May 25: Sunil Dutt, a bigger hero in real life than in reel life, passed away in his sleep after a heart attack today.
The lane leading to the Dutt home in Pali Hill saw a tide of people surging in to pay their respects, from Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar to the slumdwellers for whom “he was like our father”.
Dutt, who would have turned 76 next month, is survived by his son Sunjay and daughters Namrata and Priya. He was cremated in the evening.
The actor who made his mark in Mother India first fought an election in 1984, on Rajiv Gandhi’s request, and went on to become one of India’s most respected politicians.
Many of the mourners outside the iron gates in Nargis Dutt Lane, named after his wife, were burqa-clad poor women, a constituency not served by many politicians. Some had been encouraged to join the Congress by “Dutt saab”.
“We are all from the Congress party,” said Mohsina Biwi, from Jogeshwari, who came with a small bouquet of white flowers. “He was like our father. He took care of all of us, of the poor especially.”
Dutt had taken a quiet step towards politics in 1977 when many in the Congress were beginning to distance themselves from Indira Gandhi after her poll debacle. A staunch believer in secularism, Dutt offered her moral support. After her return to power in 1980, Indira Gandhi nominated his wife Nargis to the Rajya Sabha.
When Nargis died of the disease in 1981, Dutt took up the cause of cancer cure. This was just one of the many causes he championed. Communal harmony was another.
At the height of militancy in Punjab, he led a peace march from Mumbai to Amritsar. Again, during the Mumbai riots, he went with food and relief for the victims and spent nights with them when the city was smouldering.
Even when Sunjay was jailed for alleged links with the Bombay blasts and finally released on the intervention of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, Dutt’s loyalty to the party did not waver.
But loyalty did not stop him from speaking his mind, whether it was against Tada (a now defunct anti-terror law) or Shiv Sena reject Sanjay Nirupam’s entry into the Congress. ( )