The glamorous Preeti Mahapatra’s dramatic entry as the 12th candidate into Uttar Pradesh’s battle for the Rajya Sabha was no off-the-cuff decision. The 37-year-old national president of the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch’s women’s wing says she did “lots of research” before jumping into the fray, and it was something from which she was confident of emerging victorious.
Mahapatra had last raised eyebrows when she was seen with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in photographs that went viral on the social media. Today, she is being pegged by the Congress as a BJP candidate who could encourage horse trading.
But then, while 16 BJP lawmakers supported the two sets of nominations filed by Mahapatra, MLAs from other parties – including the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Apna Dal and the Nationalist Congress Party – were also seen queuing up behind her.
Hindustan Times caught with the ‘mystery woman’ for a tête-à-tête on her Uttar Pradesh plans. Some excerpts:
Q: You are from Mumbai with business interests in Gujarat. Your husband is an Odiya businessman. Why this sudden interest in going to the Rajya Sabha from UP?
A: The Constitution of India has granted this right to me. That should suffice. Moreover, as someone rightly said, a UP caught in the ‘dal-dal’ of politics perhaps required a ‘nirdal’ (independent)!
Q: How do you explain 16 of the proposers being from the BJP? In fact, all the 10 MLAs who proposed your first set of nominations belonged to the BJP.
A: I am grateful to everyone who has supported me, and made me the face for a fair fight in UP. From the moment I came, I have been asking everybody to vote for me on their ‘atma ki awaaz’. It’s not just BJP lawmakers who have responded to my appeal. You will see on June 11 that lawmakers cutting across party lines have voted for me.
Q: Your entry has forced a contest. It’s being said that you cannot win without disturbing the political plan of either the Samajwadi Party or lone Congress candidate Kapil Sibal. Are you up for the challenge?
A: I know I am up against the stalwarts of politics. I wish them luck. But the kind of response I have received post-nomination has made me confident of winning with more votes than required.
Q: That’s a strong statement. What makes you that confident? The Congress says you are a BJP prop out to indulge in horse trading. Are you going to engage in cross-voting?
A: You call it cross-voting, but I would say it’s ‘atma ki awaaz’ vote. In any case, I guess cross-voting isn’t barred here. Lawmakers can freely take a call on which candidate they wish to support.
Q: Aren’t you a little young for the “House of Elders”, and a touch inexperienced to take on established politicians? Your glam quotient also makes many wonder if you are a serious candidate?
A: (Smiles) Suddenly, UP’s politics has become glamorous and colourful, hasn’t it? Tell me, why shouldn’t women look presentable and well-groomed? If that disturbs somebody, it’s their problem. I like to carry myself with the utmost dignity and class. As far as being young is concerned, I aim to become a political voice with a fresh set of fundamentals to represent UP.
Q: Google searches throw up a newspaper article accusing you and your husband of cheating a gynaecologist of a couple of crores of rupees. What’s the truth?
A: I am glad you brought it up. The case you have dug up from cyberworld was quashed by the honorable high court. I think that’s a good enough answer in itself, isn’t it?
Q: You deny the charge of being a BJP candidate. So, how do you explain being associated with the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch? And your photos with PM Modi, which have gone viral on the social media?
A: Well, some also say that I am related to BJP chief Amit Shah. I am not. I respect Mr Shah a lot but he isn’t my relative. See, as the song goes ‘kuch toh log kahenge…’, some have claimed that I own a store in Dubai Dutyfree. Well, I would like to know which store I own. Yes, I am associated with the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch. This February 16, on my birthday, my Manch colleagues urged me to become the national president of the women wing of the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch based on my social work. So I joined. What’s wrong with that? As for my pictures with Modiji going viral, well, getting clicked with a PM or CM doesn’t automatically mean a political connection.
Q: Should you win, are you prepared for the rough and tumble of UP politics?
A: I know some see this as a handicap. Arrey baba, UP isn’t all that bad. It’s the land of Rama, Krishna and Buddha. It’s the land of Rani Laxmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal. Yes, I am ready to serve UP.
Q: Some lawmakers see supporting you as an ‘entrance test’ for a BJP ticket in the 2017 UP polls…
A: (Laughs): You keep probing, but it won’t help. I repeat – I am not a BJP candidate. I am an independent candidate seeking support from everybody. It’s for the BJP to decide whom it wants to give its ticket to.