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Posts Tagged ‘BJP

 

– Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan tells Sonia Sarkar that the BJP-Sangh establishment poses a threat to Constitution and country
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan is not known to mince his words. Today is no exception. “The biggest issue in the country today is the communal fascist agenda of the government,” he says.

We are in his cramped office in Lutyens’ Delhi, on the third floor of the New Lawyers’ Chambers, looking onto the facade of the Supreme Court across the street. Bhushan, who is known for his untiring judicial jousting, has just wrapped up a discussion with some activists from Chhattisgarh. It’s a case of a mining company ignoring the rights of forest dwellers in the northern parts of the state.

A question about the current goings-on in the country – mob lynchings, the killing (or silencing) of journalists and rationalists – has triggered this outpour. He continues, “It is a criminal gang that is running this country today… They are openly doing things that are serious offences under the Indian Penal Code, such as abusing and threatening people with violence and rape on social media. They want to intimidate people who are questioning them.” All the while his expression is of utmost calm, his voice soft, his tone even. If there is anything at all that betrays the intensity of his outrage, it would be his eyes. He narrows them while he speaks.

Bhushan himself has had a taste of intimidation, often backed by the powers. A few months ago, when he tweeted that Lord Krishna was a “legendary eve-teaser” – he was actually cheekily critiquing UP chief minister Adityanath’s decision to employ anti-Romeo squads to ensure safety of women in the state – he faced an avalanche of criticism. His exact comment, “Romeo loved just one lady, while Krishna was a legendary eve-teaser. Would Adityanath have the guts to call his vigilantes Anti-Krishna squads?”

Bhushan was called “anti-Hindu” and “anti-national”. Protesters belonging to the Hindu group, Sudarshan Vahini, defaced his Noida house with ink. An FIR was lodged at Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station against him for hurting religious sentiments. Eventually, he apologised.

“That was also an instance of the fascist atmosphere that has been created,” says Bhushan. “You cannot say anything even mildly critical about gods or those considered gods. Many people are saying [Narendra] Modi is our God, and if you say anything against him, I will kill you.”

He insists all such threats are supported by the central government, which in his view does not subscribe to the constitutional values of secularism and the fundamental right to freedom of speech. “If they [the BJP] get two-thirds majority in 2019, then they might remove secularism and socialism from the Constitution,” he warns.

Two years ago, on Republic Day, the BJP government had issued an advertisement that quoted the Preamble of the Constitution thus: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic…” The words “socialist” and “secular” had been omitted. That led to a bit of a furore. Later, the information and broadcasting ministry tweeted saying it was done deliberately to “honour” the founding fathers of the Constitution. The words “socialist” and “secular” had been added to the original Preamble in 1976.

Bhushan says all these instances of fascism are orchestrated by the larger saffron family or the Sangh Parivar. He alleges that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the BJP, has been enabled a grip on cultural and research institutions of the country and is now making inroads into the judiciary. Without naming anyone he adds, “They have appointed as judges in high courts and the Supreme Court those who were earlier members of the RSS.”

Does that mean the judiciary is going to kowtow to the state? It is already doing so, says Bhushan. He cites the Birla-Sahara case, wherein the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by him to probe two business houses in a pay-off scandal. It had been alleged that politicians belonging to Congress and BJP had been bribed by the Aditya Birla Group and the Sahara Group. “It was an utterly absurd judgement where it refused to investigate the case, thus going against all past laws laid down by the same Supreme Court,” says Bhushan, who runs a Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

Bhushan is the insider outsider. He has always been critical of the judiciary like his father, former law minister and Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan. Bhushan Senior had once moved an application in the apex court, accusing eight former chief justices of India of “corruption”. Prashant Bhushan has filed many public interest litigations (PILs) against India’s top industrialists. Last year, he took on Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited over 4G spectrum allocation. This year, he filed a lawsuit against the Adani group and other mining companies for allegedly inflating coal and equipment prices to siphon money from India.

In 2016, a Supreme Court bench questioned the credentials and authenticity of the PILs Bhushan has been filing at regular intervals. Not that it deterred him in any way.

Currently, Bhushan is taking special interest in the case involving BJP president Amit Shah’s son Jay, whose business has reportedly recorded a 16,000-fold increase in turnover in a year’s time. Amit Shah has filed a Rs 100-crore defamation suit against the journalist who wrote the exposé and the news portal – The Wire – that published it. “This defamation suit is a way to intimidate the media and those questioning the dubious transactions,” says Bhushan.

Threats, intimidation and attacks on freedom of speech are some of the things that define this government, he says. Others would be job losses, price rise and farmers’ suicides.

Why then is there no public outcry? How does the BJP keep winning election after election? Bhushan seems to think the ruling party’s denouement has begun. “They have been inept in managing the economy, have made huge blunders – demonetisation and implementation of GST. They are rapidly losing support.” He cites the recent students’ union elections in Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University; in both places the BJP-affiliated students’ outfit, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, was defeated. “The youth are disenchanted with the BJP.”

The other indicator, according to him, is social media. “Ten per cent of the country’s population is on social media – even if you say that it’s the upper crust of the society, it is quite clear that public opinion has shifted quite substantially.”

And the alternative to the BJP would be? Pause. Bhushan agrees there is a problem, but soon turns to praising Rahul Gandhi. “He is more energetic now. He is travelling around. If he is able to put together a team of newer younger leaders, then Congress will hopefully revive…”

But he would say that; after all, his family and the Congress go back a long way. A little bit of steel creeps into his voice. Bhushan says, “My family parted with the Congress in 1969, when the party split. But if I had to choose between the Congress and the BJP, Congress is a lesser evil.”

Talking of alternatives, we cannot help but ask him about his own Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stint. He, along with Yogendra Yadav, had helped found the party and ran it till they were suspended by AAP boss and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for alleged anti-party activities.

Bhushan admits electoral politics is not his cup of tea, but not before he has had a go at Kejriwal. “He is undemocratic; doesn’t have principles, no interest in understanding the issues of the country and he is willing to use unethical means to achieve his ends.”

This year, Bhushan, along with Yadav, co-launched a political party – Swaraj India. “Here, you remain true to your principles and take up issues that are entirely in public interest.”

But can power politics and public interest ever go hand in hand? Perhaps he is right to say politics is not quite his cup of tea.


tétevitae

1977: Bhushan joins IIT Madras, but quits after one semester
Completes his law degree from Allahabad University. In between, goes away to Princeton in the US for a brief while
1983: Starts practicing as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. Known to fight for civil liberties, human rights and environment issues, and expose corruption in high places
1990: Writes a book on the Bofors scandal — BoforsThe Selling of a Nation
Among his most talked about cases are 2G scam, Radia tapes, Coalgate and iron ore mining scams. Has argued 300-plus PILs to date
Known to be against the death penalty and use of violence against Naxals; wants AFSPA revoked in Kashmir
Threw his lot behind the India Against Corruption movement launched in 2010. Was among founders of the Aam Aadmi Party
Following his expulsion from AAP in 2015, co-founded Swaraj Abhiyan with Yogendra Yadav


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They’ve been at the forefront of social and political activism in Manipur but women haven’t got their due share in power yet. The forthcoming Assembly elections hold out little hope that things will change. Sonia Sarkar looks into the reasons why

 

  • LADIES LAST: Irom Sharmila Chanu (centre)

Imphal. It’s 4am. At five degrees, 44-year-old Irom Sharmila Chanu warms up with an hour-long suryanamaskar. She boils some rice and ‘laphu tharo’ (banana florets) for breakfast. At 7am, donning her green phanek and yellow pullover with a pink shawl, she prepares for a long day ahead. A water bottle, hat and a scarf in the bicycle basket, she sets off for Thoubal, 30 kilometres away.

“I like to start early. I get more hours of the day to meet people,” says Sharmila, famed rights activist and co-convener of the newly formed People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA).

She is having to work hard. After all, she is taking on the three-time sitting chief minister of Manipur and Congress leader, Okram Ibobi Singh, in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Also, being a woman politician in Manipur isn’t easy.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Indira Oinam, who has been into politics for the past eight years, knows better. “As women politicians, we are made to feel that we are intruding into the man’s world and every day, we need to fight this patriarchal mindset,” says Indira, who too has pitted herself against Ibobi Singh (this is her second attempt at unseating him).

  • Indira Oinam

The irony is that women feel politically left out in a state where they have been at the forefront of many a battle. “Having women participate in social agitations is one thing, giving them their rights in politics quite another. We have failed to do the latter,” says S. Mangi Singh, professor of political science at Manipur University.

There is only a handful of women in politics in Manipur. In the outgoing state Assembly, only three of the 60 MLAs are women. And for the coming Assembly, only two women other than Sharmila and Indira have entered the fray. Both are from Congress – Akoijam Mirabai Devi from Patsoi constituency in west Imphal and Nemcha Kipgen, a Kuki from the Kangpokpi constituency in Sadar Hills. The celebrated boxer and the Rajya Sabha MP, Mary Kom, is likely to be courted by the BJP for campaigning.

“There are only a few women candidates because it’s predominantly a patriarchal society, so the real decision-making power lies with men,” Mangi Singh says.

But it’s not that women in Manipur have no say in society at all. Two Nupi Lan (women’s agitation) movements, the first in 1904 and then in 1939, both against the British, became the defining moments of woman power in the state. Protests led by Rani Gaidinliu against the British, forcing them to leave Manipur, is a local legend. In 1925 and 1932, women also led agitations against the increase of water tax by the then king.

When the late Indira Gandhi was addressing a gathering in Imphal’s polo ground in 1969, women staged a black flag vigil to press their demand for statehood. Curfew was imposed but three years later, statehood was granted.

  • Nemcha Kipgen

An all-woman campaign for prohibition, called Nisha Bandh, was much highlighted in the 70s. Irom Sharmila’s 16-year-long fast to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is iconic, of course. Also, Meira Paibis, or women torchbearers, redefined public protests when 12 naked Manipuri women agitated against the killing of 34-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi by security forces. Imphal’s all-women Ima market, centre point of the Nupi Lan movement, is considered to be a sign of women’s economic progress.

“But in politics, women are treated as second-class citizens,” says 57-year-old Akoijam Mirabai, the social welfare and co-operatives minister. “People feel women are not committed to politics and their focus is the family.”

That’s the reason Mirabai never got married. “I wanted to tell people that I am serious about politics,” she says.

But the journey wasn’t easy for her when she joined politics in 1980 at the age of 17 – first as part of the Congress Sevadal and then the Mahila Congress. “My neighbours used to tell my parents that my image as a woman would be tarnished if I joined politics. I fought every gaze and every taunt because I knew politics was my true calling,” says Mirabai, who hails from Taobungkhok in west Imphal.

There are several deterrents for women. “Women lack winnability. Even if we want to give tickets to women, we would lose out seats because the BJP might just put up stronger male candidates there. Social goals and political gains cannot go hand in hand,” says a Manipuri Congress leader.

In contrast to national politics, where political parties often foreground women candidates, keeping their glamour quotient in mind, Manipur politicians don’t look at “glamour” as a valid reason to give tickets to women. But glamour or no glamour, Indira thinks, women should get a chance. “When our PM talks about beti bachao, beti padhao, women should get priority in politics,” she says.

A senior BJP leader in Imphal argues that elections are all about money and muscle power and women fail to exhibit both, in most cases. “Indira will fight against Ibobi Singh but we are not projecting her as the CM candidate,” says the BJP leader.

Indira, who fetched 3,668 votes in the 2012 elections, the second largest tally any BJP candidate swung in Manipur, has faced such a bias once before. In 2014, Indira was expecting to get the ticket for Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency but the party chose R.K. Ranjan Singh, instead. Women members of the party protested openly, but quite in vain.

In the past, women in Manipur have mostly contested elections under the legacy of their powerful husbands in politics. For example, former Manipur King Bodhachandra’s wife, Srimati Ishwari Devi, contested from the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency in 1952, but lost.

The first elected woman in the Manipur state Assembly, Hangmila Shaiza, came into politics in 1990 after the assasination of her husband and the former chief minister, Yangmaso Shaiza. Similarly, K. Apabi Devi won the 1992 by-elections after MLA K. Bira Singh died in a plane crash. Both benefited from “sympathy votes”, writes Binarani Devi in her paper, “Electoral Politics and Women”.

Again, Wahengbam Leima Devi, wife of Angou Singh, contested and got elected from Singh’s seat in 2000, only after Singh became an MP. Landhoni Devi, wife of Ibobi Singh, contested and won from the Khangabok constituency in 2007 and 2012 after Singh vacated it as he could retain only one, and that was Thoubal. In Ibobi Singh’s party, patriarchy rules. “Now that his son, Okram Surajkumar, is contesting, Landhoni Devi has had to sacrifice her seat. A woman has to make way for the male members of the family,” a state Congress leader says.

Mirabai feels that her singlehood is certainly a boon for her as a politician. “Being single, I don’t have the compulsion to listen to my husband, at least,” she laughs.

  • M.C. Mary Kom

Mirabai and Nemcha are the only two women to have made a mark in mainstream Manipuri politics without any political patronage. “When I joined politics in 2012, many discouraged me but now they are happy to see that I have sustained,” says Nemcha, who left her job as a nurse in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences to join politics.

Nemcha – her husband S.T. Thangboi Kipgen is chairman of the United People’s Front, a Kuki militant group – claims one of her biggest achievements is forcing the government to create the new district of Kangpokpi – a longstanding demand of the people of her constituency. The creation of seven new districts, which led to an economic blockade by the Nagas, is one of the issues in the Manipur elections, besides the Centre’s secret peace deal with the NSCN-IM, corruption, unemployment and repeal of AFSPA.

But issues related to women such as compensation to widows, whose husbands were killed either by the militants or the state forces, and women’s empowerment are also likely to enter party manifestos.

In fact, political parties often float women self-help groups to generate funds. In Manipur, a woman’s entry into politics is mostly through social work. Both Indira and Mirabai were well-known social workers before joining politics. But few make it to the decision-making level of the party.

Here, another irony. Female voters have outnumbered the male voters in almost every Manipur election. In 2012, 6,94,893 women cast their votes as opposed to 6,31,223 men. The truth remains, though, that – as Sharmila herself rues – even women voters lack confidence in women candidates. She’s set on contesting nevertheless.

Karan Singh is out with a novel — a new version of an old work. But writing is just one of his passions. He tells Sonia Sarkar that he was Shakespeare’s Olivia in a school play, loves the Dire Straits and sings Dogri songs

Karan Singh sits ramrod straight on a sofa. His black labrador, Kaalu, walks up to the senior Congressman, breathing heavily into a plate that holds two cocktail samosas.

The former minister and governor picks one up and delicately bites into it. “I eat light,” he says.

But eating light is just one of the reasons why the octogenarian is so fit. “For two hours every morning I worship all the gods – Surya, Shiva and Ganesha. I also do rajyoga, the breathing exercise. This gives me energy and positivity,” he says, fiddling with a copper bracelet that has the words “Om Namah Shivaya” inscribed on it.

Singh is a Shiva devotee. His novel, Mountain of Shiva, an updated version of a previous work, has just been brought out by a new publishing house, Palimpsest. Ashok, the protagonist, follows a guru to Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas to fulfil his spiritual quest.

“In the previous edition, the quest was unfulfilled. But then I thought I must write what happened thereafter,” he explains.

The need to write the novel (his only novel so far), which he first penned 30 years ago, came from his own search for spiritual understanding. “If I were not born a yuvraj (prince), maybe I would have been Ashok,” says the son of the last ruler of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh.

A conversation with Singh is incomplete without talk of troubled Kashmir. Singh tries to stay away from the subject, ducking questions with his stock reply – “I was mostly abroad when the conflict erupted”. You can, however, take a man out of Kashmir, but not Kashmir out of the man. When he opens up, there is no stopping him.

The recent controversy when Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students clashed at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar troubles him. The clash – allegedly sparked by some anti-India slogans shouted by a section of students after India lost a cricket match in the World T20 series – led to some non-Kashmiri students leaving the campus.

“If non-Kashmiri students start leaving the campus, Kashmiri students might be targeted in other parts of the country. Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students mean Muslim and non-Muslim students,” he says. “We must not allow a repeat of the post-Kokrajhar riots,” he says – referring to the exodus of Northeasterners from Bangalore after Bodo-Muslim riots in Assam’s Kokrajhar in 2012.

Singh blames the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party state government and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for the crisis in NIT. “It’s the responsibility of the state government to give students adequate security. This issue blew up after she took over, which is not a good sign.”

Singh, clearly, doesn’t think very highly of Mehbooba, though he respected her father, the former chief minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. “Mufti Saab was a senior man. He had his own stature. Mehbooba was to Mufti Saab what Amit Shah is to (Narendra) Modi. She used to organise the cadre and meetings. Now tell me, what is Amit Shah without Modi,” he asks.

Does his criticism of the PDP go down well in the family? His son, Vikramaditya, after all is in the PDP.

“No, there is no jhagra over political differences,” he replies.

In fact, there is celebration in the family. Vikramaditya’s daughter, Mriganka, is going to be married to the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. The engagement has just taken place.

Singh fishes out a glossy magazine which featured his grandchildren, Mriganka and Martand, on its cover. “She looks exactly like my wife,” he says.

Singh was 19 – and the regent in Jammu and Kashmir – when he was married to Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, the granddaughter of the last Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana. Marriages in the family have mostly taken place with erstwhile royals. Vikramaditya is married to Chitrangada Raje Scindia, daughter of Madhavrao Scindia, who was the titular Maharaja of Gwalior. Amarinder Singh is the head of the erstwhile royal family of Patiala.

Why do the former rajahs continue to use their title, long after the abolition of princely states, I ask. “I have renounced my title. After my father died, I announced that I would never use the title of Maharaja,” he says.

I point out that when I had called his office for an appointment, a staffer had instructed me to address him as His Highness in my email. (I didn’t.)

Singh looks embarrassed. “Oh, I am going to blast these guys,” he says.The former minister is 85, but his use of words – along with his carriage and looks – makes him appear decades younger. Singh, in his trademark dark grey suit and Nehru cap, puts his palms on his face like a beauty queen just awarded the crown in a pageant. “Can you imagine I turned 85 in March,” he exclaims.

We are sitting in his office in his central Delhi residence. The books lined up in the shelves include a collection of Tagore, some classical poetry and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’sKrishna Charitra. These days, he adds, he is reading U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj.

So I ask him about the debate on Hinduism and nationalism. “The biggest problem is that there aren’t any Hindu intellectuals. The Right wingers say that Left intellectuals have dominated so far, now it’s their turn. But the Right wingers don’t have anyone of the stature of Left scholars such as Romila Thapar or the late Bipan Chandra. The Right wing suffers from an intellectual void,” he says.

Singh’s association with the Congress goes back to the Sixties. He was close to former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He was the health minister when Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975 and Sanjay Gandhi started his nasbandicampaign, forcibly sterilising people.

“We had our own targets for nasbandi, which we would have achieved in normal circumstances. But Sanjay Gandhi came in and forced it upon the people. I kept writing to the chief ministers of various states, saying that I was getting reports of coercion, please look into it,” he recalls. “But yes,” he admits, “I never objected to what he was doing.”

Singh, however, adds that he once wrote to Indira Gandhi, urging her to resign. “We never thought that the Emergency would go this way,” he rues.

The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir also feels that successive governments have failed Kashmir. “There is always a trust deficit among Kashmiris. I would say that whoever has come to power in Delhi has failed the Kashmiris. To put it mildly, the issue has to be handled with great courage and statesmanship.”

He believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whom he calls Narendra bhai – has done “some healing” with Pakistan by inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony, visiting Sharif in Lahore and also allowing the Pakistani investigating team to Pathankot to look into the terror attack there. “But he has not done any healing with the Kashmiris,” he says.

While we are on Kashmir, I ask him a question that is often posed by the people of the Valley. Why did Hari Singh sign the instrument of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India? Generations of Kashmiris have held this act as the cause of the conflict in the region.

For the first time, I see a furrow on Singh’s forehead. The smile, too, has gone.

“My father signed it to save Kashmir. If he had not agreed to it, then Kashmiris would have all been killed by the invaders,” he replies.

Singh has seen the changing face of Kashmir – and of Indian politics. He talks about the increasing role of muscle and money power in today’s politics. “There is a change in the texture of politics,” he holds.

Politics, the Rajya Sabha member adds, is also more broad-based today. “Earlier, it was more about bhadraloks. Now…,” he says, his voice petering off. “I don’t want to put any label to it.”

Singh, who once chaired the ethics committee of the Rajya Sabha, sees more disruptions in Parliament than before. “These weaken the structure of democracy because the idea of Parliament is to debate. Previously, we had such amazing parliamentarians as A.K. Gopalan and Somnath Chatterjee, who used to haul the government over the coals through debates. But what people do now – such as disrupting proceedings and going to the well of the House – is a negation of democracy.”

But his own party members have been stalling Parliament repeatedly, I point out. Doesn’t he tell them to mend their ways? “I,” he asks incredulously, and laughs. Clearly, there is nothing much that he can say any more to party members.

Instead, he would rather focus his energies on music. Singh – who studied in Doon School and earned his doctorate in political science from Delhi University – is a great fan of the band, Dire Straits. And he loves to sing Dogri songs. He has even brought out an album of songs in Dogri, the language of the people of Jammu. Every Friday evening, he does riyaaz – practise music.

He loves the stage, too. “You will be amazed to know that my debut performance was when I played Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in school,” he laughs.

On Monday, he was back on the dais, but this time for the launch of a book on Indira Gandhi. And, as always, he sat straight. Clearly, 85 is just a number.

(The story was originally published in http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160529/jsp/7days/story_88194.jsp on May 29, 2016)

You don’t often see Kiran Bedi pleading. But she is doing that right now, while urging the reporter of a Hindi news channel to ask her more questions. The reporter had stood up in a huff, terminating his interview with Delhi’s wannabe chief minister, when her aides had asked him to cut it short. “Please don’t go,” Bedi pleads. “Ask more questions.”

There’s a background to this. A few days before that, she had walked out of a television interview. Anchor Arnab Goswami was, as is his wont, hectoring her a bit when Bedi walked off, saying that she was late for another interview. The video clip went viral, leading to a deluge of jokes and critical remarks about Bedi.

Clearly, the no-nonsense former super cop is learning to be a politician. The walk-out was a mistake. Two weeks before Assembly elections in Delhi – where she is the chief ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bedi can’t afford to be seen as a political parvenu unable to handle the media.

So the first woman in the Indian Police Service (IPS), wearing a dark blue blazer over a pair of blue trousers, with a saffron scarf draped around her neck, is doing what she can to get people on her side. And that’s not a tall order, she believes.

“I have the trust of the people. That will help me to work as the chief minister,” Bedi, 65, says.

Last week, the BJP – which has no dearth of leaders in its state unit – sprung a surprise on the people, to say nothing of its Delhi party, when it said that Bedi had joined the BJP and was its candidate for the chief minister’s post. The move has led to furious debates in and outside the city. Is she chief minister material, as the phrase goes? Does a tough cop necessarily mean an able chief minister?

Many of her former colleagues believe that the very traits that made her a go-getting police officer may come in her way if she is chief minister. As a cop, she was dictatorial and broke protocol. In a chief minister, such traits will be frowned upon.

“She is an instructor, not a listener,” a former colleague rues. “Her word has to be the last word.”

Bedi denies that. “When I work, I listen to everyone. I urge people to speak,” she stresses.

Of course, Bedi is known to have a mind of her own. Old colleagues say she has been like this from the very beginning, even when she was a newbie at Mount Abu’s National Police Academy in 1972.

“Even at 21, she was outspoken and confident,” retired IPS officer Gautam Kaul says. “And she was never awkward as the only woman in the academy.”

A batchmate recalls that she would take a regular stroll with other probationers near Nakki Lake, a lone and slight woman in a group of strapping men. An Asian lawn tennis champion, she played tennis with equal elan with the then director of the academy. “We secretly envied her,” he says.

She was quick to impress her seniors with her “can-do” attitude when she was posted to Delhi after her training. “The first impression she gives is always positive,” a former cop says.

But those are the strengths – which should be an asset to any chief minister. The problems that her colleagues saw soon thereafter are traits that may trip her up.

As a cop, she would do things on her own, sometimes bypassing seniors, says a former Delhi police official. “She had this tendency to fix all problems alone, which is never possible in the government.”

She wasn’t a team player, but to be an effective chief minister she cannot work in isolation. “She has to take everyone else on board. She cannot wield her baton here,” a senior BJP leader says.

On the other hand, a trait that bureaucrats oppose may be just what the voter wants. Her colleagues were not happy with her “over-enthusiastic” approach. A senior recalls that while undergoing training as a station house officer in 1973, she decided to stay back overnight at the police station to get work done. “She went back only after a senior asked her not to ‘overdo’ things,” the retired Delhi police officer recalls.

But Delhi residents may not be unhappy at all if a chief minister decides to spend a night in the secretariat, clearing files.

Some old associates say that she is self-centered. Her detractors say that she imposes her opinion on others. But Bedi doesn’t believe this is true. “I cannot impose myself on others unless people trust me,” she says.

But if she carries so much baggage, why would the BJP have chosen her as the CM candidate? Sources say that the party had sought a delay in the elections because it was in search of a “brave” face to counter Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The party brass felt that it needed someone with mass appeal, which their Delhi leaders lacked. Senior BJP leader and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley is said to have approached Bedi, after getting the go-ahead from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

It worked out well – the BJP was looking for a face; Bedi was looking for a body. Sidelined by the AAP, she needed a platform.

The BJP high command believes it is on the right track – she is seen as honest, energetic and determined. She gets work done. People still remember her as Crane Bedi because she got cars parked illegally towed away. Delhi wallahas even believe that she had Indira Gandhi’s car towed away, though it later transpired that Gandhi, then Prime Minister, was out of town, and the car’s driver was “challaned” by a police constable for illegal parking.

In the late 1970s, she hit the headlines when she rescued 10 women and seven children from a burning house in Sadar Bazar. In 1978, with a stick in hand, she took on Akali agitators at India Gate. Her personal album has a series of pictures of Bedi – in heeled boots – warding off the men carrying sturdy sticks.

Bedi has already shown a talent that some successful politicians possess – the ability to change camps at will. When she was one of the leading lights of the Anna Hazare movement – seeking to weed out corruption from India – she lampooned politicians at a public rally. There was a time, too, not so long ago, when she was critical of Modi, frequently questioning him about the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

Her tilt towards the BJP first became apparent to the AAP in 2014, when the latter was campaigning against Union minister and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari on corruption issues. “She was fine when such protests were carried out against Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. But she opposed the AAP when it targeted Gadkari,” an AAP member says.

Bedi now sees herself an out-and-out BJP person. “It’s a value-based solid organisation. I have seen it from inside,” she says.

She may have also seen the dissidents inside – for that’s going to be one of the biggest problems she’ll face in the party. Many have already started grumbling about her lack of political experience. “She should have been made an MLA first to help her understand how the administration runs. She has always been on the other side of the fence. She has no knowledge of politics and governance,” a BJP leader says.

Her critics point out that she is also not known to complete assignments. When she was posted to Goa, she left before finishing her tenure. She was removed from a post in Chandigarh after she got into a tussle with a senior bureaucrat. She left her job in Mizoram after widespread protests about her daughter getting a seat in a medical college in Delhi under the “Mizoram quota” – meant essentially for people of the state.

Yet, for every characteristic that is seen as a con, there are many in her favour. She is disciplined and looks after the interest of her subordinates, who used to fondly call her “Madam, Sir”.

She is also seen as a doer, a quality that people would like in their chief minister. “She doesn’t sit on anything. For example, if a pipe leaks, she will get a plumber to fix it right away. She won’t go through the sarkari way of filling up a requisition form, etc,” a former colleague says.

This, though, is not a job for quick fixes. Will she cope, or cop out? Time will tell, no doubt. But before that, the voter will.

‘I give, don’t take’

Q. What are the qualities you have that will make you a good chief minister?
A. I am trustworthy. As a cop, I have learnt only to give, never to take.
Q. How did you get the BJP ticket?
A. Nobody will ever get to know this.
Q. Why do you always abandon your posts?
A. Read my book. It has all the answers. It costs Rs 500, but I am gifting it to you.
Q. Why have you changed your views about the BJP and Modi?
A. I haven’t changed my views. I have understood that it’s a solid, value-based organisation. You haven’t got a chance to understand it, which I’ve got.
Q. You are a good mimicry artiste. You also used to imitate dancer Prabhudheva’s moves in the song Muqabla muqabla…
A. I used to do that. I mimicked tennis players too.

Pros and Cons

Strengths

Quick to act
Disciplined
Clean image
Weaknesses

Critics call her dictatorial
No experience
Not a team player

Arvind Kejriwal is readying for the Delhi Assembly elections. The man who was briefly chief minister of Delhi concedes that he erred in quitting government midway but tells Sonia Sarkar that if voters give his Aam Aadmi Party a majority it won’t make the same mistake again

Arvind Kejriwal is out on the streets of Delhi again. The man who would be chief minister of Delhi – and who was its seemingly reluctant chief minister for 49 days – is collecting money for elections to the Delhi Assembly.

“An honest party can only run with honest money,” he says as he donates Rs 10,000 from his own coffers to his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at a public function on Friday. “I am here to create Swachh Rajneeti (clean politics),” he adds, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign.

Kejriwal and his team are playing the second innings of a game that they had left midway. In 2013, AAP won 28 seats and formed the government in Delhi with the support of the Congress, which had eight seats. But he stepped down in February 2014, stating that he couldn’t continue because he didn’t have the numbers to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption law that he had been spearheading.

Many former supporters of AAP believe that Kejriwal sparked hope in them, and then let them down when he resigned. The short stint, in any case, did not inspire confidence. He and his aides brought the city to a standstill with nightlong dharnas. Once the darling of the media, he earned considerable bad press when his law minister raided the houses of African women at midnight, seeking to unearth a suspected drug and prostitution racket.

Will the voter trust him again?

“There is no trust deficit. But, yes, people are asking, why did I leave the government?” Kejriwal says. “But we tell them that you didn’t give us a majority. If you give us a majority this time, we will never leave.”

AAP’s campaign has begun in right earnest. Since November, the party has received around Rs 4 crore (which, however, is just a fraction of the Rs 25 crore it says it needs for funding the polls). AAP has also released the names of the candidates for Delhi’s 70 constituencies, though the election dates are still to be announced.

“I think we will get around 50 seats,” AAP’s national convener predicts. “It is important to have a strong leadership in Delhi, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t have,” he adds.

Kejriwal, 46, blames the Congress for not allowing the previous government to function. The Congress and the BJP together did not let any bills be passed in the Delhi Assembly, he alleges.

His only mistake, he holds, was to leave the government midway. ” Bas, wahi ek galti ki thi (that was the only mistake),” he says.

Kejriwal has been mocked as much he has been idolised ever since he camped at Jantar Mantar three years ago as part of a widespread anti-corruption campaign. When we meet on Friday evening, he is wearing a brown jacket and a pair of grey trousers. The politician who has often been derided as Mufflerman wears two scarves to cover his neck and head. He still has a cough – the subject of many an Internet barb. How does he react to all these social media jokes?

“When there are nice jokes, one laughs at them,” he replies.

We are travelling in a grey Innova along with other party members – Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Ashwathi Muralidharan – from his flat in Ghaziabad to the Constitution Club, where the function for donations is being held. Kejriwal sits in the front passenger seat, and I sit behind him. For the 30 minutes that the journey takes, he answers all questions but never once turns back his head or neck. He looks ahead and replies, pausing only once in a while to smile at a few passers-by who wave out to him.

Kejriwal, who floated AAP after running a nationwide campaign called India Against Corruption in 2011 to bring in legislation against corruption, is now strangely reticent about the Jan Lokpal Bill. He doesn’t mention the concept of Poorna Swaraj (self-governance) either, which was one of his main planks during the last elections.

“All this is on our agenda. But there are other important issues such as educational loans for the youth, CCTV camera in buses for security and creating citizen local area development funds,” he stresses.

But corruption, he points out, is very much on the agenda. “We will stop the culture of taking bribes in Delhi at every level,” he says.

But how relevant is the issue of corruption now when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development plank holds sway?

“It is not corruption versus development. The fight is on the basis of my 49 days of governance that the people saw and the six months of BJP rule that the people have been seeing now,” he says. “Even staunch BJP supporters are now disappointed because they see there is no real work happening on the ground. What is happening is just bayaanbaazi (making tall promises).”

Ironically, the BJP seems to have taken up many of the issues that AAP had promised to deal with – the BJP has launched a mobile app in association with the Delhi police for women’s safety; it seeks to regularise 895 illegal colonies in Delhi; and its government in Haryana has issued a notice to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra about his business deals. It was Kejriwal who had raised these issues.

“They are copying us. But they are doing it only for show. Their intent is not honest,” he says.

Kejriwal, who was once described as a front for the BJP in its fight against the Congress, has been a staunch critic of the BJP and Narendra Modi for a while now. When few were willing to take on Modi, he fought (and lost) against the BJP strongman in Varanasi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

But Parliament doesn’t interest him any more – he is eyeing the Delhi secretariat. There are murmurs of discontent in the party, with some members alleging that he gave tickets to those people who could bring money for the party. Five party legislators have also been denied tickets. And he has been accused of doing away with the previous process of screening applications and interviewing candidates before giving away tickets.

Kejriwal denies the charges. “We have followed the same process of selection of candidates. We have removed some legislators because they were not functioning properly or were not accessible to their constituents,” he says. “All those given tickets are good people,” he reasons.

The new Kejriwal seems more practical. Once against corporate funding, he has no qualms today about accepting “small” donations from companies. He says he is willing to take Rs 1 lakh as donation from any company because “nobody can buy the party with Rs 1 lakh”.

These flip-flops are being closely watched. The man who once said he’d never play caste politics referred to himself as a baniya (a trader caste) while addressing a gathering of traders in Delhi last week. “But I never said give me votes because I am a baniya,” he elaborates.

Within his loosely structured party, Kejriwal has his share of detractors too. One party member believes that he follows the “Modi style of dictatorship”. Senior AAP members including former minister Shanti Bhushan and academic Yogendra Yadav, too, have criticised him for taking decisions unilaterally. Yadav, in a letter written to his colleagues last year, had said that Kejriwal behaved like a “party supremo” and not a leader.

“It shows that people in our party have every right to express their dissent,” Kejriwal replies when reminded about the criticism within.

But the party is not riding the wave that it did a year ago. Prominent members such as Shazia Ilmi and Captain G.R. Gopinath have left the party, mostly because they were unhappy with its “undemocratic” functioning. Is it true, I ask him, that Kumar Vishwas, who fought from Amethi, and academic Anand Kumar, who were both a part of the party’s national executive, have been sidelined?

“No one has been sidelined. It is wrong to believe that only members of some committee are important for the party,” he says.

This is a new side of Kejriwal – the mild-mannered son of an engineer, who schooled in small towns such as Hissar, Ghaziabad and Sonepat. There was not a spark of activism in him even when he studied mechanical engineering at IIT, Kharagpur, his friends had told the media earlier.

The change came after he cleared the civil services examination, and joined the Indian Revenue Services. He worked as a joint commissioner of income tax in Delhi and later started the Public Cause Research Foundation where he spoke out against corruption. He was one of the crusaders of the right to information campaign and went on to win the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for his work on the issue.

Kejriwal, who resigned from the services, has no time today for his passions – playing chess and reading. Of course, it’s another matter that he is playing a game of chess on a very large field. Checkmate, anyone?

(http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150104/jsp/7days/story_6571.jsp )

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)

 

The time has come for all good men — and women — to come to the aid of the party. But celebrities are often treated as outsiders by political parties. Parties want them to win election but not rise.

  • Poll call: Krishna Poonia

Elections are in the air. Hoardings line the roads, prime ministerial candidates hop across the country to address the masses and recorded messages on the phone canvass for votes.

There’s another sign of the 2014 parliamentary elections. Political parties are looking at well-known men and women — and vice versa — as possible candidates for the polls.

Consider this: Information technology (IT) honcho Nandan Nilekani is likely to fight an election from Bangalore. General V.K. Singh, the just retired army chief, recently shared the dais with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Athlete Krishna Poonia may fight an election as a Congress candidate. And Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has resigned from the army to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Excellence in sports is limited to personal achievement but it doesn’t excite me anymore. Politics will complete my life,” Rathore, 43, stresses.

  • Diya Kumari

Alliances between celebrities and political parties are not new. Over the years, a great many icons have joined politics. The list includes Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Raj Babbar, Shatrughan Sinha, Govinda, Kirti Azad and Mohammed Azharuddin. People have come in from other fields too — such as the army (B.C. Khanduri and J.F.R. Jacob), diplomacy (Shashi Tharoor) and science (Raja Ramanna). “It is a marriage of convenience,” says Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP.

At the core of this arrangement is a political party’s desire to rake in more seats, and a well-known personality’s wish to make a mark — usually when on the verge of retirement.

“Celebrities are already seen as heroes in the public eye, so this makes the seat winnable for political parties. For celebrities, it is a shortcut to more fame and the unlimited power that come along with politics,” explains Dhirubhai Sheth, senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Indeed, in these cynical times, when politicians are being roundly castigated for corruption, crime and communalism, the outsiders are often seen as whiffs of fresh air. “We need them to give a boost to politics. They have both visibility and credibility, which politicians often lack,” Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko states.

  • Nandan Nilekani

That could be the reason the Congress plans to offer the south Bangalore seat to Nilekani, chief of the Unique Identification Development Authority of India.

“South Bangalore is a constituency of technocrats and for them, Nilekani needs no introduction. We wanted someone like him to fight the BJP’s candidate, Ananth Kumar, who has been winning the seat,” Chacko adds.

Like the Congress, which fielded actors Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt, the BJP has a long history of showcasing candidates with no political backgrounds but immense public appeal. During the Ram Janmabhoomi wave — when Ramayan and Mahabharat aired on Doordarshan — its pantheon included Deepika “Sita” Chikhalia, Arun “Ram” Govil and Arvind “Ravan” Trivedi. Among the many Bollywood stars it has successfully — or not so unsuccessfully — projected are, apart from Sinha, Hema Malini and Dharmendra.

  • Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

“We welcome them because they have already proved their calibre in certain fields,” says BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.

Not many, however, have had memorable stints in politics. Chikhalia, who faded out soon after her debut, describes her move as an “accidental jump” into politics. “I was seen as the perfect candidate to promote the ideology of the party then,” Chikhalia, who won from Vadodra in 1991, says.

Smriti Irani of the BJP — who made her mark on television as Tulsi — is among the few who segued into politics effortlessly. Though she lost to Kapil Sibal of the Congress from Delhi in 2004, she is the articulate face of her party.

  • General V.K. Singh

“It’s all about the meeting of minds,” Rathore maintains. “I chose the BJP because I believe in its philosophy of nationalism, cadre-based politics and good leadership.”

For political parties, celebrity endorsement is important. “Celebrities are in demand because of their ability to communicate with the people,” explains Chakshu Roy, head of the outreach team of the Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research.

But popularity doesn’t always translate into votes. Actor and Union tourism minister K. Chiranjeevi, who contested the Andhra election in 2009, had lakhs of people attending his rallies. But his erstwhile Praja Rajyam Party could win only 18 of 294 Assembly seats.

Often, once the election is over, the newcomers find that they have no place in the party hierarchy. They face resentment from party members who’ve worked hard over the years in the hope of contesting from a particular constituency.

“Politicians want stars to get the crowd but they don’t really want them to rise,” Sinha says.

Shooter and Asian Games gold medalist Jaspal Rana agrees. “I was 19 and wanted to be a youth leader when I joined the BJP. But seasoned politicians don’t let others grow,” says Rana, who is now with the Congress.

This, a source close to Poonia says, worries her too. Though overtures have been made by the Congress, she is not clear about the offer. “She would leave her job in the railways and join the Congress only if it promised her a good role in the party,” says the source.

Chikhalia’s story may deter Poonia. The ex-actress recalls that her equation with the BJP changed soon after she won the seat. “Gradually, I realised that the party fielded me because it wanted the seat. Once the seat was won, its attitude towards me changed. I was always seen as an outsider.”

Some newbies, on the other hand, claim they have no expectations of the party. “I am here to serve the people in the manner my party would like me to,” holds Diya Kumari of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, who has just joined the BJP.

Politicians stress that in this dog-eat-dog world, only the fittest survive. “If the individual has acumen, he or she gets an opportunity (to rise),” Sitharaman holds. Sinha adds that newcomers need to understand the rules of the game. It took him many years to mature as a politician, he says.

Political leaders add that the so-called “outsiders” often don’t know how parties function. “Many of them think that if they have won a seat, they should get a ministerial berth. They don’t understand the dynamics of politics,” Chacko complains.

Some of them are hardly seen in Parliament. Sinha and Hema Malini, who asked 117 questions and participated in six debates over four years, are exceptions. Others — such as Dharmendra and Azharuddin — have contributed little to policy or polity.

PRS Legislative Research reports that Azharuddin asked five questions and participated in two debates between June 2009 and September 2013. Chiranjeevi neither participated in a debate nor asked a question.

The electorate has to wait to see how the season’s new politicians will perform.


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