The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sanjay ducks Salem shadow

Mumbai, Nov. 13: Mumbai today seemed lenient towards Sanjay Dutt’s alleged role in the blasts of 1993 as he made his first public appearance after Abu Salem’s extradition.

Wearing a red kurta, Dutt canvassed for his sister Priya who is contesting the Mumbai northwest parliamentary bypoll. Priya herself did not campaign as she was indisposed.

“My father has done a lot of work for you. I have come here to ask his right, and vote for my sister,” Sanjay said at a public rally.

“My sister, too, knows this constituency well and I assure you that she will also work for you as my father did.”

When mobbed by reporters seeking his reaction to Salem’s extradition and its possible impact on him, Sanjay said: “The matter is sub judice, I won’t comment on it.”

The crowd that had gathered to see and hear him was ready to forgive and forget. Vishnu Kamath, a resident of Danda, said: “There is no proof that he had conspired with Dawood. Yes, he took a gun from Salem, so what' He didn’t kill anyone with it. He seems to me to be a guy who kept a bit of bad company in his young days and was a bad judge of people. Many of us are. What is the point in crucifying him for mistakes of the past. He has turned over a new leaf now.”

Salem, say Mumbai police, delivered an AK-56 rifle to Sanjay for which he was arrested under the anti-terror act Tada. Sanjay confessed to the police that he had received weapons from Salem, but later retracted his statement in court. He was later released for lack of evidence.

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, a close friend of his father, is believed to have played a role in facilitating the release.

Today, as Sanjay campaigned for his sister, Thackeray addressed another rally, some 10 km away, in support of Priya’s rival and Sena old-timer Madhukar Sarpotdar.

Although the Sena’s ally, the BJP, made loud noises about stopping Sanjay from campaigning, party leader Nitin Gadkari was silent as he jointly addressed Sarpotdar’s rally with Thackeray.

Thackeray focused his speech on Priya’s political inexperience and Congress “misrule”.

“Balasaheb does not want to sling mud on the children of his old friend who is no more. Besides, the allegations that the police made have not yet been substantiated with primary evidence,” said a Sena leader.

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