soniasarkar26

‘I try to be clever but I often land up being a buddhu’ : Uma Bharti

Posted on: April 14, 2014

There’s more to the BJP’s Jhansi election candidate Uma Bharti than meets the eye. She’s an avid reader, a fan of Che Guevera and collects dolls, Sonia Sarkar discovers, while accompanying her on the campaign trail

The interview starts with a request for silence. We are in a BMW X3, cruising down the roads of Bundelkhand, and Uma Bharti is chanting mantras. Once in a while, she gestures to her driver with a mimed instruction. Some 20 minutes later, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Jhansi opens her eyes — she is now ready to talk.

“There is so much of support for the BJP everywhere,” Bharti says, while popping pomegranate seeds into her mouth. “But the problem is that we have been sliding down in every Assembly election, so a large number of our previous supporters have become neutral. This is a sign for worry.”

My day with Bharti has started with a visit to a local Kali temple in Jhansi — said to have been frequented by Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Bharti has a bad back, and two security guards help her climb the stairs to the temple — one holding her hand and the other lifting her foot. “I always start my day with Ma’s blessings,” Bharti, 54, explains, and then addressing the goddess, she says: “Ma, dekho yeh Kalkattey se aayi hai (Ma, look, she’s come from Calcutta).”

Once the ritual is over, she gets into her car, an aide carrying her two handbags — one brown and the other blue and grey. We take the highway to Mauranipur, and Bharti opens up, talking about the problems she faces in Jhansi, which goes to the polls on April 30.

Winning Jhansi, which is in the Bundelkhand region straddling Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (UP) but falls in UP, is certainly not going to be a cakewalk for her. “Jhansi is the weakest seat for the BJP in UP because we have not been able to win this parliamentary seat after 1998.”

Her rivals in the constituency — Congress MP Pradeep Jain Aditya and the Samajwadi Party’s Chaudhary Chandrapal Singh Yadav — call her an outsider because she’s never fought from UP. A sitting MLA from Madhya Pradesh’s Charkhari constituency, Bharti has represented the parliamentary seat of Khajuraho four times and Bhopal once.

But she is certainly no stranger to Bundelkhand. “I was born in Tikamgarh and I have been an MP in Khajuraho — both fall in Bundelkhand. People of this region know me well,” she says..

Jhansi, however, was not her first choice. BJP insiders say that she was keen to fight from Bhopal, the seat which party leader L.K. Advani also wished to be fielded from. By the time the party had asked her to fight against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli, she had already decided on contesting from Jhansi. The local grapevine has it that she would have liked to fight from both seats, but the party turned down the offer.

Will the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi campaign for her? “Actually I am not very keen because his time should be used for campaigning in other places. Also, he addressed the Vijay Sankhanad Rally in Jhansi in October. He is such a strategist that he took me along for that.”

Bharti’s ties with Modi are known to be tenuous. In 2007, she called him “Vinash Purush” (destroyer). And recently, she had remarked that Vajpayee had been a better orator than Modi.

She now blames the media for “flaring” it up. “I was complimenting Modi for the support that he gets even while not being a good orator. The media turned the compliment into criticism,” she complains.

Bharti points out that she has known Modi for decades. She first met him in the early 1970s when he was active in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). “During his RSS days, Modi was a keen listener of my religious discourses. I call him Mota Bhai (Gujarati for elder brother). I always found him to be a strong-headed person,” she says.

As the car speeds up, she asks the chauffeur to switch off the AC. “I have to keep getting in and out of the car, it is dangerous to turn on the AC after bearing the scorching heat outside,” she says as the temperature shots up to 40 degrees.

As the car moves towards Magarpur village, slogans rent the air. “Narendra Modi Kashi se, Uma Bharti Jhansi se.” This is the time for her to play the Modi card. “If you vote for the BJP, we will make Bundelkhand like Gujarat,” she says.

Elsewhere, she stops to speak on local issues such as unemployment, migration and lack of irrigation facilities in the drought-hit region. She espouses a separate Bundelkhand state that would consist of districts from both UP and MP. “If we come to power, we will make Bundelkhand a separate state in three years,” Bharti announces.

We are back inside the car now. She quickly finishes a bowl of sprouts and pieces of snake cucumber (kakri) and moves on to other subjects. Bharti stresses that she is an avid reader — she loves “the smell of new books”. Her favourite reading is Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. “She understood women’s mind. I also go very deep into a woman’s mind. I am very feminine. You haven’t seen that side of me. But that’s not for you to see either,” she laughs.

She is also a fan of Che Guevera, the Marxist revolutionary. She started reading about him, and then his writings and his speeches. “I am a fighter myself, so I like revolutionaries like Che,” she says.

The phone rings. The caller is Baba Ramdev. The Yoga guru is said to be close to Bharti — it was he who pitched for her candidature against Gandhi from Rae Bareli. The baba wants to hold some meetings. She hangs up and says: “My fight is for roti aur rozgaar (food and jobs) as much as it is for gau, Ganga aur gareeb (cow, the Ganges and the poor). If we come to power, we will ban cow slaughter,” she adds before suddenly stopping the car to feed a stray cow.

Bharti comes from an “affluent” family of peasants, she says. Her father was a Left-leaning land owner, adds the sanyasin who took up vows of asceticism at the age of 32. The youngest of four brothers and two sisters, she studied till Class IV. Her ability to recite the Hindu scriptures as a small girl brought her fame. Soon she had come to the notice of Gwalior’s Vijaya Raje Scindia — a political leader and member of the erstwhile royal family.

With Scindia as her mentor, Bharti grew up in her palace. When she was a teenager, she started giving religious discourses around the world. “I collected dolls from every country I visited. I had a huge collection of dolls — Swiss dolls, Japanese dolls, Heidi dolls and so on,” she says.

After a failed attempt to get into Lok Sabha from Khajuraho in 1984, she won five elections in a row. As her stature kept growing, she became a minister at the Centre in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government. In 2003, under her leadership, the BJP won three-fourth of all seats in the MP Assembly. Bharti defeated Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and was elected chief minister. But she had to resign within a year because of an arrest warrant issued against her in connection with riots in Hubli in 1994.

Bharti’s temperamental nature has often put her in a fix. In 2004, she had a fall-out with Advani after she stormed out of a party meeting accusing some party leaders of briefing the media against her. “Some BJP leaders including [the late Pramod] Mahajan always fabricated things against me,” she says.

The dissidence continued — the inside buzz was that she wanted the party to reinstate her as chief minister, replacing Shivraj Singh Chauhan, but the party was in no mood to do so. She was served with several showcause notices and was eventually expelled by the BJP in 2005. Bharti ended up floating her own outfit — the Bharatiya Janshakti Party.

This was the “worst” phase of her political life, she says. “During those days the BJP gave me lot of trouble because they were in power but I wasn’t. I have forgiven them for that but can never forget it.”

By the time former BJP president Nitin Gadkari took her back into the party in 2011, Bharti had reined in her impetuous nature. “I have controlled my anger to a great extent,” she says. “But my weakness is that I am emotional. I try to be clever but I often land up being a buddhu (an idiot),” she adds.

In her second innings in the party, she has been placed in UP with the hope that her presence and image will revive the party in the state. “But they never made me part of any decision-making committee. I was asked only to campaign for the elections in the state,” she says.

Her role in UP during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya in the 1990s was a crucial one — and sharply condemned by her critics. She was among those present in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid fell in 1992 and was indicted for inciting a mob to violence during the demolition by the Liberhan Commission that probed the incident. Twenty-two years later, she remains “unapologetic”.

She adds that the issue is as relevant as ever and justifies its mention in the 2014 party manifesto. “Ram is the face of the country. The issue will always remain relevant,” she says.

Bharti is confident that the BJP has picked the right issues this election. She is convinced that the BJP will win 300 seats and not need to ally with regional parties such as the Trinamul Congress or the Biju Janata Dal to be able to form a government. “For the first time, the regional parties have become insignificant,” she says.

The car stops at Uldan — a backward class-dominated village — where she lambasts local Samajwadi Party leaders for not doing enough for the villagers. “I will protect you the way a tigress protects her cubs,” Bharti says. The temper may be under control — for the time being, at least — but the message is clear: do not provoke the roar within.

(A version of this story is published in The Telegraph, April 13,2014)

 

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  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...
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