After keeping aloof from public glare for months following his release from prison, Bollywood actor and 1993 serial bomb blasts convict Sanjay Dutt turned up at an event organised by the BJP at a Mumbai suburb on the Maharashtra Day yesterday, surprising many in political circles.
Dutt's presence at the function at suburban Dindoshi evoked critical comments from sections in the opposition Congress, a party with which the 56-year-old actor's family has close association.
Finding fault with the BJP for inviting Dutt to the function, a local Congress leader said, "This is a classic case of anti-nationalism, which is not new to the saffron party ".
"It is nothing bizarre. Giving and taking protection from such elements has been in the DNA of the party. This had to happen one day," said Nizamuddin Raeen, spokesperson of the Mumbai Congress.
The event at Dindoshi was organised by BJP's youth wing leader Mohit Kamboj, where Dutt and others present made an appeal to local residents to elect Kamboj in the next assembly elections.
Ironically, many in the BJP were critical of repeated paroles and furloughs granted to Dutt while he was serving the sentence at Yerwada jail in Pune.
Dutt, who was granted remission and released in February, donned an orange Maharashtrian 'pagdi', spoke in 'filmi' style and pledged to do everything for his friend Kamboj.
Shiv Sena leader and former Mayor of Mumbai Sunil Prabhu, who defeated Kamboj in the 2014 assembly polls, said "Had they (BJP leaders) loved Maharashtra truly, then they would not have even thought of inviting Dutt to the event."
The critics also recalled the long association of Sanjay's father Sunil Dutt and sister Priya Dutt with the Congress, both of whom were elected to the Lok Sabha on party tickets.
"Dutt's parents Sunil Dutt, mother Nargis Dutt and sister Priya Dutt have been staunch Congress loyalists who stood by the party through all odds, but why and under what circumstances, Sanjay Dutt shifted his loyalty, only he knows," NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
When contacted, Kamboj said, "I have a long and friendly association with Dutt. I wanted to invite him and got permission from senior party leaders. And what is wrong, if I invited him to be part of the Maharashtra Day celebrations."
Seeking to play down the issue, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar said: "Dutt had attended the Maharashtra Day celebrations at the invitation of Kamboj. It should not be seen politically."
Nursing political ambitions, Dutt had initially flirted with the Shiv Sena and then joined Samajwadi Party in 2009 as its State General Secretary but quit that party after two years.