sidhu's. Sidhu's offence, based in sudden rage, was personal in nature (discounting the theory that all criminal offences are deemed to affect the society at large), and had no relation with his duties as an MP. Dutt's offence of possessing illegal arms, possibly in connection with a large scale terrorist attack, was clearly more deplorable in relation to his potential duties as MP, and therefore did not warrant any relief from the Court.
Whether this is the difference that influenced the Supreme Court, or whether it was generally the current environment of terrorism-paranoia, the society at large was clearly the winner today.