I must begin by admitting that when it comes to the Dutt family, I am not particularly objective. Which is why I gave up writing about Sunil Dutt and his son Sanjay long ago. One of my previous editors told me that I gushed too much while writing about the Dutts. So I have steered clear for my own good.
But today it is clear to me that I retain my objectivity when it comes to hard news stories.
I interviewed Priya Dutt on Tuesday because I was writing on her brother’s decision to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow on a Samajwadi Party ticket.
I had wondered what prompted Sanjay Dutt to join the Samajwadi Party. I was sure the Congress high command had nudged him towards this ally because it is well known that the Congress cannot afford to give a ticket to Sanjay from Bombay for two reasons.
First, he has a conviction against him by the TADA court and having been on the Congress beat for years, I knew the Congress would not risk that controversy.
But even without that conviction, it would have been impossible for the Congress to run Sanjay from Bombay along with his sister Priya in an adjoining constituency.
It is Congress policy not to give tickets to two members of the same family for the same House at the same election from the same state — recently, former Goa chief minister Pratapsinh Rane had to run his son Vishwajeet as a rebel to overcome this obstacle.
But when I asked Priya if the Congress had evolved this clever strategy along with the Samajwadi party, she rubbished it and said what she had not on the record until then.
She said she was taken aback when she was called by a reporter for a reaction to Amar Singh’s announcement about Sanjay’s candidature.
She was sure there was a mistake, but when the truth became known, it was a bitter pill to swallow that Sanjay had taken that the family had to learn about from the press (the previous one being his marriage to Maanyata).
Priya was emotional but very clear about her disappointment about her brother. At the end of the conversation, I realised I had not merely a column but a news story.
“Can I quote you on this?” I asked her, detailing the bits that I would use in the story. Priya did not have any problem with that.
I consulted HT’s Mumbai editor. There is much that she has said which is private, I told him, sharing with him those bits of information.
He quickly agreed we should keep that out of the newspaper.
“But check with her if she is ok with all this being on the record.”
I checked again with Priya. She had no problem. Now the story has become a controversy.
Neither Priya nor I expected the impact the story would have (but that is the HT for you!) and both she and her brother are
upset that a family quarrel is being aired in public.
I have been in conversation with Priya and Sanjay through all of Wednesday. Priya has clarified — and I have respected her right to do so — that she wanted some things to be said differently.
Her greatest hurt seems to be that her parents’ name is being unnecessarily bandied about — Priya considers no one has the right to drag her parents’ name into any controversy.
Maanyata is being promoted by Amar Singh as the daughter-in-law of Sunil and Nargis Dutt.
“She’s not even the daughter-in-law of Sunil and Nargis Dutt,” Priya was quoted as saying in the HT on Wednesday.
But now she has a point that puts that into context: “They never knew Maanyata. And they are not alive to either condemn or condone whatever is happening today. So it is unfair to use my parents’ names to further an individual’s ambition for anything,” she said.
Maanyata’s decisions are hers to take as an individual or even as Sanjay’s wife, about which she is not in a position to comment at all, she says. But no claims to the Dutt legacy, please. Just keep off that grass.
That’s loud and clear, then, and for both our sakes, I hope that is completely in context.