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When Pak offered Sunil Dutt his land back

Shyam Bhatia in London | March 02, 2004 20:27 IST

Sunil Dutt is a part-time vegetarian who also keeps his distance from alcohol.

But the actor-politician's selective abstinence from meat (he is a vegetarian on Tuesdays) and his avoidance of alcohol does not inhibit him from expressing strongly held view on key contemporary issues.

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One of them is the peace process with Pakistan, an issue that is close to the heart of the West Punjab-born Dutt, a member of that select club of Indian elders who remember their pre-Partition childhood with affection and would like to do their bit to make sure the peace process does not get derailed again.

At his Pali Hill home in Mumbai, Dutt spoke to rediff.com about what he believes needs to be done to preserve détente on the subcontinent for all times to come.

Dutt's simply furnished eighth floor flat is a shrine to the memory of his late wife and cinema icon, Nargis. Her black and white portraits adorn the walls of the apartment, as do pictures of the couple's children and grandchildren.

When Nargis was alive, the Dutts were a shining example of how families can cope and prosper despite differences of birth and religion.

Since her death from cancer and his election as a Congress MP from Bombay Northwest, Dutt has campaigned on human rights issues and on ways to improve relations with Pakistan.

"The idea should be to create a mass movement for peace at the grassroots level, like the movement for nuclear disarmament," Dutt told rediff.com

"The aim should be to create such an atmosphere of love and friendship that the person who has an atom bomb decides to defuse it immediately.

"But if you are accusing and aggressive, that will create the opposite effect. We had four or five atomic tests in India; Pakistan responded with more."

Asked if he had any specific examples of people power in action, Dutt told his personal story of visiting Pakistan in 1998 at the invitation of then prime minister Nawaz Sharief.

"I grew up in a village about 14 miles from Jhelum City called Khurd," Dutt said. "We had lands there and you will be very happy to know that after 50 years I went back to the village.

"When Dilipsahib [actor Dilip Kumar] got the Nishan-e-Imtiaz award, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharief, invited me and I went there.

"I told Nawaz Shariefsahib that l want to visit my village and he made all the arrangements.

"You'll be surprised. I knew that my village people might be knowing that I am an actor, that's something everyone in Pakistan knows. But when I reached my village, everyone was waiting -- maybe 1,000 people -- and they gave me a big reception.

"They put up a big banner. Pakistan TV was also there. I told the people I wanted to see my ancestors' house. The actual home had been demolished, but my chacha's house was still standing.

"I went there and remembered the top room where we used to read. Then they took me to the fields and they said, 'Yeh jo zamin hai, yeh aapki zamin hai [this land is your land].' I replied, 'Of course not, this belongs to you now.' But they insisted, saying, 'If you return even now this will all be yours.'

"Then they took me to another village nearby where I used to go to school. It was the same. The women of the village,  who were 15 or 20 years old when I left, were now 60 or 70 years.

"The first thing they asked was, 'How is your mother Kulwanti?' It was amazing that they remembered my mother's name. They also asked after my sister Rani. My brother Som Dutt, he used to be known as Soma, and they asked, 'How is Soma?'

"All this although there had been no contact over the years, not even exchange of letters, nothing. So I was really touched.

"I  told them my mother was no more. In our part of the world, someone's passing is marked by the beating of the chest and those ladies started pounding their chests. I can't forget how I felt and I realised that when people are like this, why don't we capitalise on this instead of strengthening the emotions of hatred?

"These are real emotions; we have that and we feel for each other. If there is no war, they will prosper and we will also prosper.

"I feel it is the politics that creates the wrong impression and the newspapers also play a great part in creating tensions and differences all put together."

Dutt does not think the future of peace lies solely in the hands of the political leaders of India and Pakistan.

"It's not only in Musharraf's hands and it's not just in Vajpayee's hands," he said. "You know, first of all we [must] change people's minds. The media here is very important. They must have a positive outlook.

"It has to be a collective effort. It is not only the politicians. It has to become a people's voice if we want peace.

"Let all the people of Pakistan and all the people of India walk to the border to tell the politicians they want peace, to say we don't want guns, we want food, we want water.

"It is the people's movement that matters. Even in England, you read the British history, how cruel were some of the kings. One of the punishments was beheading. But then changes started coming and that was the people's contribution.

"Otherwise there would have been no changes. Look at the French Revolution, it was a mass movement at grassroots level.

"Even the Berlin Wall. Look how the people gathered there from both sides. Yet there was a time when they used to hate each other."

Economics is also a reality that Dutt believes should be taken into account. In his ideal world, India and Pakistan would be peaceful neighbours with open borders, like the US and Canada. The prerequisite for this, he adds, is comparable standards of living in both countries.

"You know, when it comes to the two countries, the level, the standard of living, should be equal," he explained. "Like Canada and America. If you cross over to Canada, you don't find any difference. Only then can you have friendship.

"There should be total growth on both sides and the basic necessities of life should be given to the people.

"When people think of prosperity and our own boys dominating the world, there will be no war. We have no dearth of intellectuals in our countries, but they don't have opportunities."

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