Not only environmentalists and wildlife conservationists but also the people at large must have heaved a sigh of relief as news of the verdict of the Jodhpur court that has found him guilty of shooting two blackbucks dead arrived. The actor had, in 1998, killed the animals of the protected species during the shooting of the film Hum Saath Saath Hain. If none of Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam are guilty of killing the poor antelopes, they must have been there to cheer Salman in the deplorable act. And today, Rani Mukerji has issued a statement saying she “loves” Salman regardless of his guilt! One wonders whether to be repelled by Bollywood’s barefaced conduct or be awestruck by the solidarity these troupers display as and when one of them has a brush with the law. The 1990s happened to be a dark era for the Hindi film industry when its connections with gangsters based in Dubai and other overseas locations emerged. Either scared or honoured to be the court jesters of terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, a section of Bollywood actors arguably acquired the fugitive’s hegemonic airs. Earlier in that decade, Sanjay Dutt had acquired arms illegally from a notorious shooter. A year before the blackbuck incident, producer Gulshan Kumar had to pay with his life for his differences with music composer Nadeem Saifi Ashfaq who fled the country, never to be caught by its law-enforcement agencies.
Among several other untoward incidents of the era, Salman Khan’s SUV allegedly ran over some pavement dwellers one night of 2002, a charge that could not be proved in court in 13 years. Even in the blackbuck case, a judgment after such a long protraction (21 years) is hardly a reason for vindication or faith in the judiciary. While every other day, we see the Supreme Court and some or the other High Court turning governance by different governments a difficult proposition at the drop of a petitioner’s hat, criminals get away with murder and all sorts of crime. Fortunately or unfortunately, “setting an example” does not figure in the rule books of the judges when a celebrity is tried. And criminal lawyers make a killing by finding loopholes in the cases prepared by a bumbling prosecution and saving the grateful, filthy rich VIP. Finally, in a rare case where the accused is proven guilty — as efforts to turn the witnesses hostile fail — the kin of the victim happily settle for a reparation in lieu of the perpetrators’ sentence.
Mercifully, an otherwise towering politician who would often come to their rescue if his ego was massaged well enough, Balasaheb Thackeray, is irreplaceable by another character with his kind of clout in the ruling class of Maharashtra. The current dispensation at the Centre should be particularly careful in not letting Salman Khan use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name as a return for the support scriptwriter Salim Khan had extended to the then Gujarat chief minister, daring to challenge the general Muslim aversion towards the BJP leader during the Lok Sabha campaign of 2013-14. There could be another go-between: Modi’s baiter-turned-backer Zafar Sareshwala — with all the three seen together four years ago flying kites. The ‘Bhai’ did not forget to mention on the occasion that he was but a voter of the INC. The film industry’s celebrated brat would try to leave none of these stones unturned to turn the fate of his case in the High Court in his favour. For all their callousness, the marauding VIPs, stars, major leaguers and other famous personages cannot be held singularly responsible for bringing India’s criminal justice system to such a pass.