Ready for the fray
She's ready to step into her father's shoes. Meet Priya Dutt, Sunil Dutt's daughter and Congress-I candidate.
LEARNING FROM DAD: On the move. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal
"SUNRISE" building on 24th Road, Bandra, a Mumbai suburb, is full of memories of the late Sunil Dutt. The ground floor now houses the office of his daughter, Priya Dutt, Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha by-election in her late father's constituency on November 25.
Priya, expecting her first baby, was on time for our interview. When the coffee arrived, opened her purse and paid for it. Two uncharacteristic gestures from a future MP. "If you hold a test for me in national politics, I will probably fail," she laughed. "My understanding of politics is what I learnt from my father, it is one way of helping people."
But the arrival of the baby was more important. What kind of a mother would she be, I asked. Muses Priya, "Like what my parents were to me. Never impose my will, allow the child to grow on its own normally, and pass on the values the family stands for. No pampering, l hope."
Priya never expected the party to choose her for the Lok Sabha seat. Dutt Saab was enjoying his work in Delhi. She was settling down to married life and had started a small furniture business. When her father died, Priya was upset and angry with people who suggested she should succeed him in politics. When the offer of the Lok sabha ticket came from Delhi, she thought over it for nearly two months. What finally clinched the issue was the family backing and expectations of the people. "I had been with Dad for several years, and know how much he was loved and respected by the people. I could sense the feeling that I should carry on his work."
Priya's transformation from a fun-loving college girl to one who understood national problems happened when she accompanied Dutt Saab on his peace march from Bombay to Amritsar during the Punjab insurgency. As a teenager, she would argue with her father about attacking the corruption and filth associated with politics. Dutt saab explained, "You can't sit on the fence always attacking the system without doing anything to improve it."
With Dutt Saab away in Delhi, Priya and some close friends nursed his constituency. She also established contacts with local MLA's, corporators and party leaders. Her work with the Spastics Society of India continued and when floods hit Mumbai, she was on the streets, distributing essential goods to those who had lost their homes and much more. With the arrival of the baby and Deepavali holidays, Priya would have just two weeks to campaign. How was she planning to do it?
"Not like my father," she admitted ruefully. "He had a round the clock routine. I have to spend time with the baby." But Priya is a familiar figure in the constituency. "I will appeal to the people to come out of their homes and vote," she said. "Without people voting, nothing can be done in a democracy."
At the time of writing, the non-Congress Opposition had not decided on its candidate. Yet, over the years, there has been very little mud slinging in the Mumbai North West constituency mainly because of Dutt saab's reputation and his refusal to hit below the belt.
Expects no rewards
Priya is not obsessed with politics, but she expects no rewards. Her only aim is to work for the constituency. Dutt Saab accepted a ministership only after his fifth Lok Sabha victory and was happy with his portfolios of Sports and Youth Affairs. Social work was still his first love and that was why he gladly accepted Sonia Gandhi's request to organise a Dandi March. His daughter, if elected, will work on the same lines.
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