When Sunil Dutt bid goodbye to the mortal world on May 25, amongst those bereaved was the Congress party. In his 20-year formal association with the party, Dutt brought to it qualities that career politicians usually lack—dignity, accessibility, gentlemanliness, genuine concern for people, disdain for stealth and compromise. And, a winning habit from a constituency—Mumbai Northwest—that housed his arch political rival Bal Thackeray, a constituency that nestled some of India's richest and most glamorous people alongside the most deprived and unknown. It was, as the late Rajiv Gandhi had once told him, a constituency that mirrored the dichotomy, the disparities and ironies of Dutt's own life.
For a man who remained a staunch Congressman all his life, the last month was extremely distressing and at one level, humiliating. This May, Sunil Dutt's bete noire Sanjay Nirupam, who quit the Shiv Sena, was inducted into the Congress. Nirupam was no ordinary political adversary. He had unleashed a vitriolic and bitter campaign against the actor-turned politician in last year's Lok Sabha elections. What was really below the belt was Nirupam's public statement: "Sunil Dutt is an old man, he may not have much longer to live, he keeps very unwell, he should retire...he has attended Parliament only three times in five years." Dutt had decided to take Nirupam to court.