By Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Navjot Singh Sidhu has been sent to the Patiala Central Jail to serve a year-long sentence in a case of road rage, registered in 1988. It took more than three decades for the Indian judicial system to convict and sentence a person whose felony was never in doubt; even the accused had accepted it all along. The argument that Sidhu had been making was that he didn’t intend to kill the person. The victim got killed by a mild blow of his fist that he never thought could kill someone.
Road rage is a strange yet very common problem. A lot of people are using the right of way on roads and highways at high speed. What if something less than a fatal accident takes place? It will certainly enrage the road users and some of them might land a blow or two at the person who they think is simply too stupid to be on the road.
Well, in a country where hoodlums practically rule the roost, a single blow doesn’t count unless the person is a celebrity.
Recently, American actor Will Smith shocked the entertainment world and his fans by slapping comedian Chris Rock on the stage at the 94th Academy Awards. In the aftermath of his slap, Will Smith was bad-mouthed in the press by actor and comedian Tony Rock, the younger brother of Chris Rock, who argued that Smith was at the Oscar function not because of his prowess as a fighter but because of being an actor. Tony Rock challenged Smith to come to fight a wrestling match with him.
While Smith seemed to have walked away from the Oscar stage in style, he stayed away from the public eyes until he was spotted in Mumbai about a month later, reportedly to meet his guru — the Sadguru. Smith knew what he had done had no place in a civilized world. He knew that nothing could condone his act except reaching out for spiritual healing. He was banned from any Oscar show for at least 10 years and he was relieved from several of his big-ticket assignments.
After Sidhu’s blow left the person dead in the road rage incident, Sidhu knew he would get a punishment for this someday. For 30 long years, he escaped the moment that caught up with him today. The intervening period has seen Sidhu in many different avatars – cricket commentator, humorist, and politician. While he has been above average in all these domains, he failed to break the mediocrity and achieve excellence.
His commentary was a delight to listen to, thanks to an overdose of Punjabi witticism full of Sardarji jokes. But he overdid it, flowing with the spirit, he would sprinkle his commentary with a few BCs and MCs here and there. With those credentials, he suited better to the TV laughter shows where the Santa-Banta jokes were his favorite genre. He reveled in the cheapness and it took a Kapil Sharma to dethrone him. In politics, he changed parties as frequently as he would change his turbans. Congress used him to make up for the lack of speakers from one election to another. But nobody knew what he wanted to achieve in politics except that he wanted to become the chief minister of Punjab.
Was he after the Punjab CM’s post in the belief that he could somehow change the fate that his action in the road rage incident had left him with?
Well, Sidhu has been a kind guy – full of warm humour and ready to hug his friends including Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He has been an excellent cricketer and delighted us with some of those mighty sixes before they became the order of the day in T20 matches.
One year in jail is not a long period. Sanjay Dutt, another blue-eyed boy of the entertainment world, had spent 5 years!
But for the judiciary, taking 30 years to decide a case of road rage is something completely inexorable.
Can the citizens get justice as a service rather than a privilege?
Can we have private sector input to fix the loopholes and make the Indian judicial system more efficient? When party tickets for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections are given to the people who have got the bankroll, why can’t we have private sector money to make the judicial system more result-oriented? When the defense sector has large-scale private manufacturers of military hardware, why can’t we have a competitive judicial system?
Twenty years ago when this columnist began his career, the pendency of cases and delay in justice was the most nagging public issue. Because of delayed justice, criminal and corruption cases lingered on without a decision. Using the delay in delivering justice, criminals turned into politicians. And, politicians turned into scam operators. The ordinary people could not afford long and costly court cases. Activists and civil society members avoided being on the wrong side of the legal divide even when it was an absolute must to stop the nation from slipping into a mobocracy or a mafia-raj.
A closer look reveals that the government doesn’t want the judiciary to be strong and assertive for obvious reasons. To this end, successive governments have kept judicial posts in lower and higher courts vacant to keep the primary wings of the judiciary busy dealing with pending cases.
Delay in justice holds the country back by slowing down the speed of decision-making. It fails to check destabilizing and anti-social elements in their early stages. The spirit of democracy and civil rights takes a beating. And, it’s not good. It produces mediocre leadership who only knows how to misuse the official machinery without getting into legal trouble. It doesn’t have the vision to take the nation and society forward.
Had Sidhu got this punishment back in 1988, the country would have seen less of a flippant and more of a steady Sidhu. (IPA Service)