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Whose candidate is Sanjay Dutt?

Whose candidate is Sanjay Dutt?

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 7, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/154769/Whose-candidate-is-Sanjay-Dutt.html

In nominating movie star Sanjay Dutt as its Lok Sabha candidate from Lucknow, the Samajwadi Party has by all accounts taken its rivals by surprise. As is well known, Dutt was implicated in the Mumbai bombings case of 1993. A special court has convicted him under the Arms Act for procuring AK-56 rifles from members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang that masterminded the explosions in downtown Mumbai, killing over 250 people.

The police case against Dutt was that, in return for the assault rifles, he allowed Dawood's men use of his garage to dismantle the car in which the explosives and other weaponry for executing the attack had been hidden. The munitions had been sourced from Pakistan and been driven to Mumbai hidden in the cavity of the car.

Dutt's adherents have pointed out that the actor -- who was just short of 34 when the Mumbai bombings took place and scarcely a naïve, impressionable teenager -- was stupid and in awe of the underworld but not a terrorist. With a half-Muslim background, he was fearful after the religious violence of December 1992 and January 1993 and felt he needed assault rifles, pistols and hand grenades to protect his family.

That aside, the actor's friends say, he may not have known what the explosives that were stored in his garage were meant for. His meetings with Dawood Ibrahim and Iqbal Mirchi and his proximity to Anees Ibrahim (Dawood's brother) and Abu Salem -- all of which were part of the prosecution's evidence against Dutt in the special court -- are explained away as innocent adventurism.

The actor has no other criminal record, it is said. He must be judged by the standards of his parents -- both Nargis and Sunil Dutt were distinguished citizens. The junior Dutt's rehabilitation should, therefore, be welcomed and promoted.

All this is no secret. Even so, his formal entry into politics was unexpected. When his father was alive -- Sunil Dutt passed away in 2005 -- Sanjay Dutt had told family friends he had no desire to enter politics and would rather "clear my name". So what has changed in the past few weeks?

It is here that the story gets mysterious and acquires potentially ominous implications. At one level, the SP is hoping to use Sanjay Dutt as its mascot in mobilising Muslim votes all over Uttar Pradesh. It is undeniable that there is sympathy for the actor in the community, particularly among restive, radicalised youth.

Dutt's friend Abu Salem is a folk hero of sorts in his native Azamgarh -- a district in eastern Uttar Pradesh that has been in the news for its links with many 'Indian Mujahideen' terrorists. Salem is often spoken of as a possible political godfather himself.

However, this is not all there is to Dutt's political debut. Insiders say the actor was prevailed upon to agree to the Lucknow candidacy by his recently-wedded wife. A pushy, ambitious woman, the new Mrs Dutt has been keen and vocal on her husband taking on a higher public profile. It is an issue that has ruptured relationships within the Dutt family and, Mumbai sources suggest, also distanced Sanjay Dutt from some of his close friends.

Being a convict -- though out on bail while his appeal is being heard by the Supreme Court -- Sanjay Dutt's nomination papers are unlikely to be accepted by the Election Commission, lawyers suggest. In that situation, Mr Amar Singh, SP general secretary, has announced that Ms Manyata Dutt will stand in for her husband and contest the Lok Sabha election.

Consider the situation. Sanjay Dutt, good, bad or indifferent, is a public figure. His life, family credentials, successes and failures are known to the people, to voters and to India. Whether he is a suitable candidate for Parliament may be another matter, but his personal history is in the public domain.

Nobody knows who Ms Manyata Dutt is. She has emerged from nowhere in recent months as, first, Sanjay Dutt's girlfriend and then his wife. Her background, origins, political and social views and affiliations, if any, are completely unknown. Just who is she? There is no answer.

Yet, with help from a sympathetic political party, she has manoeuvred her way to a possible electoral candidacy and, backed by denominational support gathered using her husband's name, hopes to enter India's Parliament! Is this coincidence or some far-reaching conspiracy? Can one be blamed for wondering?

There is one more uneasy factor. Sanjay Dutt's transactional relationship with the Mumbai underworld was not limited to the 1993 bombings.

In Maximum City, his massive biography of Mumbai, writer Suketu Mehta recounts an extortion threat received by film-maker Vinod Chopra: "The first call comes to Vinod's production office ... His accountant picks up. The caller asks for Vinod; the accountant says he is on the set. 'Tell him to call Abu Salem.' And a phone number is left. By evening, another phone call comes. 'Why hasn't he called? We'll blow his head off'."

As Mehta writes, Chopra "starts making calls", even reaching out to the then Union Home Minister, Mr LK Advani: "In short order, Vinod has a commando sitting in his car, a jeepful of armed policemen following him." A day later, the matter has been "sorted out": "He (Chopra) received another call saying, 'You are like our brother'. Some string was pulled somewhere."

The saviour turns out to be Sanjay Dutt: "Salem was a batchmate of Sanjay's in the bomb-blasts case ... Sanjay had called up his old colleague and reminded him, 'I've spent two years in jail for you. Vinod is like my brother'." The threat was called off. Chopra was then making Mission Kashmir with Dutt. Maximum City assesses this in retrospect: "Vinod has been extraordinary lucky in his casting choices. Signing Sanjay Dutt has turned out to be ... fortuitous."

Sanjay Dutt may well be an angst-ridden, misguided soul. Yet, he has friends who run extortion and blackmail rackets. Is he a bystander or is he a victim of these? Are criminal syndicates-turned-terror groups seeking to 'place' him in the Lok Sabha? Until India is certain, it cannot afford to have him, or his wife, contest elections.

- malikashok@gmail.com


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