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From baby to business, in 10 days

Mumbai, Nov. 6: As a 19-year-old, Priya Dutt had accompanied her actor-MP father Sunil Dutt on a peace padyatra to strife-torn Punjab.

Twenty years later, she has hit the election campaign trail barely 10 days after delivering a baby boy, marking her own birth as a politician of substance.

Life has changed dramatically in the past two years for the unassuming sociology graduate with a film-making degree from New York.

In 2004, she had cut her teeth in poll politics, emerging as her father’s campaign manager and fashioning a 40,000-vote victory from Mumbai North West in a bitterly fought election against Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Nirupam.

After Sunil Dutt’s death on May 25 this year, she decided to take up her father’s legacy of humanist politics and was handpicked by Sonia Gandhi as candidate for the November 19 Bandra Lok Sabha byelection.

Barely an hour after she filed her nomination papers on October 27, Priya went into labour and was rushed to Breach Candy Hospital. The next evening, she underwent a Caesarean section and delivered a boy. Three days later, she was back at her Pali Hill house.

“I shall start my campaign soon. I plan to devote three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening when the baby sleeps,” the candidate said.

Her central election office in Santa Cruz, inaugurated by chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh last week, is already bustling as party workers get ready for the campaign.

On Saturday afternoon, Priya had a three-hour meeting with Congress MLAs to discuss her strategy against her election opponent, 71-year-old Sena leader Madhukar Sarpotdar.

She rushed back home to take a look at her eight- day-old son and by 8.15 pm, was at Sarpotdar’s stronghold of Bandra East for a public meeting.

Women politicians showered praise on Priya for her courageous decision to campaign within days of her delivery.

“It is tough for women to take such a decision; but women have shown time and again that if they have enough will power, these things don’t matter,” said the former BJP member of Parliament from South Mumbai, Jaywantiben Mehta.

“I had joined politics three months after giving birth to my son in 1962. Priya should look after her health, for it’s barely been a week since she delivered her child.”

Mehta said even if Priya finds it tough physically to undertake the gruelling campaign, the Congress will ensure that her campaign is mounted well.

“I lived in a joint family for 25 years and my family took care of my children when they were young. Priya’s decision is welcome because if she wins, she will be the only woman MP from Mumbai,” said Mehta, who lost to young Congress MP Milind Deora from South Mumbai in 2004.

State Congress chief Prabha Rau said: “It won’t have an adverse impact on Priya’s campaign. It (balancing family life and politics) has become a way of life for women in politics, especially in Maharashtra where 33 per cent reservation for women exists in local bodies. We are now talking about 33 per cent reservation for parliamentary elections; so one has to live with it.”

Although Priya’s campaign will be physically demanding, Sunil Dutt’s spectacular record of winning the Bandra Lok Sabha seat five times in the past is expected to work to her advantage.

The actor’s charisma had also helped the Congress win all the six Assembly seats from this constituency, which extends from Bandra to Andheri in Mumbai’s western suburbs.

Priya’s actor brother Sunjay Dutt is expected to join the campaign on November 14 after he returns from a holiday in Tanzania. He would line up his Bollywood friends to add glitter to the campaign.

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