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'Shotgun' recipe for a healthy India

SHOTGUN SINHA, they called him. A villain-turned-hero in reel life, Union Health Minister Shatrughan Sinha, 56, is gifted with an inimitable persona. His allure is in his explosive style of dialogue, bold approach, and uncompromising attitude. Of course, people easily succumb to his characteristic smile, drowsy eyes, and that trademark moustache. Small wonder then, that Sinha, who is known to air his views loud and clear, is the envy of many cabinet colleagues.

The Patna-born Sinha started his Bollywood career in `Saajan' (1969). His explosive style of dialogue delivery impressed his directors and soon, he became the hero of the masses. With his popular lead roles in movies such as `Dost', Shotgun Sinha shot to fame. His film career spans three decades with over 250 titles in Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and other languages. Last year, he ventured into theatre art with a popular satire, `Pati, Patni aur Main.'

He was in Kerala recently. Excerpts from an interview:

What are the main health challenges facing India? India is the fourth largest tobacco grower in the world, but tobacco is also the largest killer. In 1986, we had only one AIDS case. Today, with 46 lakh victims, India is the second largest AIDS-affected country in the world. What steps have you taken to tackle these health threats?

The money spent has definitely achieved results in some of the States. If we look at Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, there is tremendous improvement. Secondly, when we review in terms of money we've spent, we've to realise that the medicines available today can only control and not cure AIDS. We're still waiting for a miracle cure. Whatever drug we have for HIV, it's not, at the moment, affordable and viable. So, it's not possible for the Government to supply them to each and every patient.

Despite your efforts, gutka is freely available. What went wrong?

It's again a multi-dimensional issue (smiles). Tobacco affects health in many ways. In every four seconds, tobacco takes a life. In many countries, its use has been controlled. One should give it up voluntarily.

Why doesn't the Government impose restrictions on tobacco rather than harp on its harmful effects?

Imposing restrictions on tobacco production will result in huge revenue loss to the starved exchequer. The Government feels that harping on the harmful effects of tobacco will enhance its credibility.

As an actor, you once promoted tobacco by modelling for gutka ads. Today you work against it. Don't you feel it's ironic?

That was a decade ago. But as soon as I took charge as a minister, I apologised for acting in such ads.

What are your key priorities in the health sector?

Of course, we have to carry forward the population stabilisation programmes and ensure supply of essential drugs to poor people.

Kerala is the home of Ayurveda. What plans do you have for Kerala?

The Kerala Health Minister has come up with the proposal for an Ayurvedic Park and an Ayurveda University. It is a deserving case and will be considered with due seriousness.

You're a celebrated actor and theatre artiste. Your fans like your style. Will there be a comeback?

I've not quit filmdom yet (guffaws).

What's your passion?

I love travelling, reading, yoga and light music.

I read books on divergent topics. But now I read more on health subjects. I read while I travel. See this is the latest one I've bought last week (shows a new book on AIDS).

Besides films and politics, what are your other interests?

I work for the visually impaired. I also support an anti-drugs crusade of an NGO called `Prayas.' I'm an active member of `Koshish', an organisation serving the hearing impaired.


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