Interview | Lok Sabha Election 2019

This is an opportunity to make a difference: Priya Dutt

Priya Dutt at her Pali Hills residence in Mumbai on Friday.

Priya Dutt at her Pali Hills residence in Mumbai on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Congress leader says political situation made her reconsider quitting and decide to enter the fray

After being relieved of the post of the All India Congress Committee secretary and then declaring that she would not contest the Lok Sabha elections, Congress’s North Central candidate Priya Dutt did a U-turn and decided to enter the field after all. Ms. Dutt faces sitting MP Poonam Mahajan from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Hindu spoke to her about why she changed her mind, the political situation in the country and her plans if she wins. Excerpts:

This is the fourth election you are contesting. How has your journey been? Is it still a fight between two daughters?

I don’t think so. I have never seen it like that. It is a fight between two parties or two ideologies.

Why did you change your mind and decide to contest?

Various reasons, actually. I was so sure, having planned my life in a different way… But I saw the situation of the country. Especially after meeting [party president] Rahul Gandhi… I felt why are we not able to do something about [the political situation]? And Rahul Gandhi really stood up. Priyanka [Gandhi Vadra entering the fray] was also a big statement. That’s when I realised that people like us who believe in secularism, democracy cannot afford to not do anything. There was a lot of guilt also… I felt this would be my way of at least giving it a shot. This is an opportunity I’m getting to make a difference.

You thought you couldn’t just sit back and watch?

I had my kids, work was going on fabulously. But I asked myself, what am I leaving behind for my children? At least they will know I tried [to bring about change].

Why do you think the country is in a crisis?

People are scared of expressing themselves. They feel if they oppose something that is the majority’s way of thinking, they will be punished. This has never happened… Mob lynching has never happened. Going in people’s homes and telling them what to eat, what to do, changing Muslim names… We were never asked to prove ourselves as nationalists. People have to prove they are patriotic and nationalists. This has happened to journalists, intellectuals, poets … it does become a scary situation. It only becomes about one person (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). People harp on how Congress is just about one family. But here, it’s only about one person. They are seeking votes in Mr. Modi’s name.

What do you think of the BJP’s leadership in Maharashtra?

What is their agenda, I don’t understand. They are just lying to win an election. Where did the beef ban come from? How does it affect development? The BJP has no excuse not to work. They have power in Centre, State and [the municipal] corporation.

Since a significant chunk of your constituency is a religious minority, what is the sense you get from them?

There is an atmosphere of unease. They don’t know what is going to happen. They are stressed. Balakot will not affect voters. The BJP says if you don’t approve of what I say, you are anti-national.

Your constituency is a mixed bag. How are you going to reach out to everyone?

Because I am not a very political person, I never looked at my area in terms of religion, faith or language. I looked at them as people.They are names, religion comes second. Their needs are same across identities: water, housing. Let’s not reduce them to votes. In these five years, there have been areas that were not touched at all… Maybe because they are Congress leaning. The MP never cared. But once you are voted [into power], you represent everyone. I don’t want to comment on the MP’s tenure. But some very important issues have not been addressed. Those living on government land need a policy for their rehabilitation — Defence land, Railways land. We took a very strong stand for this policy. We will create a policy. Then you have the issue of government employee colonies. There must be a solution to their housing after retirement. There have been issues related to Metro… we had actually planned an underground Metro. But everything changed. Coastal road, under our Chief Minister, was planned but we decided to wait until all environmental clearances came. The High Court has taken a very strong view of it… these people have bulldozed even the clearances. And issues they could have actually solved, they haven’t.

Are you opposed to the coastal road altogether?

Any development needs to have clearances. If it is going to have impact on environment, it needs a rethink. They are chopping off trees inside Aarey [Colony] for Metro. On the other hand, Mr. Modi has got an award for environment… We are going to have so much trouble in monsoon. Mithi [river] has become worse than what it was. Poonam [Mahajan] had also promised beautification of Mithi. There has to be some balance in Mumbai. The middle class feels neglected. That section also needs focus, apart from the poorest of poor.

What is your campaign strategy?

Rahulji is coming [to the city]. Priyanka might also come. We are holding small meetings with groups of 50-60 people from the area … I talk to them about why this election is so important. They tell me what they need.

The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi might field a candidate for this seat.

This is just another game plan of the BJP — the BJP will be funding [such parties]. It’s like putting up a dummy. But people have understood that, especially minorities.

Shaina N.C. recently spoke about representation of women in this election. Has Congress done any better?

The Congress is always ready. But when you are looking at giving candidature, they will look at winnability, the maths, so many other things… but we worked for 33% women in Parliament.

Is there peace in the Mumbai Congress now?

Yes, absolutely, and harmony. Everybody is happy. There is good support for each other.

Will Sanjay Dutt be campaigning for you?

Yes, he will be there.

What is one lesson in politics from your father that you still find useful?

I used to fight with my father… why are you in politics? You can do anything. He would say, I have got this platform and I want to use it for the right reasons. If everybody starts doing that can you imagine what a better place it would be? The first time I decided to contest, I thought, my father used this platform to reach out to so many people, kept his head above all this. He always said the biggest wealth is the love of the people. If a person has a good word to say about you, that is the wealth you have.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 4:56:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/this-is-an-opportunity-to-make-a-difference/article26751523.ece

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