Nafisa Ali may have several reasons for moving from the Congress to the Samajwadi Party, but what triggered her exit, she says, was the Congress leadership's indifference to her objection against nominations for Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.
"I was the first person to speak out against the inclusion of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the Congress list," Nafisa - who has been a national swimming champion, actor and social activist - claimed, even as she expressed confidence in her ability to win from Lucknow, where she is the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate for the April-May Lok Sabha polls.
"I am an activist and not scared of speaking out," the silver-haired and elegant Nafisa told IANS in an interview here. "That is why I could raise my voice against these two leaders in the Congress party which is full of sycophants."
"I was always opposed to people like Tytler and Sajjan Kumar because of what they did against Sikhs; I can understand the pain of the Sikhs as my husband is a Sikh and so is my son-in-law." The nominations of Tytler and Sajjan Kumar - accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots - for two seats in New Delhi angered Sikhs and they were dropped after a series of protests.
Nafisa has tried her luck at the hustings earlier - against Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata South - with no success.
Asked what led her to shift to Lucknow, a seat represented five times by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she shot back: "well, when Atal Behari Vajpayee could come all the way from Gwalior and lose from Lucknow in 1957 and then decide to once again return here after decades to win and become prime minister, then why not me?"
Asked why she did not contest from Kolkata again, Nafisa said: "I did not wish to contest from Kolkata because I did not wish to oppose Mamata Banerjee, who, I always felt, was of phenomenal value to the Congress. And it was my initiative that has brought her closer to the Congress yet again."
Nafisa takes quick offence to a reminder that her only connection with Lucknow was her role as a traumatised British girl Ruth in Shashi Kapoor's Bollywood sensation "Junoon".
"I have been associated with Lucknow from the time I was just 12 when I would come here as a member of the Calcutta La Martiniere team to participate in Inter-Martiniere meets, particularly swimming," she points out.
But why did she switch loyalties from Congress, whose president Sonia Gandhi had bestowed her with a cabinet minister's status by appointing her as chairperson of National Children's Film Society after she lost to Mamata?
"The Congress was considering my name quite actively for Lucknow, but they could not take a decision and time was running out. So when Sanjay Dutt was denied permission to contest, I asked SP leader Amar Singh, who is a very old friend, and he readily responded," she said.
Not denying that barely a week before moving to the Samajwadi Party she had visited Lucknow as a Congress aspirant and had called on several prominent local persons including some Maulanas, she said: "Just as Amar Singh gave me the go-ahead, I wrote a letter to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi informing her that I was withdrawing my name as a contender for a ticket from Lucknow."
Asked to comment on Sonia's response to her letter, Nafisa suddenly turned cagey and said: "I do not wish to elaborate on whatever transpired between me and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. That is strictly personal between the two of us, but I just cannot blame her for anything; it is some other people around her who were responsible." She refused to name them.
Very hastily, Nafisa added: "After all we are living in an era of coalitions, and SP has plans of maintaining a post-poll alliance with the Congress only, because of our common commitment and mission to fight communal forces."
She was however at her wit's end when her attention was drawn to SP's new bonhomie with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rebel Kalyan Singh, better known as the key man behind the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
"I think the Kalyan-Mulayam association was being misinterpreted by the media; Mr. Mulayam singh Yadav has repeatedly emphasised that Kalyan Singh's new mission was to weaken the BJP."
However, when asked if she would let Kalyan Singh campaign for her, she shot back with a flat "no".
Flaying Chief Minister Mayawati for turning Lucknow into a "concrete jungle", she said: "Mayawati is holding UP (Uttar Pradesh) to ransom and I am going to take her on by exposing how she is a blot in the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose name she only uses to mislead and misguide the common masses."
Asked if her weak knowledge of Hindi would become a handicap in Hindi-Urdu speaking Lucknow, Nafisa claimed: "Certainly not; this is not a state assembly election, where the local language is important; in the national parliament, what one requires is fluency in a key link language like English. That will also be useful in establishing Lucknow's links with the rest of the world."