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Again in a crisis


Sanjay Dutt... haunted by the past.

MORE THAN 15 years ago, while I was doing a story on film star-politician-social worker, Sunil Dutt, for the Reader's Digest, I referred to the frequent shocks suffered by the family, starting from the death of Nargis Dutt due to cancer and how every time Sunil Dutt bounced back to continue the good work he was doing. Why do bad things happen to good people? Dutt saab shrugged, smiled wryly. ``I never lose faith in God. I have confidence that we have not done anything wrong. Yet, I do not know why we are tested so often and so severely." Since that chat, the family had come under more strain. Dutt saab's son, Sanjay, was arrested on TADA charges and spent time in jail before being released on bail. The trial against Sanjay is now nearly over and the judgment will be delivered shortly.

To compound the family's problems, Sanjay's marriage with Rhea Pillai, obviously did not work out. And last week, the media splashed details of Sanjay's taped telephonic conversation with Mafia don, Chota Shakeel. The tapes were two years old and used in the ongoing trial of film financier and diamond merchant, Bharat Shah for alleged links with the underworld. The tapes did not discuss any criminal activities or conspiracies but clearly revealed the close nature of relations between the actor and the don. Sanjay used embarrassingly gutter language to describe some of his colleagues in Bollywood but also took the sides of others who had been threatened by minor dons and asked for Shakeel's intervention. The overall impression the tapes left was the feeling how a son of Dutt saab can stoop to such low levels.

The night when the tapes were released, Sanjay was at a film land party dancing till the early hours of the morning. He did not react to the contents of the tapes. Dutt saab, his face creased in lines of pain and his voice shaky, said he stood by his son but admitted that the tapes could embarrass him politically, particularly at a time when the Congress had asked him to lead the `Satbhavana Sipahiyaon' brigade against communal forces. Dutt saab, a long time Member of Parliament from Mumbai north-west could be a marked man in the days to come. BJP volunteers asked the people to boycott Sanjay Dutt's films. Former Shiv Sena Chief Minister, Narayan Rane, said that there would be no sympathy for Sanjay and called for his arrest.

In the past, when Sanjay was arrested under TADA, he received the support of Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. But with Dutt saab continuing to work actively for the Congress and proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the anti-Congress forces in Mumbai, the Sena chief may no longer support the Dutt family.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, Dutt saab was the only successful Congress candidate from Mumbai and trounced sitting MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar, a favourite of Thackeray. Dutt saab's political opponents will now target at Sanjay's activities and argue that the Congress MP should not be `advising' the nation when he cannot control his son. The Congress MP told the media that he often spent several days without meeting Sanjay who had his own friends and his own life to lead. But in a family-oriented country like India, the sins of sons are often attributed to parents.

What hurts Sunil Dutt is the accusation that his family is anti-national. From the 1960s, inspired by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Indira Gandhi, Dutt saab's `Ajanta Arts' cultural troupe had performed for the jawans in remote border areas. Once in politics, the Dutts had contributed handsomely to national integration and involved with all kinds of social work including the starting of the Spastics Society of India.


Braving the odds... Sunil Dutt.

After the death of Nargis, Dutt saab had thrown himself tirelessly into collecting funds for introducing latest cancer treatment equipment and techniques at Mumbai's Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital. Totally committed to communal harmony and world peace, Dutt saab walked from Mumbai to the Golden Temple, Amritsar when militancy was at its peak in Punjab and again walked from Hiroshima to Nagasaki demanding a ban on the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Today, his credibility is still high. But Dutt saab, apparently had powerful enemies who attacked him and tried to besmirch his reputation through his wayward son.

The tapes could not have been leaked to the media without the connivance of someone high-up in State politics and it was common knowledge that some of his enemies were either in the Congress or its ally in Maharashtra, the National Congress party.

They were clearly jealous of Dutt saab's soaring popularity with the masses and the continued trust the poor, particularly the minorities, imposed on him. Sonia Gandhi respected and admired him. Dutt saab himself does not know how many more battles he has to fight. Not in the best of physical health after he survived a plane crash two years back, he still walks using a stick. Knowing his resilient nature, friends and admirers are certain that Dutt saab will emerge unscathed this time too. Some days ago, he hinted at the possibility of doing a film with Sanjay. It will be appropriate if such a film was titled, `Ab main aur kitna sahan karoon?' — How much more can I bear?

V. GANGADHAR

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