Mumbai: Former Congress MP Priya Dutt, who after her initial reluctance to join the poll fray, has been nominated as the party candidate from Mumbai North Central.
In an exclusive conservation with CNN News18, Dutt opened up about various issues like reasons for Sanjay Nirupam’s ouster from the Mumbai Congress chief’s post, why none of the Congress leaders were willing to fight from Mumbai North and the reasons behind getting actor Urmila Matondkar in the Congress.
For the first time, a senior Mumbai Congress leader has also admitted that the Mumbai North seat, a crucial seat in the Lok Sabha election, was offered to allies, as well. She spoke of the reasons behind the fear in the actors of the Hindi film industry.
Batting for Congress president Rahul Gandhi for his recent comments about his love for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the former Union minister said, “Love will always win. Truth will always win. Our party has always talked about peace and love. This is the first time the narrative has fallen so low. They are spewing hatred,” she said.
Talking of issues close to her heart, she said that as a mother of two young children and as a politician, she was worried about the atmosphere of trolling and hatred in the country, “which is being supported by the current disposition.”
While talking about the reasons for returning to active electoral politics, Dutt got emotional as she recalled the memories of her late father Sunil Dutt.
“I was happy with my social work for the Nargis Dutt Foundation. I travelled and worked in all corners of the country. The impact of social work was so beautiful and so quick. But there was a lot of pressure from workers. Nobody was willing to accept that I wasn’t contesting. When I met Rahul Gandhi and saw how Priyanka came out, I saw how everybody was fighting not for their party, not for their position, but fighting for the country. That made me think I need to do something for the people,” she said.
“I kept thinking about my father. What would he have done had he been around? I was still hesitant. And I realised that if people like us, especially who believe in our Constitution, in our democracy, in peace and harmony, we have to take a stand somewhere,” she said, as she tried to hold back tears in her eyes.
When asked if her decision had anything to do with the infighting in the Congress, she said, “I would have liked to focus on my boys' teenage years. They are in a sensitive age. Every party has infighting. Here, it shows how democratic we are. People can stand up and say what they have to say. They can go and talk to the president. It happened when I was there, it happens now. I don’t think that’s a big issue. There is a family. There is fighting, there is difference of opinion. It wasn’t easy. But they at least got heard,” she said.
Dutt also certified Nirupam for his good work. “He did a very good job in keeping the Congress alive when it was at its lowest (phase). Over the years, a lot of things happened, which is understandable. One cannot make everybody happy. You will have people against and for you. Changes were made. Everybody was happy. Even Nirupam, because he wanted to fight the election. It wouldn’t have been possible for Nirupam to handle the Mumbai president’s position and look after his Lok Sabha campaigning,” she said.
‘Mumbai Congress is happy under Milind Deora’
“It would not have been possible for Sanjay Nirupam to be in North West. He would have never been able to leave North West to come and address the issues of South Mumbai. These logistical issues also matter. I’m not saying there are other issues that the Congress president took care of. The matter is completely settled today. Today, it is a cohesive unit working together. Everyone is really happy. Nirupam is working really hard in his constituency. Milind (Deora) is focusing very hard in his constituency and in MRCC (Mumbai Regional Congress Committee). What had happened has happened. And it’s over. We have come back to a very strong Congress. Milind is like his father in many ways. He won't take decisions without consultation. He talks to everyone. People are very happy with him,” she said.
Mumbai North: Is Congress scared?
When asked why the Congress leaders, particularly Nirupam, was so scared to fight the Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North, she said the margin of defeat last time, scared many. She also said that no Mumbai Congress leader was willing to fight from that seat. In fact, for the first time, she admitted that the seat was offered to allies as well, who too refused to fight from there.
“The margin was huge in 2014. Of course, they had to find a new face, someone who comes with a clean slate, someone who will be able to come up with something new. It took time till they approached Urmila and she graciously accepted to fight it. It is a difficult seat. She will give it a great fight. All of us still have a political baggage with us. So we didn’t fight. That’s why we got someone completely new. We thought of giving the seat to an ally too. But if people from my party weren't willing to fight from there, why would some other party want to fight from there? That’s an option which must have been looked at. Why should we concede defeat? Urmila will give a good fight. We won't let it go without a fight.”
‘Things are getting communal’
Talking of the mood of people in her constituency, she said she sensed people’s frustration. “People are fed up. People are angry. There have been hardships. Nobody has listened to them. The feedback I am getting from everyone, including the minorities, Dalits and those staying in plush buildings, is that we are living in an insecure environment. Things are getting communal. There are issues that must get addressed, but they are not getting addressed. Everybody wants a sense of security towards their families, their women, their children and that is not there today. All you see in newspapers is crime rate has increased. There are hate crimes you are reading about every single day. There are lynchings happening. You are being told what you should eat, what you should not eat. Students are being beaten up because they are talking against administration. There is so much violence simmering under the layers. That is what needs to be addressed.”
‘Current govt responsible for the atmosphere of fear’
“All secular-minded people are feeling innate fear. The current disposition is responsible for it. Isn't it the responsibility of the state or the Centre to give that sense of security to its citizens? Am not talking of any particular community. As citizens, you have the right to voice your dissent also, go against the government, as well. But to be called an anti-national every time you raise your voice, I have heard this for the first time. The PM doesn’t listen to anyone else’s opinion. He only talks of his opinions. We hear him on his platforms. But he hears no one. That is the big difference,” she said.
‘Modi should have addressed these issues’
“It is a national issue. We had never heard of lynching before. Poor people get affected the most. When you talk of a beef ban or tell people what to eat or what not to eat, it has affected the poorest of the poor. They have been killed, beaten and lynched. As a PM, you should have addressed that issue. Law and order should have been addressed. Our Constitution is in threat, our democracy is in threat. There is a sense of fear among everyone. The minute you open your mouth, freedom of speech is being restricted. It is eroding our democracy. People are fed up, angry,” she said.
When asked if the Congress’ promises of Nyay and free housing for the Mumbai poor were a set of counter-jumlas, she said, “The Congress has never resorted to jumlas. We are not a party of jumlas. You have a party of jumlas already. That is enough.”
‘Trolling is dangerous, a new low’
“Trolling is one of the worst things to happen to social media. This is the first time I have heard the word. It disgusts me when I read the comments. Especially women are being trolled very badly. There is no law to stop it. Here, you talk of safety of women, but what about the trolls? What’s being done against them?”
“As a mother, it is worrying. My kids are now 11 and 13. They are on social media. They have their mobile phones all the time. It worries me. I am also in public life. My work is such that I have to comment on various issues. If they read that, and God forbid, if I am trolled, it scares me. Am talking about any child. This trolling is being supported by the current disposition. Earlier, there was no concept of trolling. People used to discuss and debate. This abuse needs to stop,” she said.
‘Fear of being called anti-national’
When asked about the recent trend in Bollywood to go into an appeasement mode, she said, “I am quite surprised to see something like this. I am seeing this for the first time. Everybody wants to go into a kind of appeasement. And then you wonder why. You definitely wonder why. To make that person very happy, to be in the good books of that person. We have had great leaders. Someone came from outside to make a biopic on Mahatma Gandhi. And today you have at least three people lined up to make a biopic and a series. This is the first time I am seeing this.”
When asked why the Hindi film fraternity shies away from raising issues, she said they feared being targeted for expressing their opinion.
“I have seen so many film stars who have raised issues. But again, they have been so massively trolled, called anti-national. Leave this country. Go away to Pakistan, do this, do that. That has created a sense of disillusionment. What are we fighting against? Where we can't even open our mouths. This is my suggestion, my opinion on something. If I am not able to express that, then I should relook at the democracy I am living in. I would say there is fear. That is why you don't see many of them coming out and giving opinion on certain things. Am sure that even if you as a journalist ask them about something controversial, they would choose to stay quiet rather than expressing their views. Nobody wants to get into that zone where I might displease someone, or I might be trolled or I might be abused. Yes. I think that's the reason why many people, not just in the films, but across levels, have just kept quiet on many issues. I am very worried,” she said.