Although his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stands by the Supreme Court's decision to send actor Sanjay Dutt back to jail in the 1991 Mumbai blast case, actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha is all for leniency towards Sanjay.
In a move that could earn him his political party's wrath, he defends Sanjay's right to remain outside prison. He says on this score he is with the Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju, who feels the actor should be pardoned on humanitarian grounds.
"I am not saying forgive him. Nor do I question the honourable Supreme Court's judgment. We must respect the law of the land. However, my humble submission is that Sanjay has suffered enough for his folly. He is not a terrorist, just a person who happened to fall into wrong company. He may have been connected with wrong elements. But he's a good soul," said Sinha.
"Look at his track record. His role as Munnabhai (in 'Lage Raho Munna Bhai') has influenced such a wide range of people to adopt a Gandhain love towards humanity. I wish there was some way he would not have to face prison. I see a glimmer of hope. Justice Katju has asked the governor of Maharashtra to pardon Sanjay. I respect Justice Katju's opinion and I am with him on this," said Sinha.
"He has been a constant source of inspiration. And Sunil Dutt saab's son is very close to me. I've struggled with him for all these years as he has been fighting for his freedom. It pains me to see Sanjay standing where he is right now. I've been with him in this battle to prove his innocence for 20 years," said Sinha.
On March 21, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Sanjay in the Arms Act violation case in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case and sent him to five years' imprisonment. He was asked to surrender in four weeks.
Dutt, who was convicted for illegally possessing weapons, had been awarded six years imprisonment by the TADA (Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) court.
However, the apex court reduced the sentence from six years to five years. This effectively means that he will be in jail for three years and six months as he has already undergone 18 months' imprisonment.
As for the question of why pardon and leniency for Sanjay when so many have suffered during terror attacks, Sinha countered, "The naysayers may turn around and ask me, 'What about the victims of the 1993 bomb blast?' I say, let me know if there are other people who have suffered. I am willing to take up their cause."
"Sanju is a part of my film fraternity. He is the son of one of my biggest inspirations. Why should I not fight for his freedom when he's so close to me? Look at Sanjay's public conduct in recent years. He has worked for humanitarian causes and played roles like Munnbhai, which spread the Gandhian message of world peace and humanism. I pray that pardon will be granted to him. He has suffered enough for his folly. My family and are praying for his pardon."