‘Dutt Saab ki beti Priya Dutt’ (Dutt (Sunil) sahib’s daughter Priya Dutt).
If there is one phrase that describes Priya Dutt to her electorate, this is it.
You can see it in the expressions of party workers when she gives her campaign speech. You can see it in the faces of the people of the neighbourhood as the loud speaker heralding her arrival boomed through the grubby slums of Vakola.
And yes, her speeches mention of her father with no hesitation.
“You have supported my father for so many years and then me the last time. I appeal to give me another chance to help us keep serving you,” says the 43-year old Priya, a sitting MP contesting from the Mumbai North Central constituency, from the specially designed and decorated vehicle that is her chariot till elections.
Dressed in a pastel cream salwar-kameez, Priya goes up and down the vehicle several times to greet party workers waiting to garland her. She walks large laps in the scorching heat in the dingy lanes of slums that comprise over 70 per cent of her constituency.
She has mapped a 20-day schedule covering the entire constituency. Her gruelling day begins at 9 am and ends a little before midnight, with only a two-hour break in the afternoon. This time she has been involved in the elaborate preparations; the first time, she admits, was a ‘sympathy vote’ sweep.
Her speeches at Vakola, which has a mixed demography of Maharashtrians, Muslims and north Indians, centres on the issues of the area — slums standing on airport land that are facing the heat from authorities, and rehabilitation. After delimitation — earlier her constituency was only 40 per cent slum — Priya reworked her agenda, which was previously focused on infrastructure.
But people are not happy with mere words.
Nandkumar Panchal (45), a slum dweller at D’Mello Compound, is ecstatic after Priya shakes his hand, but his expression changes immediately after she leaves. “It is nice to see Sunil and Nargis Dutt’s daughter,” said Panchal. “But where is she when we have waist-deep water in this area?”
Anjum Sayyed (42), a Congress worker from the Gaondevi slum for the past 20 years, also has complaints. “We run a women-self help group which needs funding and support,” she said. “I wish she visited us once and solved our problem — just like her father used to.” But she is quick to add, “I guess she needs more time.”
Priya admits it is not feasible to visit every lane in her constituency. “I don’t believe in announcing my visits,” she says. After visiting sites and listening to people’s problems, she likes to work from her office where she can “make ten calls and solve problems”.
And while she is trying to cope with the schedule, taking inspiration from her parents, she does not forget her children. “I used to adore the way my mother managed the three of us, and did her work too. I strive to be like her,” says Priya, who begins her day by dropping off her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Siddharth, to his nursery every day.