Political heroes then and now: Pranab Da and Sunil Dutt

BY Humra Quraishi. Dated: 6/14/2018 9:56:48 AM

Congressman Pranab Mukherjee travelling to Nagpur, to the RSS headquarters to deliver a speech was difficult to accept or digest. He could have delivered the same speech in New Delhi whilst sitting in his drawing room or on the front lawns to his bungalow in Lutyens' Delhi. There was something very upsetting and sad and disappointing about the entire spread. Making me wonder rather aloud - where are the loyalists? Where are our political saviours? Who is there to stand up for a cause, to protect structures - human and otherwise? Why is on one lashing out at the Right-wing goons for denting and damaging heritage monument- the Taj Mahal? Why that eerie quiet in political circles, as lynching is spreading out, seemingly out of control? Where are the political heroes? What could be the way out from the destructive forces spreading out?
For the last few years I have asked the politicians I interviewed one basic query - what is the way out from the heap of disasters hitting us? And one of the politicians to have come up with a practical solution was Sunil Dutt. In fact, on Sunil Dutt's birthday - June 6, I kept thinking of the vision he held out after touring rural India. On the four different occasions I'd met and interviewed this actor turned politician- activist, I recall asking him what could be a possible solution to the communal surcharge the country had begun witnessing right from the early 90s. He had rather too spontaneously detailed, "Only last night I was going through the latest Time magazine and the horror photographs of the war -ridden Somalia shocked me so much that I couldn't eat. It was dinner time but couldn't touch a morsel…just couldn't! Those horrifying pictures of human beings lying injured and ill, dying, rendered so frail and weak that they couldn't even walk or talk. These human disasters because of the ongoing civil strife in Somalia….And now I am going to suggest that those pictures and connected pictures be displayed all over our towns and cities, at all public places and educational institutions. And displayed with this caption: See, what internal war or strife or unrest can do to you, to your country, to your fellow countrymen! Those pictures will touch one's soul … will definitely have an impact and make us realize the havoc that internal unrest drags along. "
There was a certain earnestness and humbleness to Sunil Dutt, which stood out whilst he talked of the padyatras he undertook to connect to the masses. And though he had sat surrounded by people, yet he lonely to the extent that when I'd asked him who were his friends and foes he'd quipped -" I have no best friend, as I am myself my best friend! Also, I do I believe that nobody is your enemy except your own destiny. …tapairai khai hain zamanai kei ! But I suppose one has to fight on, to go on with life. Right from my childhood it has been a struggle but what happened to my son I couldn't ever even dreamt of …But these are tests of life !"
Needless for me to add that lonely it gets if one is a true loyalist! After all, Sunil Dutt couldn't have dreamt of getting politically practical! He was a hard core Congressman and remained so, in spite of the fact that he got little political support when he was going through a harsh phase, with even communal tags and labels thrown at him. As he had told me, "Why this propaganda that I've worked only for the Muslims! Earlier when I had undertaken the padyatra from Mumbai to Amritsar then I suppose it was for no Muslim cause! It was only for the Hindus and Sikhs. Even during the Bombay riots I helped whoever was suffering and affected. Obviously, I couldn't have first asked their religion and then got down to helping them! I have always and always helped anybody in pain, in need and anybody who is suffering. Though I have myself been a victim of the Partition and with that suffered tremendously but my mother taught us never to hate a human being. I have been brought up on this principle and this very principle I have passed on to my children …in fact, my son had really worked in trying to provide every possible assistance to the riot victims but now he says to me, ' Papa I will never do any social work …' See, how sad it is !"
Sunil Dutt detailed the trauma he and the family went through after Sanjay was arrested and imprisoned, "Filthy allegations were thrown against us. Allegations that I can't even dream of. People calling us 'Pakistani agents…Desh Drohis'. You can imagine how I felt. Those days wherever I used to go, even the peons at the lawyers' chambers would say right there on my face - 'desh drohi aa raha hai …' In fact, once my daughters had gone out shopping and told me that the moment they stepped into a shop there was a minute's silence and then the shoppers started moving out, walking out of that shop …Can you imagine even my dead wife was dragged into all this! I could hear people say that Sanjay's mother was a Muslim. I told these people that you can slash Sanju and me as much as you like but at least spare the dead; or remember Nargis for the work she did for the spastics, for the blind …Nargis worked for all possible children and didn't work from any religious angle ….Look what all we did for the country- During the two wars we went to the border areas to meet the jawans and those days, round 1962, when we were financially hard up I'd donated I lakh for the PM's relief fund. In fact, I am ready to do anything for the country."
And with a severe dearth of loyalists who will out there to save whatever remains of the near - ruptured fabric. Perhaps, a way out could be to publicly honour the men and women who are showing courage and conviction to protect and save lives and souls…I can spontaneously come up with at least four such persons who in these recent months have tried to reach out in their own ways - Imam Maulana Imdadul Rashidi showed immense maturity when his 16 year old son, Sibtullah Rashidi, was brutally attacked and killed during the Ram Naumi processions in West Bengal's Asansol, yet he appealed and pleaded that there ought to be no cries for revenge or counter killings. With that Imam sahib did what the police force couldn't do - that is, protect the lives and limbs of hundreds of citizens of Asansol
Also, West Delhi based Ankit Saxena's father Yashpal Saxena who sabotaged and halted all cries for revenge even as his son was allegedly killed by a Muslim family. Also, stands out Sub inspector of Ramnagar - Gaganadeep Singh who saved a young man from a communally charged mob.
And also stands out the hotel manager of the hotel Mamta at Srinagar's Dal Gate where Major Leetul Gogoi had invited a local Kashmiri girl to the hotel room but the manager reported the matter to the police; a major step he dared to undertake, as it isn't easy to take on an officer in a conflict zone which is controlled by the boot!
*(Humra Quraishi is a freelance columnist based in Delhi and is currently a visiting Professor in the Academy of Third World Studies in Jamia Milia University).



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