August 29, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/ Sunil Dutt

J&K Votes

'Kashmiri militants want peace'

Film star-turned-politician Sunil Dutt is leading a peace rally, the Soldiers of Harmony, an apolitical group formed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Beginning his journey from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, he has been travelling on foot and addressing scores of gatherings along the way. During a stopover in Jammu, he spoke to Senior Contributing Correspondent Basharat Peer about peace, Kashmir and his son Sanjay Dutt.

How did the idea of this peace rally originate?

It dates back to a day in 1987 when Punjab was burning. I read about a spastic girl and her parents being killed in Amritsar. It disturbed me and I decided to march to Amritsar from Mumbai on foot. It was part of Gandhian philosophy that if your people are doing wrong you punish yourself. Gandhiji would fast; likewise, I decided to walk and inflict some pain on myself. It was a way of sharing the pain.

I went to Gujarat after the riots. There I decided I would go to all the troubled areas of the country, hence Kashmir. After this I plan to go to the Northeast.

What do you want to convey by this rally?

It is a Sadbhavana rally. Sadbhavana means having good feelings towards everybody. It is about the need for compassion without boundaries, without interests. Like in Gujarat, we decided to help some riot-affected children. They included Hindus, Muslims, children of policemen killed in the riots. If there are vested interests, no mission would be successful.

Sadbhavana ke Sipahi, the Soldiers of Harmony, is a group formed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Why not call it a Congress rally?

The Congress is not funding this rally. It is on the behalf of the people of North-West Mumbai. I am the MP there. I and the MLAs there made personal contributions for this rally; our supporters, the business community there, contributed.

Questions are being raised about the timing of the rally. It coincides with the Jammu and Kashmir election. Is this not an attempt to gain sympathy and votes for the Congress in J&K?

It is not about the Kashmir election. I took a rally to Gujarat barely a month after the riots. There was no trace of an election then. It was there that I decided to come to J&K. The decision is purely out of my concern.

I have come here when I was not a politician. I have entertained soldiers in Jammu during the 1965 war. I have been to all the frontiers of the country to entertain soldiers. I was not a politician then. I am coming here out of the same concern, as an Indian, not as a Congressman.

Where would the Congress go if there is no India? Being in the Congress cannot stop me from working for human beings.

What similarities do you see between Amritsar 1987, Gujarat 2002 and Jammu and Kashmir 2002?

The similarity is the basic pain of the people. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs alike have suffered and cried everywhere. People who inflict pain may believe in religious boundaries. But the pain they inflict does not.

Do you think peace marches like yours can change anything, alleviate that pain?

I cannot change much. But I must contribute my bit. It is like self-cleansing for me. If I sit back home, I would live with the feeling that I do not have a conscience.

It is important to remember that a single voice never remains single. Look at American history, look how Martin Luther King changed the destiny of the Blacks there. Look at [Nelson] Mandela, how he won his battle.

It is only here that Gandhi has been forgotten. Now Gandhi means khadi to Indians. But his philosophy is as young and relevant.

Since you are going to the valley, let us talk about the Kashmir problem.

I look at the emotional side of life. I do not think any mother would like her son to be killed, any wife would like her husband to be killed. No child wants to grow up an orphan. I am here to share the sorrow of the suffering people of Kashmir in my little way.

I think the Kashmir problem can be solved if men look at the plight of their women and children. Violence is not the way, peace is the only answer.

Are you apprehensive about your security in the valley?

Anything can happen. Recently, near Nasik I barely survived a plane crash. But I have informed the chief minister about my plans as the government's help is essential for the success of our mission.

Will you meet politicians and separatists in the valley?

I would love not only to meet separatist politicians but also the militants. I wish they would join me in the peace march and we could enter the holy Hazratbal shrine together. I believe, in the heart of their hearts, Kashmiri militants want peace.

I remember when I entered the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1987, all the Sikh militants welcomed and hugged me. I could feel their guns. They said nobody would harm you.

What would you like to convey to Kashmiri youth?

I hope they start looking at the interests of their families and think of achieving heights. I have known Kashmiris and I have seen them work wonders. I know Kashmiris in America who have bought land there and cultivated Kashmiri apples on it.

Talking about the youth reminds one of your son. His name has figured again in controversy... Is it not ironical when the father is a campaigner for peace...

If I talk to a violent man that does not make me violent. In the 1992 riots I was the only MP to resign against my party's government when the rioting did not stop and you saw what happened to my son. Now when I started my Sadbhavana rally in Gujarat, they name my son again. The timing is interesting.

I respect the judiciary and we will accept whatever the decision would be. What is sad is that the media writes only about Sanjay Dutt. There are more than 100 accused in the Bombay blasts case. I wish the media knew their names too.

'Violence is not a Congress hallmark'
'People speculate, they did not even spare Sita'

Design: Dominic Xavier

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