Twelve candidates will be vying for 11 Rajya Sabha seats on June 11, but an unknown face is hogging all the limelight.
Few had heard of Preeti Mahapatra, 37, who submitted her papers on the last day of filing nominations on Tuesday, taking both political circles and social media by storm.
Her last-minute candidacy will ensure a contest of sorts for the Rajya Sabha seats.
A day after parachuting into politics from virtually nowhere, it emerged that she is the wife of a Mumbai-based businessman, Harihara Mahapatra, who once announced an ambitious plan to construct the country’s tallest building in Khajod, Gujarat. That plan, however, came a cropper.
Preeti describes herself as a member of the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch and insists she has no political connections. “I merely want to serve UP,” she said immediately after filing her papers.
But flanked as she was by influential state politicians such as Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Suresh Khanna and Radha Mohan Das, and former Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coordinator Jugal Kishore, it is evident that she packs significant political firepower.
She filed two sets of nomination papers as an independent candidate and her proposers include 16 BJP legislators and one each from the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), the opposition BSP and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
This show of political clout has triggered speculations that the BJP is backing her bid to enter the Rajya Sabha. Congress MP Pramod Tiwari didn’t mince words as he dubbed her a BJP candidate: “Make no mistake. She is virtually a BJP candidate. Since on its own the BJP could only ensure the win of one candidate, it is evident that the party is encouraging horse-trading by fielding her.”
Mohammad Ayub, a Muslim lawmaker from east UP who had initially come out to support her, allegedly backtracked on realising her “BJP connection”. But Preeti’s managers quickly replaced him with other BJP lawmakers.
In fact, all 10 proposers in her first nomination belong to the BJP. Legislators from SP, BSP, NCP and the Apna Dal proposed her second nomination together with six BJP MLAs.
“I am supporting her to dent the SP, which has fielded an additional candidate,” said rebel SP lawmaker Rampal Yadav. BSP MLA Bala Prasad Awasthi said he would back Mahapatra as well.