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Book extracts: Vote of Confidence, profiles of Young Politicians

Hindustan Times   June 08, 2012
First Published: 19:26 IST(8/6/2012) | Last Updated: 19:26 IST(8/6/2012)
Vote of Confidence: Profiles of Young Politicians

Aashti Bhartia

Lotus/Roli

Rs 250 pp 208

Meenakshi Natarajan: the ground worker

There has been a wave of curiosity about the young Meenakshi Natarajan. But she barely meets the press, or gives interviews, so the few articles on her say very little about Natarajan. It’s said she’s close to Rahul Gandhi, a member of his ‘core team’ along with Ashok Tanwar and Bhanwar Jitendra. One newspaper article mentions she coined the sharp slogan ‘Gau Hamari Mata Hai, Atal Bihari Khata Hai’ and compares her to the populist female politicians Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti of the BJP. The slogan sticks in my mind. ... For the most part, Natarajan is an enigma, an elusive foot soldier in the Congress flanks.

On an afternoon in late 2010, I find Meenakshi Natarajan in her Delhi office on the AICC grounds, casually sitting in front of her desk, not behind it, and flipping through a report... I try to break the ice with small talk. How come she hasn’t been in town during Parliament?

“Even during Parliament, there are many other kinds of party work to be done,” Natarajan says firmly. She sees herself less as a Parliamentarian and more as a ground worker, more involved in her constituency and in the various Congress organisations she’s part of than in Parliament or speaking to the media. Her life revolves around her political work; she lives alone, shuttling between Mandsaur and Delhi.

Akhilesh Yadav: Course correction

After the Samajwadi Party (SP) lost in 2007, Akhilesh (Yadav) had been involved in protests and agitations for the party. But after Dimple’s defeat from Firozabad, Akhilesh took real control...

... Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former district-level wrestler, had been heavily influenced in his early career by socialist leaders Ram Manohar Lohia (after whom the SP youth organisation Lohia Vahini is named) and Raj Narain. He had exited the Janata Dal (socialist) and founded SP in 1992. But, by 2009, Mulayam Singh too saw that the SP had lost its moorings. It was apparently the Communist Party (CPIM) politician Somnath Chatterjee who, having known Akhilesh, advised Mulayam to give him a free hand in the party. In the run up to the 2012 elections, he stepped back and made Akhilesh state president. One of the first things Akhilesh did was to end Mulayam Singh Yadav’s long-time confidante, the die-hard Amar Singh’s tenure with the party...

With Amar Singh, went an entire brand of politics. Bollywood actors Jaya Prada, Jaya Bachchan, and Sanjay Dutt had flown down to campaign for Dimple’s election. In the 2007 state elections too, Amitabh Bachchan had featured in the Samajwadi advertisement... The Samajwadi Party had seemed to turn into a Disney-like parade. After becoming state president, Akhilesh severed the party from star-obsessed politics.Before the 2012 election, an SP member said, “The party is strictly against Bollywood stars for campaigning. In 2012, the Bachchans and Bollywood were nowhere on the campaign trail.

Akhilesh pulled the party's focus back to ground- level workers.

Ajoy Kumar: Politics procedurals

The police was, really, (Ajoy) Kumar’s first rung to politics (though he could not have connected the dots back then). Anyone can imagine why Kumar would have wanted to enter politics. Power, for whatever noble or ignoble reasons, is a high... In Jamshedpur, too, rumours go around about why Kumar joined the police. Kumar joined the police after his brother was killed by the mafia, someone who lived in Jamshedpur in the mid-nineties tells me. People try to guess what motivated him to drive the police so passionately, court danger so maniacally. “Sometimes they kill my wife, now it’s my brother,” Kumar tells me, rubbishing the stories. “These are all rumours.”

...when he got posted in Bihar for his field training, Kumar says, he saw what a terrible state the police was in. “I decided to stick around and try to help. I saw this crazy amount of injustice — I was totally zapped by it! I said, this is India, so, I thought, let me stick around”...

“I run and I read,” Kumar says of himself. He’s organising a cross-country run in every block in his constituency. Children will get free shoes and Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount everest, will inaugurate the run. “You don’t know what children take in, you don’t know what impacts a kid’s life,” Kumar shrugs, as he explains the event. When Kumar’s father was posted in Japan, in the Indian Foreign Service, he once brought home a John F Kennedy piggy bank for his kids. It had the famous JFK quote: Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country. Kumar shares thinking back, “You never know what sticks with you, what affects you, years later.”


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