New Delhi: The jail term for Sanjay Dutt and the outpouring of support for the Bollywood star has pitted two top legal experts — former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee and lawyer and Union minister Kapil Sibal — in an unprecedented verbal duel with the latter accusing the former of bias on political lines.
It all started with Soli Sorabjee's exclusive interview to CNN-IBN on Sunday in which he had criticised Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi's statement expressing 'deep shock and surprise' over the Special TADA court verdict sentencing Dutt to six years' rigorous imprisonment.
Sorabjee had justified six years jail sentence for Sanjay Dutt and cautioned that no signal of any "celebrity justice delivery system" should go because of the actor's status and the support he is getting from some Congress leaders.
"...because Sanjay is a popular star, a very important personality, his sister (Priya Dutt) is an MP and Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, Kapil Sibal speaking in his favour, no signal should go to the people that it is a celebrity justice delivery system," he had said.
Kapil Sibal, who also happens to be Sanjay Dutt's former lawyer, attacked Sorabjee over the statement, saying "it was unfair for the former Attorney General to comment on this."
Sibal also dug out old dirt to question Sorabjee's silence during the Ayodhya trials. Expressing surprise that Sorabjee had decided to speak out against the support the actor was getting, the senior Congress leader asked: "If he wanted to take up such issues, why did he not speak out during the Ayodhya case?"
"It was his government that was prosecuting the BJP leaders and he was the Attorney General then. I wish his inner voice had come out then," Sibal said. "Was LK Advani not a celebrity?" Sibal asked.
Sibal said justice "has to be done by the court" and cannot be influenced by support from certain actors or the Congress party. "Let the judiciary function on its own," he said.
Sibal also questioned Sorabjee's silence in the Gujarat riots case and the Srikrishna Commission report on the 1993 Mumbai riots.
He argued that there was nothing wrong in the Congress voicing its support for Dutt. The Congress should stand by the actor in his hour of need, Sibal said.
Sorabjee then joined issue with Sibal, saying he had never criticised the latter and had only termed as 'inappropriate' PR Dasmunsi's remarks as a Cabinet Minister questioning the correctness of the TADA court judgement on Dutt.
The former AG also rebutted criticism that he had remained silent on the Godhra violence and said he had made strong statements against the Gujarat Government on the issue.
Sorabjee pointed out that while he had commented on the sentence for Dutt, he had also remarked that the actor could be entitled to bail and could have been given probation.
More importantly, the former AG said, he had strongly criticised the authorities concerned on the inaction or the inordinately delayed action on implementing the report of the Justice Srikrishna Commission on the Mumbai riots which had indicted prominent political personalities.
On his alleged silence on the Godhra issue, Sorabjee said he had made statements in the press and in public against the anti-Muslim riots and had lambasted the Modi government on the issue. These were carried by the national newspapers those days, he said.
Sorabjee also said on the Ayodhya demolition he had said it was an act of infamy. "I hope Mr Sibal is now better informed on these issues," he said.