Controversies invite contrasts. The sentencing of Rajat Gupta in a district court in Manhattan has, for obvious reasons, stirred strong emotions. Gupta has many admirers for his work in the corporate world as well as his humanitarian activities. For this reason, many feel that the two-year jail sentence is too harsh. The prosecution, on the other hand, wanted Gupta to be in jail for 10 years. The sentence apart, there are three aspects of this cause celebre that need to be noted in India. One is the swiftness with which the case was disposed. Second, Gupta was never denied bail on the plea that he might tamper with the evidence. Bail was treated as his right. And third, Gupta’s stature was not allowed to stand in the way of administering justice. Even those who are critical of the judgment and the sentence cannot deny that legal procedures prevailed.
These aspects of the case are in sharp contrast to what happens to corruption cases in India. (Some would say any case in India.) In India, cases are invariably long drawn-out. The law enforcing agencies take an inordinately long time to finish the investigation and then to file a proper chargesheet. Often during this period — or a large part of it — the accused is treated as if he is guilty and denied bail. The convenient plea is that if he is out of jail he will play around with the evidence. Bail is not treated as a right but rather as an exception. This violates one of the fundamental principles of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, which states that a person is innocent till he is proved guilty. This means that an accused is entitled to bail; the denial of bail is an exception. Another feature of corruption cases involving public figures is that the case is hardly ever disposed of. In many cases, the chargesheet is not properly drawn up or the investigation is woefully short of evidence. There is also the ploy of injunctions or of plea of extensions. This ensures that the case takes so long that it disappears from public memory. This is one reason why in India it is difficult to recall a public figure who was actually convicted on charges of corruption. Gupta’s case shows that it is possible to convict and sentence an important person without in any way transgressing the rule of law and the principles of jurisprudence. The Indian legal and penal processes have many things to learn from this celebrated case in New York.