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The Rediff Election Interview/Sunil Dutt

April 26, 2004

ilm star and politician Sunil Dutt has been pounding the streets of the Mumbai Northwest parliamentary constituency after recovering from his recent bout of ill health, asking people to vote him in for a fifth time.

Dutt, 74, is one of those who experienced the pangs of Partition firsthand. That is probably why his belief in secularism is like a rock -- immovable. It also helps that he has a very clean image.

Sunil Dutt has always believed in fighting his own battles. That is why he refused to ask his son Sanjay Dutt to help with his campaign. It's a different matter that Sanjay Dutt turned up on the campaign trail one day, surprising even his father.

On the eve of polling day, Monday, April 26, Sunil Dutt shared his thoughts with Contributing Correspondent Vijay Singh.

Are you confident of winning?

I am always sure. If I am not sure about winning, then I will not stand for election.

You have the much younger Sanjay Nirupam, 39, challenging you. Do you think the generation gap will play any role in your election?

I don't know if he is young or I am. Didn't you see when I was walking? I walked for hours during the campaign. And what do you mean by young and old? What is your concept? Young in age or young in building the nation, or young in the concept of life? In what way do you think he is younger than me?

I always consider myself one of the youth. I created awareness about drug abuse among the youth. I was the first person to initiate the movement against AIDS. These are diseases that concern the youth of the nation. Which other person has ever talked about the AIDS and drug problems in our country?

Are you still active in resolving the problems of the youth?

Certainly! I am. For the last so many years after the death of my wife, I have been working for cancer patients. I brought medical instruments worth $5 million for the people of my country. Unfortunately, you people don't know all these things. The problem with the youth is they don't know the past of a person.

You are comparing me by age. But you are not comparing the contributions I have made for my nation and what he [Nirupam] has done.

What are the major issues in your constituency?

A member of Parliament is not concerned only with his constituency. Constituency work is taken care of by corporators and members of the legislative assembly. They have local responsibility. Members of Parliament have responsibility for the entire nation. They must have a programme which attacks the problems of the nation.

Drugs, AIDS, cancer, these are problems of the nation. Threat to the unity of the people is a problem of the nation. And in our manifesto we have said we will spread a feeling of sadbhavna [goodwill] among the people and we will work for that.

But your opponent says you have not even been attending Parliament.

I think I should not answer your questions. You have not seen what I have said, you are only watching what the other guy is saying.

Why was I not attending Parliament? Ask Nirupam. Has Mr Dutt become mad that he won the election, but did not attend Parliament? There must be some reason for that, is it not? One should also know about that.

He has repeated this thing at every meeting because he has nothing else to talk about. But I didn't speak against him. I am speaking about my own work, I am talking about the problems of my nation and my constituency.

You have worked with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, now you are working with Sonia Gandhi. Do you find any change in the Congress?

Change is a universal phenomenon. The Congress is a democratic party which believes in loktantra [democracy]. Whatever decisions we are taking are collective decisions.

Indira Gandhi did so many things for the nation. After that Rajiv came and he brought computers and advanced technology to India. This has made us so advanced today. But nobody is talking about Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. Now the NDA is taking credit for the work done by Congress leaders.

Is there any ideological change in the Congress over the last so many years?

The Congress is committed to secularism. The party is committed to spreading goodwill among the people of the nation. Our leader Sonia Gandhi goes wherever any big incident happens, whether it's passengers being killed in Kashmir or Dalits being killed in Bihar. Many politicians say there should be no emotion in politics. But that only means people get killed and you don't bother about it!

Do you find any similarity between Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi?

Everybody has their own individuality. I don't think there is any similarity. Panditji [Jawaharlal Nehru] had his individuality, Indira had her own, Rajiv had his own, and Atalji and Advaniji have their own styles. So everybody has their own personality. If someone doesn't have his own personality, he cannot develop.

Do you think Sonia Gandhi will become prime minister if the Congress-led alliance is in a position to form the next government? Many of your partners are still not clear whether they will support her as prime minister.

If we get a majority in Parliament, Sonia will be our prime ministerial candidate. We have an agreement on this with our partners. So far I haven't heard of any coalition partner opposing her candidature. [Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister]Kalyan Singh had made a statement about that, but now he is in the BJP.

The Congress is supporting Mulayam Singh Yadav's government in Uttar Pradesh, but he is not your alliance partner, and is criticising the Congress party.

Let them do that. If we don't have a coalition with them, then they are free to criticise us. In my constituency, the Samajwadi Party has not put up a candidate, which shows their respect to secularism and for people who work for national interest.

Do you mean to say the Samajwadi Party will support your party if the Congress is in a position to form the next government?

They have already given a signal by not putting up a candidate against me.

Sonia versus Vajpayee and foreigner versus Indian seem to be major issues in this election. Do you think these issues will strike a chord with voters?

Voters want jobs. Farmers are dying. There is no drinking water, one has to work for it. There is a drought in Maharashtra. The central government must give money to the state for that. These are the issues. There is no question of who will become the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi or Vajpayee. These things are settled after the election.

You recently went around the country with a shanti yatra (peace journey). You didn't feel the need for a yatra for your party across the country during the election?

There should be no yatra during an election. Yatras are planned once the election is settled.

You have represented the Congress for a long time, but you have never taken an interest in the party's internal management. Why is that?

When I get a post in the party, then I will certainly take responsibility for that. I don't want to impose myself on the party. I believe in the Congress principles, and I transplant them in my own life and tell others about them. But if I am given any responsibility in the party, I will certainly take interest.

Do you think the Vajpayee government has made India shine?

We just visited a slum locality in my constituency. What we have seen doesn't give a sense of India Shining. If there is poverty and hunger in one part of the country, then it means the entire country has the same problem. It's not like one part has that problem and another does not.

Do you know how many children between the ages of one and five die because of bad nutrition? Does it look like India is shining?

In other countries that are really shining, like America, if one child dies of hunger, the government changes. But here so many train accidents happen, and every time an inquiry is conducted, people are compensated, but nothing beyond that happens.

Vajpayee himself has admitted that India Shining has had no effect in rural India, but surely in urban areas India is shining?

The slum we just visited in my constituency, isn't it an urban area?

During my visit I always watch what clothes people are wearing, have the little girls washed their hair, do they have slippers on their feet, have the gutters been cleaned. So I always visit the slums, because there you can get a real sense of the problems.

What is the biggest failure of the Vajpayee government?

I feel they must not use religion for their party interest, they must talk about national interest. The nation belongs to everyone, to every caste and religion. If they talk about the basic problems of the country, I think Vajpayee and the BJP will both become popular.

But every time they talk about religion and the mandir issue. To build a temple is the work of Hindus, it is not the work of any particular government.

Government must concern itself with the problems of the poor, farmers, and youth.

Do you think the BJP is changing itself, by keeping a distance from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal?

All they are doing is drama. Now they are meeting Muslims. But where were they when something wrong happened to them? Even now Christians are being forcibly converted to Hinduism. So all these things the BJP is doing is just their election propaganda.

Do you think there is racism in politics, in the Congress too?

There is no racism in the Congress. The Congress is a secular party where people of all religions and castes participate. When we go among the people we don't ask them their religion and caste before shaking hands with them.

How can you justify dynastic politics?

If Tata, Birla and Bajaj have their dynasties, then in a critical arena like politics we felt this is a good thing. Ram Jethmalani is an advocate, his son and daughter are also advocates. When someone lives in a political family, they have greater understanding of politics. There is nothing wrong in it. The most important thing is, it is the people who make leaders. So let the people decide the fate of a dynastic politician. Everybody has a right to choose their profession.

Approximately 60 percent of the country's population is young. Do you think India needs to be ruled by young thoughts?

Pandit Nehru was not young when he became prime minister of India, but he had young thoughts. Whatever we are enjoying today, whether it is IITs, big dams, or nuclear power plants, was founded by Panditji.

We are making tanks, sending satellites into space. All these things are happening because of Nehru's young thoughts. But we are not giving him any credit.

The foundation for our nuclear programme was laid by Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi brought computers to India. But the credit for these things goes to the BJP.

Excuse me, the nuclear foundation was not laid by Indira Gandhi. She tested the first nuclear bomb. But the nuclear programme was founded by Pandit Nehru.

The media has failed to tell the people about the personalities behind our successes. The young people must know the reality. Those who had opposed computers when they were introduced to India by Rajiv Gandhi are now taking credit for the information technology revolution.

But isn't it a failure of the Congress if it has not been able to claim its due credit?

We never felt that we have to publicise these things. In a democracy people must know these things. But the NDA government is spending my money and yours on false advertisements.

You mean to say the NDA is misleading the people?

Certainly. Why do they need to say that India is shining by spending so much money? If India is shining, let the people say so.

In this election, film personalities are in great demand. How do you see these changes?

There might be some weakness in politicians, that is why they are calling on movie stars. Politicians feel that movie stars are more popular than them.

Did Sanjay Dutt's problems with the law prove an obstruction in your political career?

Sanjay Dutt is my son, what problem do I have? Politics is one thing and my feeling for my son is a different thing.

Politics is not my profession. Politics is my desire to give my services to the people of my country. Acting is my profession.

Definitely as a human being I am a different person from my profession. I have been a director, producer. Even now I am getting offers to act in movies.

The people of my country made me a star because of my love for my country. I was a victim of Partition, I was almost on the streets, but the people's love made me a big star. Therefore I entered politics to serve the people of my country.

Image: Rahil Shaikh

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