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August 21, 1999


The Rediff Election Interview/Sunil Dutt

'The attack on Sonia's origin is hurting rural women'

PART I: 'People speculate, they did not even spare Sita'

Archana Masih's interview with the Congress leader continues:

E-Mail this interview to a friend What is it about the Congress party that you have never abandoned it in spite of not getting its support in your son's case?

The basic principles of the Congress are so strong that it captures your mind somehow or the other. The principles of other parties are rigid. Regimented. They are stuck in their own environments. Not the larger environment. When we talk about India, we talk about all its people. We don't only talk about Hindus. We don't only talk about Muslims. We don't only talk about dalits. I genuinely believe in this.

During the riots here [in Bombay], I was shocked to see how they were dividing the people into 'so many Muslims died and so many Hindus'. I was shocked because everyone dying over here was an Indian. One Indian killing another Indian. It is so difficult to make them understand because of the narrowness in the psyche of the individual. The fault for this lies in the people who set up these basic trends in different parties.

But the Congress has seen a steady decline after Rajiv Gandhi's death. Even die-hard supporters have become disillusioned.

Disillusionment with the Congress is different. Disillusionment with individual performances is different. I was never disillusioned by the philosophy of the party. I was disillusioned by a few Congress leaders who penetrated the party and spoiled its name.

Who are these people who penetrated the party and spoiled its name?

The people who have left.

Mr Pawar. Sangma...

There are so many people. You can't name one. They are so many. Some of them were so close to Rajiv Gandhi.

Arun Nehru...

And Arun Singh was the BJP's defence adviser during Kargil! One was the right hand and the other was the left hand of Rajiv Gandhi. You can imagine what must be happening in a party because other fundamentalist parties want to destroy it.

Would you say the Congress under Sonia Gandhi has been purged of such elements and is a stronger Congress?

At the moment it is stronger, but we feel there must still be such people. At least I fear this.

What affect will Sharad Pawar's exit have on the fortunes of the Congress in Maharashtra?

It will certainly have some effect. But as we foresaw in the beginning, I don't think it will be on a large scale. In the beginning everybody felt 'My God, what will happen to the Congress?' But the amount of enthusiasm I saw in Kolhapur and Sholapur and the other parts of India is different. People seem all charged up.

What is the people's feeling all about?

The attack on her [Sonia Gandhi's] origin is hurting rural women a lot. The bahu in Indian culture has a very sentimental [place]. She is like Lakshmi. In our culture when a bahu comes home she loses her previous identity. Hindus say her gotra changes. She takes on her husband's gotra. In Maharashtra, often her name is also changed. Attacking her on that front has gone down badly with the people. The bahu is very important in Indian culture.

My first daughter-in-law died. We still have her photographs in our house. She has left one nishani [legacy] in my granddaughter. She's in America and here, on her birthday on August 10, my daughter's daughter, everybody, they were wishing her. The feeling that we have, how can anyone destroy that emotion? On the contrary, she [Sonia Gandhi] is getting lots of sympathy.

On the flip side, how much has Mr Pawar's exit been an advantage to the Congress?

He has been exposed. Political parties are shying away from joining hands with him at the moment.

Would you say his going away has been beneficial to the party?

If you ask me, to me it has been very beneficial. I don't know about others. If a person is against you within the party, it is better to have him outside the party. He now stands exposed. It takes a long time to convince people. It took a lifetime for Mahtama Gandhi to be called the Mahatma. It took just a moment for Godse to be known all over the world.

I believe in this. When I undertook the journey from Bombay to Amritsar, people thought I was seeking publicity. When I started entertaining jawans after the '62, '65, '71 war, people thought it was a gimmick. It was only later that people realised that what I was doing was good work. But it took so many years to prove this. This is what life is and one shouldn't be disappointed with this. I get a little disappointed when journalists ask me the same questions. I think how many times do I need to prove myself.

What, according to you, is the future of Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party?

I think anybody who has left the Congress party went nowhere. You can see the history. Great people left the Congress and today nobody talks about them.

It is felt that the NCP is going to result in a division of votes between the Congress and the BJP-Shiv Sena, which might give the latter an edge in this election.

We must try to read between the lines. Sonia Gandhi's origin was a BJP propaganda. First these leaders [Pawar, Sangma, Anwar] went to her and asked her to take over the Congress. They are on record in Indore that she should be PM of the country. They were building all this up, and all of a sudden they took this decision. If you read between the lines, they have a tie with the BJP. Why else will they steal the BJP's slogan?

How do you see this affecting the results?

I don't think the BJP will continue its relationship with the Shiv Sena. They want a relationship with the new party. Yeh sub to oopar se ho raha hai (This is all superficial). In all his speeches, he [Pawar] is only criticising the BJP on Kargil and nothing else. He is not saying anything else about their performance. I feel the people are fed up of this government. He might help the BJP to add a couple of seats more. On the other side it may affect the Shiv Sena. In this entire game the Congress will be at an advantage.

How much has Pawar's exit contributed to your return to the Bombay North-West seat?

Nobody could put a dent to my philosophy and contribution to the party. If you are my enemy and within my party, I don't know when you will attack me. When you are outside my camp, I can see you coming towards me with a dagger. I can be careful then. I know he will see to it that he attacks me. He might even join hands with the Shiv Sena. But I don't mind. I know I am facing the people who are against my philosophy.

Kargil is the BJP's major issue this time. How far can it take the BJP in this election?

I will never ask for votes in the name of my jawans who have sacrificed their life for the nation. I would ask them how the enemy could enter 150 square kilometres into our area? Was the government sleeping? This is a time to give thought to the sacrifices of our jawans, not sit on their glory. This was no victory.

If I were head of state, I would have resigned. That as head of state I have brought such great tragedy to my jawans. Victory was Indira Gandhi's when she split Pakistan into two. When she captured 90,000 PoWs. This time the few PoWs that we have, those also you are willing to return with grace. When you know that they tortured our jawans. Throwing people out of your own territory is not victory.

But do you think the people are looking at Kargil in this perspective?

The media has put a cap of a general on his [Prime Minister Vajpayee's] head. It is all media hype. This is what happens in America. India has become America. There nobody uses their own brain. They form opinions from newspaper and television debates. You can get an idea of how this government is functioning when you see them giving a posthumous award to a soldier lying in hospital! A religion cannot run a country. You've seen it in Pakistan.

What do you see as the prevalent Muslim sentiment just now?

I think everybody has the right to fight for their rights. Their problems should be addressed. I think the majority of Muslims will be with the Congress this time. They are disillusioned with other parties. The Janata Dal has split. Mulayam Singh Yadav helped the BJP to continue in government. He refused to join hands with the Congress to form a government. On one side you are voting against the government, on the other you don't want to help in forming the government. So people start feeling that he is a BJP guy. This could be a good advantage to us.

Coming from a background like yours, do you at any time feel a misfit amongst the set of people who head Indian politics?

I don't feel a misfit. I pick up people who are like me. Like NGOs who are doing good work and others like me in politics. I don't function with people who are not interested in this. Like Gandhiji, I too think we have to upgrade our villages and give them a better life.

Sunil Dutt's photograph: Jewella C Miranda

The Rediff Election Interviews

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