Munnabhai in real life too

For the first time since film star Sanjay Dutt was in trouble with the law, I did not feel sorry for the man as reports filtered in that he had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Supreme Court for the possession of illegal arms in a notified area during the 1993 Bombay blasts.

I think it was the manner in which he behaved badly with his sister Priya Dutt during his stint with the Samajwadi Party that emptied my heart of all the sympathy I had built up for Sunil Dutt’s son. Dutt Sr always believed that it was Sharad Pawar who had fixed his son because he himself had not supported the latter’s candidature for prime minister during the struggle in 1991 with PV Narasimha Rao. Dutt had sought to keep himself equidistant from both candidates and was convinced that that’s why even Rao had abandoned him in his hour of need. When Rao had to face the courts over some corruption charges against his own son, Dutt had told me, “Look at how he must now feel the pain of a father for his son, He never even bothered to console me when I was pining for my own son!

Pawar, on the other hand, hated Dutt for his fierce loyalty to the Nehru Gandhis – and more for the fact that no matter what he did, he could never manage to have Dutt defeated from his own constituency. It was Dutt Sr who made all the difference when he swept his own Lok Sabha seat in 1999 and five other assembly seats for the Congress. The Shiv Sena came in second at 71 seats to the Congress’s 76, thus giving the party an unexpected government in Maharashtra and handing a defeat to the saffron alliance then from which they have yet to recover.

So I went along with the belief that it was this politics that had made a victim of Sanjay Dutt. But it was not just Sanjay’s ambition to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 that disillusioned me. In a rather ugly public spat with his sister, Sanjay shattered all the myths of the liberalism of his upbringing I might have had when he asked Priya to drop her maiden name because, according to him, she had forfeited her right to the Dutt family name once she was married – and he asked her to vacate her home in the same building as his – both apartments were granted to them (as to another sister, Narmrata) by their father after he had broken down his bungalow to construct some homes for the family, so that they could be independent and yet together. Priya stood by her brother despite all that, even breaking down in the Supreme Court when the verdict was announced but I thought that the sooner Sanjay Dutt serves his time and is done with it, the better it would be for all in the family – they could get ahead with their lives and put this sad episode of a wayward son in the family behind them.

Sanjay has somehow always had less powers of reasoning than his contemporaries and that is why he had been more in trouble than his friends all of who have played with guns and girls without quite burning their boats behind them.

The only other friend who has been as trouble I can think of is Salman Khan and yet he has not drawn the kind of `poor boy’ sympathy that Sanjay had over the years. I remember the kind of shock and disbelief the entire Dutt family suffered when they first came across what Sanjay had done. Over the years, I thought the father was reconciled to his wayward son when he said once to me, “ Once your children grow up, there is nothing you can do to make them fall in line, they should be held responsible for their own actions.’’

I thought he had tried out a lot by then and recalled what Bal Thackeray had once told me about Dutt Sr. “He is a hatta-katta Punjabi and so he is still standing on his feet. Had one of my sons done the same to me, I would have been dead by now.’’

That was not strictly true because some of Thackeray’s sons did give him as much trouble, though never so much as Sanjay did get on the wrong side of the law. Thackeray died of natural causes as did Sunil Dutt and it is just as well that the father is no longer around to suffer the ignominy of his son.

I remember years ago when I was on a padyatra as part of Dutt’s team, walking for nuclear disarmament between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the father had wanted his son to join him halfway in Japan, it was the time before liberalization and Sanjay had already travelled abroad thrice that year and said he couldn’t come because he would get no foreign exchange.

After failing to persuade his son, Dutt turned around and said, “my children are so foolish, they do not even know there are ways of getting around these problems.’’

Someone there commented, ‘’ It is a good way to be foolish, you should be happy your son is not a crook.’’

I am still not sure that Sanjay Dutt was ever a crook. But, boy, was he ever so stupid and foolish! And soon that foolishness got the better of Munnabhai.

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