Mumbai: The Congress Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha, Priya Dutt, may have an illustrious background, but she has carved a niche for herself. No more is she referred to as the daughter of Nargis and Sunil Dutt or sister of Sunjay Dutt. Even while girls of her age spent time in frivolous activities, then 21-year-old Priya had accompanied her father on a 78-day walk for peace from Mumbai to riot-torn Amritsar in Punjab in 1987.
Thereafter, she got involved in numerous social activities, which she continues to do despite having two young children to look after. Her commitments are as important to her as her role in active politics, which she joined after her father's death in 2005.
Having an amazing grasp of the nuances of politics, Priya knows to reach out to people and has a loyal following, due to her simple mindset. As one of the young faces of Indian politics, she is approachable and comfortable discussing all issues that concern the Indian polity.
The Member of Parliament speaks to Gulf News, in an exclusive interview.
GULF NEWS: Since you trained yourself to get into film production, what made you enter politics?
PRIYA DUTT: I had no intention of joining politics and for the 25 years that my father was in politics, I never assisted or took part in his political activities. But yes, I did work with him in his social commitments. In 1987, I accompanied him from Mumbai to Amritsar. Those days there was a lot of speculation about my joining politics. But I couldn't understand why, because accompanying my father on his march was a spontaneous decision. I was then in college and considered it to be an experience of a lifetime.
It proved to be a turning point in my life. I began thinking of getting into the visual medium and make documentary films to create awareness among masses on social issues. That is also when I started working with the Spastic Society of India.
Eventually, quite reluctantly, I entered politics after my father's death. People had loved him and started looking up to me to carry on with his work. I began working in the constituency which he had nurtured for 25 years. I had once asked him why he needed to be in politics. And he had replied that politics was the right platform to continue with social work, which could reach out to maximum people. I am trying to follow his path.
You took part in his last election campaign in 2004. Did he then suggest you should join politics?
That was his only political campaign I was a bit involved in. But he never suggested I should join politics. He always said that one person in the family was enough (in politics).
Unlike in the past, many youngsters today are getting into active politics. Are they taken seriously by political parties?
India is among the fastest growing economies in the world and youth power is seen as the country's greatest resource. There is a huge percentage of young voters who choose to elect young leaders who they can relate to and are capable of understanding their issues better. Political parties are taking youngsters seriously and that shows when they are given positions of responsibility.
What are the issues closest to your heart concerning the youth?
I feel education and health are two prime factors that affect the future of a country. These determine the quality of youth we prepare for the country's progress. I am associated with public health organisations to generate awareness among the youth on AIDS and drug abuse. And have taken initiatives for the education of children in various schools including children from the slums.
Do you think the government is doing enough in its movement against female foeticide?
It is never enough. We can be satisfied and feel assured only when the number of cases of female foeticide reduce considerably all over the country. Otherwise one must be prepared to re-look and improvise.
Irrespective of your party's stand, do you support or oppose the demand for banning the same sub-caste marriages?
As a citizen of a progressive and a democratic country, I believe we cannot have such impositions thrust upon us. Decades back, our forefathers fought the evil of caste system and by considering such demands now, we are undoing their struggle. I certainly do not support such a demand. Modern India can't be built only on economic progress. Social progress is a must.
Your take on Law Minister Veerappa Moily backing the idea of caste-based census, justifying that many development schemes have been designed around caste.
In my opinion, caste based census means taking the country 50 years back. After the British Rule, it's now that it's being introduced once again. I understand that in a democracy, voices of all political parties demanding caste based census have to be heard, but there will be thousands like me who won't like to answer such questions during the census count. My father was a Hindu, mother a Muslim and I am married to a Catholic, so what should I say? It's enough for me and my children to say that we are all proud Indians.
How's your relationship with the Thackerays, especially the younger generation — Uddhav and Raj Thackeray?
I have a good relationship with Uddhav, but I don't know Raj. We may differ on political ideologies but I do respect him as an individual and feel that for the larger interest of Mumbai, we all should cut across party lines and come on one platform. We managed to do that recently by forming the Mumbai metropolitan region forum of members of Parliament. And MPs of different political parties took up the issues concerning railways with the Ministry of Railways at the Centre. I am hopeful that in future also together we can raise other issues as well.
Maharashtra has been in focus on issues like migrants and scarcity of water, which concern all states. Have you ever interacted with the Thackerays on these issues?
No, I haven't. These issues have been left to the senior leaders. But our state government has been very proactive in ensuring law and order. And as an MP, I have taken a stand against such discrimination as it goes against our Constitution. All citizens have the right to move freely anywhere in the country.
What impact has your programme ‘Lean On Me' made?
‘Lean On Me' is a platform to bring all those working for the students under an umbrella and give them a voice and recognition. Youngsters today face pressures of all kinds, including academic, social and emotional. Competition all around is fierce, which means stress level going up. There is a constant danger of children succumbing to such pressures, which in many cases have proved drastic. Lean On Me is a way of reminding them to ‘lean on us' whenever there's a need. Such programmes have done very well in schools where teachers, students and parents work in close co-ordination.
- Priya Dutt was born on August 28, 1966 to mother Nargis and father Sunil Dutt in Mumbai, Maharashtra.
- Early education at Avabai Petit Girls High School.
- Graduated in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai University - 1987.
- Diploma in television production and internship as camera assistant from the Centre for Media Arts, New York.
- Worked with Films Division of India and directed the documentary on the life of Nargis Dutt.
- Elected to the Lok Sabha as a Congress candidate from Mumbai's North West constituency - 2005.
- Appointed secretary of the All India Congress Committee - 2007.
- Won the Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North Central - 2009.
- Runs the Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation Trust.
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