BJP: Game Trier
On the Delhi elections campaign trail, Hardnews follows BJP candidate Nupur Sharma, who is contesting opposite Kejriwal in the Delhi Constituency
Shazia Nigar Delhi
It is 8:00 PM and Nupur Sharma is campaigning in New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) colony behind Khan Market, accompanied by a team of young people, mostly in their twenties. The energy is obviously youthful and hence reminiscent of student election campaigns. Young people are cracking jokes, checking their phones and sloganeering as Sharma goes from door to door. After a brief introduction, she asks people to vote for her because,“Main toh yahin ki hoon. Kahin nahin ja sakti.” When they complain about previous politicians and empty promises that accompanied them, Sharma retorts, “Sheila Dixit toh hain U.P ki, rehti hain Nizamuddin main. Mera toh ghar yahin hain.” That appears to be the hinge on which Sharma's door to door campaign hangs. Unless people themselves bring it up, I don't hear her or any one from her team talk about issues of housing, water or electricity. As I chat up some of the campaigners, Sharma's media co-ordinator Raghav Pal walks up to me and says, “Please write only good things.”
“The next PM to be” is how Nupur Sharma was known by her batch mates in London School of Economics, London. Although only 29 years old, she is no new comer to politics. Sharma forayed into politics as a young student of Law in Delhi University's Law Faculty and served as DUSU's President for the year 2008-09. She had been casually political during her undergraduate days as a student of economics at Hindu college, supporting and campaigning for other candidates but had no plans of taking the plunge herself. When she mentioned to her grandfather, 'a hardcore BJP supporter', that elections had been declared in campus, he immediately asked her to contest. Her father Vinay Sharma, a handicrafts and furniture exporter, was a little hesitant but her mother, a housewife, asked her to go ahead anyways.
Students who worked with her during that time often ascribe the words “mentor”, “committed”, “hard working”, “great orator” and “dedicated” to her. Watching her on the campaign trail, it is not hard to believe that she is all of this.
As DUSU President, Sharma had earned a reputation as one who didn’t mince her words. She had flirted with controversy when, as DUSU President, she had led a mob to an Arts Faculty seminar room which was hosting a talk by Zakir Hussain College professor and former accused in the Parliament attack case SAR Geelani on a seminar titled ‘Communalism, Fascism and Democracy: Rhetoric and Reality’. The venue was vandalised and an ABVP activist spat on Geelani's face. Later that night, Sharma defended her colleague on prime time television: “I am not going to apologise… What for?”. At one point during the show, she said, “I’ll take a stand. The whole country should spit at him. Who invited him to the university to speak on terrorism?” Since then she has made regular appearances on national television. She appears to have learnt from that experience. When I prod her about her thoughts on her party's stand on article 377, she says “No comments” rather than giving me an answer that might make her appear out of sync with modern ideas or one that goes against her party's beliefs.
Nupur's mother says, “She spends all day reading on her iPad preparing for television debates. She is determined to get her facts rights and doesn't want to make a single mistake.” Everyone I meet in the family is in awe of her oratory skills. No wonder then that she has won herself a steady stream of admirers, some of whom have joined her on the campaign.
One such youngster is 24 year old Harish Vishesht, a real estate agent who is working on a start up that will sell party props. His family owns a furniture manufacturing and retailing business. Taken in by one of Nupur's debates on television as DUSU president, he expressed his admiration for her to a common friend who conveyed the same to Nupur. A few days later, Harish received a phone call from Nupur who asked him to work with her. That was when he was a student in 11th standard. Since then he has been associated with the party and he formally joined the Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha a year and a half ago. During the course of the campaign he has accompanied the team everywhere. From Princess Park, Secundra Road, N.D.M.C colony, to Dharbanga dhobi ghat and Bengali market, among many other areas in New Delhi assembly constituency. He tells me that his new start up will manufacture party props such as customised shot glasses, and, neon and LED lights, among other products which will be sold online. I ask him what he thinks of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and RSS's grouse with online retailers like Amazon, Flipkart and eBay, regarding which they had a meeting with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley earlier in January. He says he doesn't know anything about it. When I broach article 377, he asks, “You mean Kashmir?” When I nod my head in disagreement, he says “UCC?” After I explain he says, “I support one’s own sexual preferences but we have to abide by the ruling.”
The Bharatiya Janta Party's philosophy is spelled in these terms on their website: “Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism presents the BJP's conception of Indian nationhood. It must be noted that Hindutva is a nationalist, and not a religious or theocratic concept.” It is interesting then that Harish wasn't the only one who expressed ideas that would be considered anti-thetical to the idea of the Hindutva brand of cultural nationalism. Rajnath Singh had made a statement in 2013 saying, "We will state that we support Section 377 because we believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act and cannot be supported." There were other youngsters too who insisted, “I am of a liberal mindset. I have gay friends.” Harish sums up this dilemma for us in these words: “We are one confused generation. There are values we have imbibed from parents, but I won't be able to carry forward all of them.” It is interesting to note that he collapses values he has imbibed from his family with those that the party espouses. Perhaps that explains the popularity of the BJP amongst a certain section of Indians which Harish and his family represent.
After completing her Law degree, Nupur pursued an L.L.M from London School of Economics, where she came amongst the top five in her class. Always an achiever academically, this was no new feat for her. She has an outstanding record even at D.P.S Mathura road from where she completed her schooling. London was a year long break from engaging in active politics for Nupur. However, she was always up to date with Indian politics and in constant touch with party workers in Delhi. Shuchi Mehta, an equity manager in Mumbai, who went to LSE and shared a dormitory with Nupur and is in Delhi currently working on the campaign says, “Nupur eats, drinks and breathes politics. Even in London she was always getting into political debates with people from across the world.”
Although Shuchi's family in Mumbai have been BJP supporters for years, she was beginning to doubt the party until “Modiji was declared as the PM candidate. He is forward-thinking and a good leader.” About the Gujarat riots she says, “It was a chain effect. The train was set on fire and it was to set that right, but nothing rationalises killing human beings. Peshawar was also disheartening; no matter how bad they are with all the terrorist activities they encourage. I am sure people in Pakistan are also not happy but like they say, jaisi karni, waisi bharni.” On article 377 she says, “Personally I find gays and lesbians to be against the flow of nature. But I can't hate them for that. I am cordial with them.”
It is 9:00 PM. “Nupur kahin bhaag nahin sakti, ghar yahin hai. Bhrastachar kyun karegi? Gadi tha, simple chat tha. Desi hai aur khoob padi likhi bhi hai. Poora parivar bahar se pada hai,” says Nupur's mother at Dharbanga dhobi ghat as she goes around asking for votes. Sunita Kanojia, 47, a resident of the area is raising slogans with the campaigners. After Nupur leaves for an urgent meeting at the BJP headquarters, I stay back to chat with Sunita and she invites me into her house. Sunita runs a beauty parlour from home. Given the lack of space, she has converted the kitchen into a salon. Her biggest concern is that the colony should be made permanent. She says, “People from the municipality keep dropping by and we are constantly told that the slum will be broken down to make way for other constructions. There is a constant threat of displacement. I want this colony to be made permanent.” Women in the area point out the poor toilet facilities. The toilet that was constructed for the colony has now a board outside which says “Public convenience.” Sunita says that since it has been labeled a public toilet a lot of outsiders are coming in. “All the drivers who come to drop people at the hotel use this toilet. Their cars are also parked here even though this isn't their parking area.” The hotel she is referring to is the Taj Man Singh hotel on Man Singh road, behind which the colony is located.
During the previous assembly elections, both of Sunita's sons sat at the Nirman Bhawan polling booth for AAP. This time around though the family may not vote for AAP. Sunita's husband Naresh Kumar Kanojia says, “We voted for Kejriwal last time but since he left after 49 days we can't trust him easily this time.” He predicts that this time too around half the colony will vote for AAP. Most of the colony's residents belong to the scheduled castes. Sunita says that her vote will go to whoever is willing to commit in written words that the “the colony will be granted permanent status and clean toilets will be accessible.”
It is 10:30 PM by the time Nupur sits down for dinner. The workers, her family and friends have left her BD Marg office. There are only a handful of people left. She finally gives me the ten minutes promised to me over a plate of rice and dal. We have just about begun when senior leaders arrive. Nupur abandons her dinner and apologizes as she hurries inside for a meeting. Her father insists on having me dropped home by the taxi they have booked. On the way, the driver Harjeet Singh, a turbaned man of around 60 and me get talking. He says, “My vote will go to AAP. I think most autowallas, taxi drivers and rickshaw pullers will.”