Mumbai: Eyebrows went up in political circles after Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt - who was released from jail in February - made his first public appearance, on a Bharatiya Janata Party platform, here late on Sunday.
He was the chief guest at a Maharashtra Day function organised by city BJP president Ashish Shelar and another leader, Mohit Khamboj, in suburban Malad west.
Interestingly, several BJP were severely critical of the repeated paroles/furloughs granted to Dutt when he was serving the remainder of his five-year sentence in Yerawada Central Jail, Pune.
He was convicted for possession of an AK-56 army assault rifle during the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots.
Sporting a bright orange Maharashtrian 'pagdi' and speaking in his trademark, flamboyant 'tapori' style, Dutt exhorted the gathering to increase the BJP tally (seats) in Maharashtra.
He also happily posed for photos with the BJP leaders, workers, and even the commoners jostling for an opportunity to click selfies.
The move came as a surprise to many in Congress circles, especially since his parents – the late union minister Sunil Dutt and earlier MP Nargis Dutt – and his sister Priya Dutt, former MP, are staunch Congress loyalists who stood by the party through all thick-and-thin.
The family enjoyed a close rapport with the Shiv Sena and the Thackeray family and had knocked the doors of the party founder-patriarch, the late Bal Thackeray, after Dutt was first arrested in 1993.
While Sanjay Dutt flirted with the Shiv Sena initially, in 2009 he suddenly joined Samajwadi Party as its state generally secretary and campaigned during the Lok Sabha polls which returned the Congress to power at the centre and even Maharashtra.
He had quit the SP after Amar Singh was expelled and then lay low till May 2013 when he was ordered by the Supreme Court to complete the remainder of his jail-term at YCJ.
Dutt's latest display of warmth to the BJP may throw cold water on the Sena's plans to romp home independently in next year's critical elections to BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, and the Congress's efforts to dislodge the saffron alliance from Asia's biggest civic body.
However, BJP circles remained tight-lipped on Dutt's future political direction after his high-profile social engagement on the party stage.