On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, her thoughts are with her brother, Sanjay Dutt. But she’s also focused on her parents, the NGOs and the banner they left behind. Her husband and young children also vie for her attention. Plus, she makes time to promote a health care initiative. Here’s Priya Dutt-Roncon, the woman for all seasons, in conversation with Roshmila Bhattacharya.
So, what are your plans for Raksha Bandhan?
Namrata and my plans are still in a flux because my brother (Sanjay Dutt) who’s shooting in South Africa may not be back in town.
Will this be the first time Sanjay’s missing on Raksha Bandhan?
(Laughs) No, there have been other occasions too in the past since he travels so much. But he always makes up for his absence later. Earlier, if he were going out of town, we would push the ceremony forward. But this time he left a month-and-a-half earlier. He will have to wait for his rakhis till he gets back.
Do you meet often when he is in town?
He’s very close to my kids so we meet at least once a day.
And are you close to his daughter, Trishala?
Extremely close, and she is even closer to my sister. Namrata’s children are Trishala’s age and the cousins bond really well.
What about Manyata? Neither you nor Namrata attended the wedding?
Doesn’t it bother you that Sanjay is a free man today largely because of your efforts but as soon as he’s out of jail the woman in his life takes centre stage?
Why should it? (Laughs) As long as I’m centre stage in my husband’s life, I’m happy. And I won’t take credit for Sanjay’s release. It’s largely because of the efforts of our father (Sunil Dutt) who struggled for 14 years. I only supported him as a sister. It was what my father would have expected from us as a family. We may not share the good times, but in bad times we hang on to each other.
Hasn’t this support cost you politically?
No, my conscience is clean. And I don’t have to answer to anyone.
Your brother is re-launching Ajanta Arts as Sanjay Dutt Productions..
(Cutting in) He is launching his own banner and may do films for Ajanta Arts too. But my sister and I would love to revive the family banner. We’ve spoken about it many times but have still to work out the finer details.
Sanjay is planning to get into politics too. Will he stand up against you in the coming elections?
Yes, my brother wants to get into politics. I don’t know if it will be now or later. His aspirations are probably motivated by a desire to contribute to society. But I don’t see us on opposing sides.
Riding on the Munnabhai wave, he campaigned for you in the last elections. Will he this time too?
I’m sure he will. And I’m so proud my brother was associated with a movie like Lage Raho Munnabhai which introduced the youth to Gandhiji and Gandhigiri.
Your closest rival in the last elections, Sanjay Nirupam, will be on Bigg Boss. Will you watch the show?
(Smiles) Since he’s on it, definitely.
Would you enter the House if an offer were made?
How would you rate the Congress’s chances in the next elections, post the nuclear deal and recession?
My party has contributed hugely to the country’s economic growth. Yes, public memory is short and inflation is on the rise, but we need to see the bigger picture.
If you look at our graph over the last five years, there are more ups than downs. And no one doubts our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s strength, sincerity and conviction.
Even the nuclear deal is to our advantage since we are the first country to be allowed to list our terms and conditions.
What about the Cashgate controversy?
It saddens me to see something like this happening in a sacred place like the Parliament. We are the people’s representatives and carry their hopes. We can’t let the world see us in such poor light.
Should there be a retirement age for politicians?
Definitely, so younger people get a chance too. Even in the US, the President can’t run for more than two terms.
Do you see yourself in national level politics?
No, I’m happy to work for the people here. I’ve reached out to people directly, done what I could, with sincerity and honesty, but still so much remains to be accomplished.
Yes, the roads are in abysmal condition but the BMC is more interested in a Mumbai Eye.
The condition of the roads frustrates me too. One municipality is not enough for the city. We need two zones, two commissioners.. for north and south Mumbai. We need accountability and transparency. Criminal action should be taken against contractors who don’t deliver. I’m a tax payer as well and I don’t like to see my money going down the drain.
What prompted you to lend your support to the nationwide healthcare initiative launched by the Piramal Group?
India is fast becoming the chronic diseases capital of the world but no one talks about diabetes, arthritis or osteoporosis which can be life threatening. And they are not just restricted to the slums or the middle-class. Every woman over 35 is susceptible to a debilitating condition like osteoporosis. So there’s need for awareness. As they say, prevention is always better than cure.
Was your decision influenced by the fact that the Piramal Group was backing the initiative?
No, but the backing of a strong corporate has boosted the initiative. For me, the motivation was purely personal. I have lost friends and acquaintances to these diseases due to sheer neglect. Everyone thinks, “This can’t happen to me.” But it does. So it’s essential to spread awareness.
You’re an active politician and a mother of two young children.. where do you find the time to campaign for these causes?
(Laughs) When something is close to your heart, you make time for it. Right now, I’m talking to you with one child in the crook of my arm and the other playing close by. I got into politics because I wanted to serve people and it gives me the platform and the opportunity to do so.
What’s happening to the NGOs your father launched?
The Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation is active in the US and the UK. We still initiate fund-raising dinners. The Nargis Dutt Charitable Fund makes it possible for poor patients to go in for chemotherapy. We’ve also bought detection equipment for cervical cancer for a tribal hospital in MP. We plan to reach out to more people.. in South East Asia and the Middle-East.
Are you happy with the two books on your parents?
Yes, particularly the book Namrata and I wrote, Mr and Mrs Dutt: Memories of our Parents. It’s being relaunched in Hindi.
How involved are you with your husband Owen Roncon’s events management company?
Not in the day-to-day running but if I want to campaign for a particular project I take his advice.
Are your children showing signs of following in your footsteps?
(Laughs) They are too young. My older son is just two and a half. He’s only interested in cartoons and the animals he sees on the National Geographic channel.