The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Ratan Lal Kataria is an unhappy man. A former MP from Ambala, he lost to Kumari Selja twice. His current problem: As Haryana Chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hooda and Selja are at daggers drawn, Ambala is in a shambles: “Selja has no time for it and Hooda is not interested in its development,” says Kataria.
It is well known that the ageing chief minister and not so old Selja are bitter enemies. Kumari Selja has criticised the state government’s silence on the Centre’s achievements while trumpeting its own in the forthcoming assembly elections. Hooda in turn has publicly stated that Ambala has lagged behind.
Selja’s detractors blame her: “She is out of touch with reality. Hi-fi, she has not done anything for the constituency. As Union minister for housing and poverty alleviation, she did not sanction a single project for Ambala. She is urban and is reaping the benefits of her father’s (an important Dalit leader Chaudhary Dalbir Singh) legacy,” says Kataria.
To an extent he is right. Selja is urban and entered politics by accident. She was born in New Delhi, studied in a convent and later did her M.Phil. Politics was not on the radar despite her father. His sudden death pushed her into it.
She lost the first election she contested and subsequently denied a party nomination from Sirsa, thanks to infighting and factionalism: “Everything” says Ganeshi Lal, a professor and former BJP minister in Haryana, “depends on your equation with the chief minister. She may have lost a particular election because of the absence of the chief minister’s support. But she has represented Sirsa and was a darling of the constituency.”
Her career reached a low when she was treated as a “has been” and virtually written off, and she ready to pack her bags for Delhi: “That,” Selja told Hindustan Times, “made me sit up and ask myself whether I would quit being a loser. I decided to strike back.”
Once she did, it has been an upward graph from then on. In less than two decades, she made it to Parliament four times and three times to the Union cabinet: “Too frank for a politician,” says Naraingarh (Haryana) Congress MLA Ramkishan, “she will tell you to your face what she thinks.”
Politics meant putting away short skirts for salwar kameez. A tailor was summoned to stitch a dozen overnight. Sarees are a complete “no-no” because wearing one is a nightmare.
Born as Shailaja, she lived through a name distortion because Haryanvis, she says, pronounce “sh” as “s”. Hence Selja it became and so it remained. The prefix Kumari was not her doing but the fact that she is unmarried. Not so much out of choice but because it simply didn’t happen: “There was none like Dad,” she once said “caring, good and perfect”.
Once when she actually agreed to meet someone, she rejected him because he asked her if she cooked: “No, do you,” she shot back and walked out. Clearly, Miss-touch-me-not.