The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Arms open for Dutt ‘mirror image’

Mumbai, July 2: They are not planning a grand reception. But Congress workers have welcomed the nomination of the woman who as a teenager once walked with her father on a peace march in Punjab during the height of terrorism in the state.

“Priya is Sunil Dutt’s mirror image,” said Kamruddin Merchant, the man in charge of Congress affairs in Mumbai North-West, a day after party chief Sonia Gandhi announced her name for the byelection to the seat her late father won several times.

Sources said party workers from the constituency are likely to flock to Santa Cruz airport tomorrow evening to welcome the unassuming 38-year-old, who is still in Delhi with her actor brother Sunjay, but are not planning a grand welcome. The next day, Priya would formally take over her father’s office, from where she handled the late actor-turned-politician’s Lok Sabha election campaign last year.

The youngest of three siblings, Priya has been a popular figure among Congress workers in this party bastion in the western suburbs of Mumbai.

“She has not been given the candidature just because she is Sunil Dutt’s daughter. She was also deeply involved with the social issues here. Like her father, she is more of a social worker than a politician,” says Alka C, district president of the women’s wing of the party.

The nomination, she added, has boosted the morale of women workers.

Priya worked as a trustee of the Spastics Society of India and was involved with the Nargis Dutt Memorial Trust and its charitable activities.

“She worked with Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital and helped set up a cancer hospital named after her actress mother in Barshi in Solapur district,” said Congress activist Krishna Hegde, who has worked closely with the Dutts. Nargis died of cancer when the Dutt siblings were in their teens.

Alka, who recalled Priya’s concern for people, said she took the initiative to help a 19-year-old boy orphaned by a bomb blast at Vile Parle vegetable market. The blast was among the explosions that rocked Mumbai in 2002-03 in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots.

Anita Indulkar, a resident of Vile Parle, was hospitalised after the blast and succumbed to her injuries, leaving behind her three children.

“Their father had died six months ago and there was no earning member in the family. I helped them initially when her 19-year-old son informed me about her death. Dutt Sahab and Priya were trying to help him get a government job with the help of the chief minister,” Alka said.

Unlike brother Sunjay, Priya did not take to Bollywood. “She did make a small documentary' but social work remained her core area of work,” Hegde said.

In her personal life, too, Priya has chosen a low-profile spouse, Owen Roncon Jr, an event management consultant.

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