Has Munnabhai repaid Sena the Tada debt?
Munnabhai ban gaya politician. Not quite. Sanjay Dutt, though, surprised everybody, including his father Sunil Dutt, by turning up at the latter's rally on Sunday evening at Bandra in Mumbai North West. But he was not there for campaigning. Simply to entertain the crowds with Munnabhai takeoffs.
But there is much more behind the fact that Sanjay Dutt hits the campaign trail for the first time ever in his life in the 20 years since his father has been contesting polls, Sanjay never even once canvassed for Dutt Sr. This time, though, there was a point to be made that blood is thicker than water and that all past debts had been repaid to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.
According to reports Thackeray had summoned Dutt Jr at the start of the campaign and asked him to campaign for the Sena candidate Sanjay Nirupam.
Sanjay declined on the grounds that he was a busy actor and had never even campaigned for his father. That was enough for Thackeray who perhaps had discerned earlier than most others, and even Sunil Dutt, how popular Munnabhai had become with the masses. When Dutt Sr hit the campaign trail he was highly surprised that people came to meet Munnabhai ke papaji more than they did Sunil Dutt, the Congress candidate from Mumbai North west constituency.
His rival Nirupam had a galaxy of film stars including Hema Malini and Manisha Koirala campaigning for him. But those who refused to do so were Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha, Ministers in the BJP-led government at the centre, and others like Poonam Dhillon, who made it clear that fraternity ties were more important to them than their politics when it came to Sunil Dutt. Sunil Dutt is like my Godfather. I am not going to campaign against him,''
Khanna stated very unambiguously. And Sinha, while campaigning for Sena candidate Manohar Joshi in Mumbai North Central, would not do so for Nirupam, come what may, despite the fact that both are Biharis and should be sharing common aspirations. But transcending the popularity of every other film star was that of Munnabhai. And so it was only a matter of time before the son put in an appearance for his father. And it is this father-son tie that is now being emphasized by both the Dutts. ``My father has done everything for me, in my good times and bad. So why should I not put in an appearance at his rally?'' questions Sanjay Dutt.
``Can my son not come to see me? Is there something wrong about that? He surprised me, I did not call him. But he is my son, after all,'' retorts Sunil Dutt.
Neither father nor son would want to mention it, but close supporters consider that Thackeray's sympathy towards the Dutts during the son's incarceration several years ago has been fully repaid. Dutt Sr. had refused to contest the seat in 1996 and 1998 despite being offered a Congress ticket thus helping the Sena to a victory both times. Now with support from the Samajwadi Party which has left the field clear for Dutt and the north Indians, a substantial vote block here which is up in arms against the Sena, Dutt probably did not need any film star to help him sail through.
But then this is no ordinary film star, it is Munnabhai, MBBS, immensely popular with the electorate.
Thackeray, perhaps, was too ambitious in believing that blood would not be thicker than water.