| Sanjay Dutt on his way to Vaishno Devi. (Reuters)
Jammu, Sept. 3: Now police escort Sanjay Dutt to jail, now they usher him into a temple as a VIP guest.
The actor and his girlfriend today completed an overnight trip to the Vaishno Devi shrine in a government car, beacon flashing and police security in tow.
As the red carpet welcome to the Bombay blast convict raised a stink, the Jammu and Kashmir administration pleaded he was given merely VIP security, not “VIP status”.
“We cannot compromise on the security of any VIP,” a government spokesman said. “We provide police escort, vehicles, secure accommodation and personal security officers even to social and political activists and ordinary citizens if there is a security threat.”
The 48-year-old Bollywood star, out on interim bail at least till September 27, spent half an hour at the shrine with Maanyata and two friends this morning. He performed aarti and donated money.
“Sanjay Dutt visited the shrine like all other devotees and no special arrangements were made for him,” the additional chief executive officer of the shrine board, Puneet Kumar, insisted.
Jammu inspector-general of police S.P. Vaid said Sanjay was not only a well-known actor but the brother of an MP (Priya Dutt) and the son of a former MP (Sunil Dutt).
“Keeping all this in mind, we have given him security. I don’t think any VIP status was given.”
Vaid said switching on the beacon was “a mistake committed at the lower level”.
The actor, who wore a white kurta and jeans, refused comment on the controversy at Jammu airport after returning from the shrine. “I have no idea about it,” he said.
When reporters persisted, he merely said, “Jai Mata di (victory to the Mother)”.
Sanjay had arrived at Jammu town yesterday and said he would seek the deity’s blessings for “everyone”, especially fellow-actor and buddy Salman Khan, jailed for poaching but out on bail.
“Whoever comes to the shrine does not return empty-handed. Everyone knows this. I am sure that Mata will take care of her children,” Sanjay said.
The actor, Maanyata and the friends were driven to the base camp town of Katra in Udhampur district last evening. From there, they trekked along the old route to Kalika Bhawan, braving light rain and falling rocks. They reached the Bhavan at 11.30pm and spent the night there.
This morning, on his way back, Sanjay hugged some of the devotees and shook hands with them. At several places during the downhill trek, he sat children on his lap and played with them.
A police spokesman said, “Sanjay could have been targeted in view of the highest degree of media attention he has been receiving during his trips.”
Five militants were shot in the Trikuta Hills, where the shrine is located, five months ago. A top Jaish-e-Mohammed leader, Sifullah Kari, was killed in Jammu last month.