Nov. 13: Sharad Pawar is lucky not to be English, not just because England keeps losing in cricket but because perjury cases lead more often to jail sentences there.
Few people have ever been punished in India for the offence but Britain jailed Jeffrey Archer ó peer, millionaire, best-selling author and like Pawar, a cricket-loving politician ó for giving false evidence in court.
A Calcutta High Court judge yesterday directed criminal cases registered against Pawar, Union minister and former cricket board chief, and five other former and current board bosses for perjury.
They will be hoping for a stay from a higher court. A likely plea, according to legal experts, could be that the framing of charges was ordered without hearing the accused.
However, unless that leads to quashing of charges in the long term ó which the experts think is unlikely ó the Big Six of the worlds richest cricket establishment must face trial before a magistrate.
A court is unlikely to direct perjury charges to be framed without any evidence, but there is good news for Pawar. Indian courts rarely jail perjury convicts, usually letting them off with a rap on the knuckles.
Perjury is considered a serious criminal offence and the law allows up to seven years rigorous imprisonment. However, few offenders have ever been jailed. Often, the courts only censure the accused, said Gitanath Ganguli, senior criminal lawyer in Calcutta.
At a possible trial, the board officials could plead they had probable cause for the belief that the statement they had made was true, a lawyer in Delhi said.
However, a mere conviction could bring trouble for Pawar at the hands of old enemy Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former board chief who has brought the perjury charges. Pawars camp is accused of filing a false affidavit in court to justify Dalmiyas expulsion from the board.
Even if the court (merely) censures a person for perjury, anyone who had suffered a financial loss or felt himself maligned publicly because of that perjury can file a civil damage suit against the accused, Ganguli said. A conviction strengthens the plaintiffs case.
The worst-case scenario for Pawar is a sentence longer than two years, for that would bar the Nationalist Congress Party chief from contesting polls and effectively end his political career.
However, even in the rare instance when an Indian court jails someone for perjury, the term is usually not harsh. Zahira Sheikh, who kept changing her testimony in the Best Bakery riot case, was jailed for just one year.
Besides, one can pull off a Navjot Singh Sidhu ó the BJP MP quit his seat following a three-year sentence for causing a mans death, then fought and won the by-election after a higher court stayed his sentence and conviction.
Pawar can breathe easy on another count Ė party loyalty that Archer could not bank on. The Tories had kicked Archer out immediately after the accusations surfaced, months before court charges were framed.
The Nationalist Congress Party has declared a five-day Swabhiman Saptah (self-respect week) beginning December 12, Pawars 69th birthday. The events include an essay contest whose theme line could challenge the skills of even a novelist like Archer: Sharad Pawar is not a personality but a national thought.