Rampur, 150 KM from Delhi on the road tourists generally take to the mighty Himalayas, is accustomed to outsiders stopping for a quick tea. Very few outsiders stop to strike up a conversation, forget starting a relationship with the place.
In 2004, a woman whom her Andhraite parents knew as Lalita Rani stopped at Rampur to try exactly that. The dusty and chaotic little town in Uttar Pradesh would not have bothered with her advances if it were not for the other name she is known by: Jayaprada.
Rampur’s people sent the actor, who had shifted from the Telugu Desam Party to the Samajwadi Party, to the Lok Sabha in 2004.
“She understands the sufferings of the poor,” said Asgar Ali, chief of Hakimganj village who represents its 1,800 people.
“Villagers like her. Initially, people were curious to see her but now they admire her sincerity and genuine efforts.”"
However, one can see fewer boards and inauguration stones bearing the name of MP Jayaprada, but many still look up to her as facilitator of developmental works.
“Floods and the dearth of link roads in the interiors have always been a major problem for lakhs of villagers in Rampur,” said senior journalist Santosh Singh.
He said local people appreciate her efforts in ordering construction of bridges and link roads, making the monsoon days less terrible.
The rulers of Rampur had sided with the British during the 1857 mutiny, hence the importance of the place rose during Raj. It was famous for making sword blades and for a sugar centre. Today, half of its three lakh-odd population is illiterate.
Making bidis (local cigarettes) is the main source of livelihood for over 10,000 families in Rampur.
Jayaprada is popular among these families.“We haven’t met her, but like her because she genuinely works for deprived people,” said SM Umar, manager of a bidi unit.
“It seems like she believes more in serving people than in politics,” said Jayaprada’s young local lieutenant Mustafa, who left his NGO job to assist the 46-year-old. He said she interacted with people directly.
However, Azam Khan, a Samajwadi Party stalwart, said: “She hardly knows the party workers.”
He said she had contested the Rampur elections on his invitation and succeeded to reduce the impact of the local Nawab family, which is politically active.
Senior BJP leader, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who had represented the constituency in Parliament, said the actor-turned-politicians used their glamour which ultimately would fade away. She might not be popular among some of her partymen, but there is no dearth of admirers.
“Like Sunil Dutt, she is an exception among actors who became politicians. She works for the needy,” said Devendra Singh, secretary of the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Bharat Bhusan, district president of Vaishya Sabha and UP Udyog Vyapar Mandal, also praised her sincerety. Recently, she donated 14 computers to the local girl’s degree college and is trying to set up a nursing institute.