Savitri Bai Phule campaigns in her constituency. HT Photo
The BJP candidate from Balha, the 38-year-old Savitri Bai Phule, could have easily passed off for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati except for the shoulder-length hair and the regulation saffron gear.
Even the tenor of her speech is reminiscent of Mayawati. "I renounced my family at a very young age to serve the samaj. Why would I amass wealth when I don't have a family?" an impassioned Phule tells a spell-bound audience in Bahraich district.
The rest of the speech recalls her "heroic struggle". Phule's parents married her off at the age of six. When she was a teenager she went to Lucknow to participate in a demonstration, got embroiled in a lathi charge and ended up in jail. "On return I told my in-laws I wanted to dedicate myself to the service of society. Since the marriage was yet to be solemnised, I broke the alliance," says Phule, as the villagers applaud.
Today Phule runs an NGO that fights for women's rights. With a total asset of Rs. 2 lakh, which is a donation from the party, Phule is amongst the poorest candidates in the state. She has been a zila panchayat member thrice and lost Charda seat by 1000 votes in 2007.
Says Sobhit Yadav, a villager, "She can win hands down except that she is a pasi and not of Mayawati's caste."