Saying sorry never hurt anyone

Sanjay Nirupam was a fellow-journalist long before he became a politician, so it has always been difficult for me and a lot of other journalists to distance ourselves from him completely and look upon him dispassionately.
Yet there was a time when even his closest friends in the media had found it difficult to forgive him for the kind of unsavoury campaign he ran against Sunil Dutt in 2004 (he was the Shiv Sena’s spokesperson and had contested on the Sena ticket from Mumbai North West). Among many other unprintable names, he used to refer to Dutt as an `old man’ with one foot in the grave who had no business contesting his fifth election and made out that it was almost Dutt’s bounden duty to leave the field clear for younger men – like him.

Sambit SahaSanjay Nirupam during 2009 campaign against stalwart Ram naik of the BJP. He won by a marginof 6000 votes. Photo by: Sambit Saha

Of course, Nirupam lost that election but it was a while before I realised where that abuse was coming from – Matoshree. For all that Bal Thackeray was marginally older than Sunil Dutt, I was startled to hear the Thackerays heap the same insults on Dutt, much after Nirupam had quit the Sena, and refer to him as an `old man’, in much the same words. When I pointed to Thackeray’s own age, all that they could say was, “That’s different.’’ 
This election has shown me that it is really different and how different it really is – how belonging to one party or the other even changes your demeanour and your vocabulary. Like Chaggan Bhujbal’s did in the past – he had once upon a time heaped praises on Nathuram Godse but after quitting the Sena swore by Mahatma Gandhi saying, quite sheepishly, that Thackeray had compelled him to take the earlier position. 

I found a similar shift in Nirupam’s position, though he has not said it in so many words. Ram Naik who contested against him from Mumbai North this year is no older than Dutt was in 2004 but Nirupam did not abuse him in any manner or refer to him demeaningly as an `old man’ who had no business contesting (this was Naik’s seventh election). Yet Nirupam ran a very aggressive campaign. Though nobody believed me through the election process I had repeated ad nauseum that the Congress could not have fielded a better candidate than Nirupam against this BJP veteran who has always been a formidable opponent – everyone believed that Naik was a winner from the word `go’. 

But in just 20 days of campaign Nirupam put Naik on the mat – though this time in a far more refined

HT Photo

Sanjay Nirupam during 2009 campaign against stalwart Ram naik of BJP. He won by a marginof 6000 votes.

Coutesy: HT Photo

 fashion than he had tackled Dutt. He took substantial chunks of Gujarati votes away from the BJP by pointing out that Naik, as Railways Minister, had quietly buried all the Gujarati sign boards at local railway stations (this was something even I had failed to notice) and promised to restore them once he was elected. He exposed Naik’s grand renovation plan for the Borivli railway station saying that when he had dug into the archives he had discovered that there was no blueprint for this at all and that the promise was all a sham and a scam. And he promised to be accessible to every voter at least once a month contrasting with Naik’s reputation for living in an ivory tower from one election to another. 

It is no surprise then that he won, though with a slender margin. But slaying a Goliath like Naik itself earns him the reputation of a giant killer (which his unrefined aggression against Dutt denied him the last time). Nirupam’s is a victory well-deserved because, in addition, despite Big Boss (and Naik left no opportunity to needle him over that unfortunate episode) he did not have Govinda’s star image backing him or the support of local don Hitendra Thakur and others that had helped Govinda the last time round. 


Sambit Saha

Sanjay Nirupam during 2009 campaign against stalwart Ram naik of BJP. He won by a marginof 6000 votes.

Photo by: Sambit Saha

Friends with Nirupam but completely disagreeing with his politics in the past, he always had a complaint against us. “Whenever you call, you first throw a shoe at me and only then do you begin to talk,’’ he would grumble. To me, very critical of him in the past, he said on many an occasion, “Mujhe aap log baksh doh (spare me).’’ Which we never did. 


Yet, since he joined the Congress I saw the nicer side of him emerge and I thought this was in no small measure due to the kind of politics that the Congress itself practices which is now being fundamentally defined by nice people like Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. I believe that brings out the best in others, unlike Bal Thackeray who brings out the worst in even decent people. 

Last election Narendra Modi had persisted in calling Sonia a Jersey cow and referring to Rahul Gandhi as her hybrid calf. When we sought her reaction at a press conference in Solapur after her public rally, she looked immensely hurt but said, “I don’t believe in responding in kind. But good that he abuses me. That will only help me in winning over more people.’’ 

It did. As did LK Advani’s targeting of Dr Singh as the weakest Prime Minister ever, this season. It is my personal belief that Punjabi and Sikh pride among voters in New Delhi asserted itself and (while there was no factor like Raj Thackeray in Delhi), that is what contributed in a large measure to the Congress sweep in the capital. 

Now I believe Nirupam will no longer deny that humility earns you more votes than abuse and aggression. He is still bothered about the fact that the Dutt family is keeping the case filed against him by Sunil Dutt alive in the Bombay courts. He says he has apologised for his harsh words against Sunil Dutt time and again – but in the privacy of the Congress office in Bombay. To the state party president. But certainly not to any of the Dutts. 

Perhaps its time to make that apology public. Saying sorry never hurt anyone.

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