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Perspective | Oped

PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
Filmstars and elections
Actors have enlivened the Indian political theatre, says V. Eshwar Anand

I
t’s
election time. Political parties are desperately trying to woo filmstars for campaigning in support of their candidates. There is both confidence and nervousness in all the camps. For, no one can take the Indian voter for granted.

OPED

Breaking taboos
Changing perceptions in adolescent education
by Usha Rai

A
third of our population, an estimated 314 million, is in the 10 to 24 age group. But lack of precise information and incomplete knowledge about puberty and sexual and reproductive health promotes myths and misconceptions among the young.








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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


On Record
I have done much more than Deora: Sanyal
by Shiv Kumar

All eyes are on Meera Sanyal, the Independent candidate from Mumbai South. Pitted against Congress candidate Milind Deora, she decided to contest for the elections soon after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Presently the Indian country head for ABN Amro, she has had a career in the banking industry spanning 25 years. She headed ABN Amro’s Corporate Finance Division for South Asia in Singapore before shifting to Mumbai.

Profile
Nafisa swears by Lucknowi culture
by Harihar Swarup

Will Nafisa Ali fit in the nafasat (sophistication) of Lucknowvi culture? Nafisa itself means sophistication. Kolkata-born, 52-year-old Nafisa, is the Samajwadi Party’s candidate for the prestigious Lucknow Lok Sabha seat. She has as powerful opponents as the UP Congress chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, BJP leader Lalji Tandon and BSP’s Akhilesh Das.




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A Tribune Special
Filmstars and elections
Actors have enlivened the Indian political theatre, says V. Eshwar Anand


Jaya Prada, Preity Zinta, Hema Malini, Chiranjeevi, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha

It’s election time. Political parties are desperately trying to woo filmstars for campaigning in support of their candidates. There is both confidence and nervousness in all the camps. For, no one can take the Indian voter for granted.

Hema Malini has started addressing rallies to boost the BJP cadre. Priety Zinta will campaign for the Congress. Salman Khan is helping out Vinod Khanna (BJP) in Gurdaspur. Mithun Chakraborty is canvassing for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee (Congress) in Jangipur (West Bengal). Telugu actor Sarada is lending support to former UN Under Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor (Congress) in Thiruvananthapuram. Katrina Kaif has come to the rescue of producer Prakash Jha (LJP) in Bettiah (Bihar). The list is long...

Interestingly, many actors are themselves in the fray. They include Shatrughan Sinha and Shekhar Suman (Patna), Jaya Prada (Rampur), Amisha Patel (Rajkot), Mallika Sarabhai (Gandhinagar) and Nafisa Ali (Lucknow).

Undoubtedly, actors are not merely crowd-pullers. Over the years, they have enlivened the otherwise dull and drab Indian political theatre. However, there is public resentment against some of them for their lackadaisical attitude towards Parliament. Consider Dharmendra (BJP MP from Bikaner in Rajasthan) and Govinda (Congress MP from Mumbai North). They were neither seen in Parliament nor in their constituencies. Not surprisingly, both are not contesting now. And Rajesh Khanna, who fought and lost from New Delhi, did little for his constituency.

When actors join politics out of a commitment or a genuine desire to do public good, their credibility remains intact. The late Sunil Dutt had an impeccable track record in public life. He helped Nargis, his wife, in starting the Spastics Society of India and after her demise, he continued her mission. While the Nargis Dutt Cancer Foundation has done commendable work, he undertook long peace marches in India and abroad.

Sunil Dutt and Nargis believed in the Congress ideology and both had good stints in Parliament. Nargis was MP (Nominated) in the Rajya Sabha. Sunil Dutt was also the Union Minister for Sports. He never lost an election from Mumbai (North West). And after his demise, his daughter Priya Dutt filled the vacancy in Parliament three years ago. Sanjay Dutt, her brother, had campaigned for her from Mumbai (North West) last time. However, she will have to plough a lonely furrow this time as he is in the Samajwadi Party camp.

Ironically, Sanjay’s dream of following his parents’ footsteps and becoming a parliamentarian has been shattered. He is paying a very heavy price for his bad company, especially his questionable role in the Mumbai serial blasts. As the TADA court had convicted and sentenced him for six years under the Arms Act, the Supreme Court has refused to suspend his conviction. He is thus barred under the law from contesting the election from Lucknow.

Amitabh Bachchan was a close friend of Rajiv Gandhi. However, following the Bofors scandal, they fell apart. He won the prestigious Allahabad Lok Sabha seat in 1984 with a thumping majority. Though he vowed to retire from politics in 1987, 10 years later, he actively supported Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party.

Like Big B, Jaya Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan also backed the Samajwadi Party without joining it. Jaya hit headlines in 2006 when she was disqualified as an MP for holding an office of profit in the UP government. This issue brought many MPs including Sonia Gandhi under cloud. Sonia Gandhi quickly resigned as Chairperson, National Advisory Council, and from the Lok Sabha and got re-elected from Rae Bareli. A Joint Parliamentary Committee has suggested rewriting the law on the office of profit.

Thespian Dilip Kumar, too, strayed into the Samajwadi Party, but soon dubbed it as an “unruly party” and returned to the Congress. Even before Big B’s entry into politics, Dev Anand had floated the National Party of India during the Emergency in 1975. Its primary aim was to challenge the dictatorial ways of the then I&B Minister Vidya Charan Shukla and protect the Bollywood’s interests. However, he could not do justice to the party because of too many film commitments.

Shabana Azmi is a gifted actor. As MP (Nominated) in the Rajya Sabha, she never meddled in party politics. She considered this as an “asset”. She feels that her apolitical status helped her command people’s respect and confidence. It goes to the credit of herself, Sunil Dutt and Nargis that they practised constructive politics to the core. Though Vyjayanthimala Bali and Hema Malini have also adored Parliament, they did not make any significant contribution to the system.

Jaya Prada, who is seeking re-election from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, is a big asset for the Samajwadi Party. The legendary Satyajit Ray called her India’s “most beautiful actor”. She is the quintessential Bharatiya Nari on the screen gifted with beauty, charm and grace. She reigned supreme in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil films.

However, she has kicked off many controversies. When the Mulayam Singh Yadav government had spent lakhs on one of her dance recitals at the Taj Mahal in Agra, it trigged protests. She quit the Telugu Desam Party following differences with former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. Soon, she became Rampur’s bahu and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004.

But this has led to squabbles in the party. Azam Khan has locked horns with Amar Singh against Jaya Prada’s imposition over Rampur, his home town in Western UP. Jaya Prada has charged that Azam’s chelas are greeting her with black flags in her meetings. She, however, calls Azam her “elder brother”. It is a moot point whether Azam’s rebellion would harm Jaya Prada’s poll prospects.

In Punjab, the border constituency of Gurdaspur will see Vinod Khanna contesting the election on the BJP ticket for the fourth consecutive term. In the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, he was the Union Minister of State for External Affairs. As MP, he boasts of a good report card. He has got three bridges over two rivers — the Ravi and the Beas — which improved connectivity. This helped sugarcane growers most and provided impetus to the agrarian economy of the region. The road connectivity has given a boost to commercial activity as well.

His good work notwithstanding, it won’t be a cakewalk for him this time. He has a formidable rival in Partap Singh Bajwa (Congress). As Public Works Minister in the Amarinder Singh government, Bajwa has provided good roads in the Qadian Assembly segment.

Patna Sahib in Bihar is expected to present another nail-biting finish. Here, the BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha is pitted against the Congress’ Shekhar Suman. Shatrughan has no achievements to his credit either as an MP or as Union Minister of State for Health and Shipping. Moreover, he has admitted that a minister will have to do “hard work” to clear too many files. “One has to read a lot, take decisions on important matters and will be under constant scrutiny”, he says. Nonetheless, he has tremendous mass appeal. The people go ga ga over his speeches laced with spicy jokes and juicy dialogues.

Though Shekhar’s ability to win the election is yet to be tested on the ground, the Bihari babu or Shotgun, as Shatrughan is called, has an edge over Shekhar. Shekhar is regarded as an “outsider” and an afterthought of the Congress despite his protestations to the contrary. Shekhar claims that he was born and brought up in Patna and that it is his karma bhoomi. Shatrughan says that he has toiled for the party like any other leader and that he will strengthen the hands of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in taking his home state forward on the path of development.

If the North is proud of many actors, some of whom consider politics as the “second profession” or as a “post-retirement plan”, the South is not lagging behind, though with a subtle difference. Here, the abhinetas, as netas, have a larger-than-life image. Some are even deified as God Incarnate or the march of God on earth. Actors like the late M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and the late N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) not only had large following, in addition to their huge fan clubs, but were regarded as “torch-bearers of people’s power”.

Tamil cinema has had a domineering influence in the state’s politico-cultural life. Remarkably, Tamil Nadu has produced a brilliant array of celebrities. MGR is one. Shivaji Ganeshan is another. While C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi were script writers of distinction, MGR, Janaki Ramachandran, his wife, and J. Jayalalithaa, all of whom were chief ministers, were actors of high order. One cannot overlook even Vijayakant of the MDMK.

Interestingly, Jayalalithaa, with all her failures and corruption scandals during her tenure as Chief Minister, is hailed as Puratchi Thalaivi (the revolutionary leader). Success and defeat in the elections have become a part of Amma’s chequered political career. Her AIADMK faced a rout in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. She is now facing an acid test.

The AIADMK’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections will be keenly watched as it will be a precursor to the State Assembly elections two years hence. Of course, it hopes to do better than last time because of its alliance with the PMK.

In the early eighties, NTR had revolutionised the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh. He successfully raised the issue of “hurt Telugu pride” (following frequent change of chief ministers by the Congress high command in New Delhi) and demolished the Congress monolith. The manner in which he captured power in the state within a few months of launching the TDP is said to be a world record. He is no more but he still holds sway over the masses. To woo the voters, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has been showing NTR’s old election appeals on the Telugu channels!

NTR had a close rapport with people. With his well modulated voice and catchy dialogues, he was able to mesmerise the masses. He was revered like a God because of the roles he played in the films. In particular, his role as Lord Krishna in many mythological films has left an indelible impression in the minds of the people. And when he joined politics, there was immediate public acceptance of his leadership.

The election scene in Andhra Pradesh is surcharged because of the simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly. The talking point is the Chiranjeevi or Chiru factor. Chiru has been drawing huge crowds everywhere. Significantly, the youth are impressed with him. The Election Commission has also allotted ‘railway engine’ as the symbol for his party, the Praja Rajyam.

Initially, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party dismissed Chiru’s popularity as inconsequential. However, disturbed by the mammoth crowds and tumultuous ovation in his rallies, both parties had to rework their poll strategies.

Chiru, a Kapu by caste, expects to capture this traditional vote in the prosperous coastal Andhra. In fact, the Kapus have a larger gameplan. They are seeking a bigger slice of the political cake by demanding their inclusion in the OBC list. And Chiru wants to project himself as the champion of Kapus, OBCs, Dalits and the tribal people and bring them under one umbrella.

Chandrababu Naidu, however, feels that the Congress will lose the Kapu vote to Chiru which, in turn, will help the TDP. It is immaterial whether the Praja Rajyam would do well in the elections, but there is no doubt that Chiru is giving sleepless nights to Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu.

Incidentally, the driving force behind Chiru’s transition from films to politics is former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. During a visit to New Delhi, he told Chiru that he should look beyond his film career. Dr Kalam said that as people had a “poor opinion” of present-day politicians, those joining politics should work hard for nation building and live up to their expectations.

Vijayashanti, popularly called Lady Amitabh, is making waves. After she merged her Talli Telangana Party with K.Chandrasekhara Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to avoid splitting of votes, she has emerged as an important power centre within the TRS. She is contesting from the Medak Lok Sabha seat, once represented by Indira Gandhi. Owing to the Congress’ ambivalence on Telangana, the TDP-TRS-Left combine is posing a major challenge to the ruling Congress.

Karnataka has its share of actors. However, they never enjoyed the cult status of their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Mukhyamantri Chandru is remembered for his role in and as Mukhyamantri. Ambareesh (Union Minister and Mandya MP), Anant Nag are all good actors.

The bond between cinema and politics is strong. But today’s actors are so attracted towards politics that they don’t want to return to the screen. Given an opportunity, they would be too happy to play a maximalist role in policy formulation, decision-making and day-to-day governance.

Clearly, an actor doesn’t want to become just an MP or MLA. If one has the backing of the majority of legislators, he/she can occupy top notch positions in the corridors of power a la MGR, NTR or Jayalalithaa. And why not? Ours is the world’s largest democracy.

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Breaking taboos
Changing perceptions in adolescent education
by Usha Rai

A third of our population, an estimated 314 million, is in the 10 to 24 age group. But lack of precise information and incomplete knowledge about puberty and sexual and reproductive health promotes myths and misconceptions among the young.

There is growing evidence from across the country that a small but significant proportion of boys and girls are sexually active but very often do not use protection either due to lack of information about condoms and other such measures or they do not have the means to do so. This increases their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.

Adolescent’s reproductive health issues are still largely taboo in this country. Parents, especially those in small towns and rural areas, are reluctant to have it taught in the schools; teachers are not comfortable conducting adolescence education; and no political party considers it worthy of a commitment in its election manifesto.

However, MAMTA (Health Institute for Mother and Child), working with 134 NGOs across 94 districts over the last five years and with direct intervention in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka has been able to change public perceptions and break taboos on sex and sexuality of young people. Beginning in 2003, the project measured the knowledge level and the myths and misconceptions prevailing in the communities. The consent of parents, teachers, in some cases school principals and district education officers and local communities was sought to begin the education programme and in 2008 the change in their attitude and practices measured again.

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) partnered MAMTA in the five-year study and intervention. In Sweden, sex education has officially been incorporated in school education since the mid-fifties, says Maria Andersson, Director of Programmes, RFSU. Our grandparents too learnt the facts of life from schools, she says. The knowledge and experience of Sweden was shared with India which in turn fine-tuned it to suit Indian sensibilities and cultural moorings. All the studies and findings were shared with NGOs and government officials including representatives of the Planning Commission, NACO, Ministry of Health and the Department of Women and Child Development and some state governments recently.

The Haryana study was path breaking. The four years of sustained efforts at imparting adolescent education to 5,000 school children in rural and urban Haryana actually changed their knowledge as well as attitude on issues like unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS, sexual abuse, violence and equity in decision making powers of girls and boys.

The school based adolescents education programme (AEP) was conducted in four schools, two of girls and two of boys, in urban Rewari and rural Bawal. Regular feedback and consultation over three years helped the Mamta team to address various challenges including opposition from school teachers. In the first phase in 2004-2005, the adolescence education framework was developed for Classes 8, 9 and 10 based on an assessment of their knowledge and need.

In the second phase from 2005 to 2008, a specific programme was developed and delivered incrementally by a group of trainers from outside the school system. At the end of each year tests were conducted to assess their knowledge, attitude and practice and the curriculum revised accordingly for the subsequent year.

To study the impact of the intervention, a comparison was made between students of class 10, who had been through the AEP and class 11 students of the same school who had not been through it. The change in the attitude of girls towards the various issues concerning adolescence growth and maturity was more significant than that of the young boys. Irrespective of the location of the school, boys and girls who had been through the programme were able to identify and reject common misconceptions about nocturnal emissions and masturbation.

The class 10 students were able to correctly identify all four or at least three of the STI symptoms compared to class 11 students. A significantly higher percentage was also able to reject myths related to HIV transmission as compared to their seniors who had not been through the AEP. Girls in class 10 were able to understand that the oral pill did not protect them from STIs and HIV.

The government’s response to MAMTA’s five-year study across seven states was positive. While Professor N.K. Sethi, Senior Advisor, Health, Planning Commission, said to combat the lack of awareness on adolescent health the government was considering opening a special information window for adolescents at the existing health facilities, Manjula Krishnan, Economic Advisor, Ministry of Women and Child Development, said when young malnourished girls, too young to have children, became pregnant a cycle of inter-generational malnutrition begins.

Emphasising the need to change mindsets, Manjula Krishnan said the government had numerous schemes including the Dhanalakshmi scheme (where Rs 1 lakh cash is given in the girl’s name) to ensure the birth and survival of girls. Though 45 to 50 per cent of marriages in the country were of children, very few complaints were registered because people don’t realise it is a crime.

MAMTA and the network of NGOs too have been working on child marriages and early pregnancies. Promoting the legal age at marriage and appointment of a child marriage prohibition officer at the state level, as envisaged in the Child Marriage Prohibition Act 2006, was a major recommendation of the Delhi meeting.

Aradhana Johri of NACO summed up the dilemma of adolescents thus: “Too old for pigtails and too young for cocktails.” Both MMR and IMR were extremely high among married adolescents she said. The culture of silence on adolescence education had to be broken so that the young are informed and empowered against HIV infection, she said. 

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On Record
I have done much more than Deora: Sanyal
by Shiv Kumar

Meera Sanyal,
Meera Sanyal

All eyes are on Meera Sanyal, the Independent candidate from Mumbai South. Pitted against Congress candidate Milind Deora, she decided to contest for the elections soon after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Presently the Indian country head for ABN Amro, she has had a career in the banking industry spanning 25 years. She headed ABN Amro’s Corporate Finance Division for South Asia in Singapore before shifting to Mumbai.

She has drawn attention to many issues of concern to the middle and upper middle class. Security, development and governance are on the top of her agenda. She speaks to The Sunday Tribune in an exclusive interview in Mumbai.

Excerpts:

Q: There is a buzz about your candidature even among those apathetic to politics in South Mumbai. What is your confidence level?

A: South Mumbai is known for its low voter turn out compared to other constituencies in the City. But after 26/11 terror attacks, lots of citizens’ groups have become active and a number of public initiatives have come about. People are saying, ‘Let’s reclaim our City’. My appeal to the people is not just vote for me. But please come out and vote. It is our right to vote and everyone must exercise it.

Q: What is the people’s response to your candidature?

A: Overwhelming. Everyday 30 to 40 volunteers have been walking in to support my campaign. The people of South Mumbai are realising that the constituency is the economic heart of India and if South Mumbai is affected, the whole of India is affected. Many young people are responding to my campaign. They are part of a new demographic group with a new way of looking at things.

Q: What are your chances as you face high-profile candidates like Milind Deora (Congress) and Mohan Rawle (Shiv Sena)?

A: I am not against any particular candidate. I am not working against the system. I am raising some issues that concern everyone in Mumbai. For instance, for eight million people travelling by train every day, there are just 150 trains in the whole city. Each coach with a capacity of 120 people carries 570 people at a time — five times its capacity. Doesn’t it concern everyone?

Q: You have been opposing criminalisation of politics. But corporate India hasn’t covered itself with glory.

A: Something went wrong with Satyam. But we have taken action. Raju is in jail. There is some nexus between business and politics, but there are many who are not like that. There is accountability in business and sports. If Dhoni does not deliver, don’t you think he should get worried? Something like this should happen in politics as well. Mr Milind Deora claims that he is a young MP. He is taking credit for the Right to Information Act but it was Aruna Roy’s brainchild; she got the Magsaysay Award for her work. Moreover, the RTI Act was passed during the BJP regime.

Q: If you win, how would you make a difference?

A: Security is high on my agenda though my campaign theme is ‘Putting Mumbai on Track’. My agenda is: One, we need a single command and control structure. And two, we need to get the actual physical equipment required to enhance security. We are severely understaffed. Though Mumbai is an island, there are not enough coastal radars to cover the whole city. For instance, our policemen need Kevlar jackets to protect themselves. We have to be alert and vigilant. The terrorist attacks first happened here in 1993, but the lessons were not learnt.

Q: How different is the life on the campaign trail from your corporate one?

A: They are not different. I used to work long hours as a banker and had a hectic schedule. The long work hours and people interaction are not different. I am doing the same thing now. In my professional life, I define the problem and work out the strategy to tackle it. I am approaching politics the same way. I have defined the problem areas as transportation and jobs. I am meeting people to build a consensus and revise the plan as and when required. But the difference between banking and politics is that the nature of players are different and so is the environment.

Q: Do you have a Plan B if things don’t work out in this election?

A: This won’t be my last election. I will definitely contest more elections. I have given the first 25 years of my life to banking and the next 25 years of my life will be for India. I have done a lot of public service much more than Arun Gawli or Milind Deora and I will continue to do it. If I win, I will be busy in public life, but if I don’t I will return to my job but continue with my public service.

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Profile
Nafisa swears by Lucknowi culture
by Harihar Swarup

Will Nafisa Ali fit in the nafasat (sophistication) of Lucknowvi culture? Nafisa itself means sophistication. Kolkata-born, 52-year-old Nafisa, is the Samajwadi Party’s candidate for the prestigious Lucknow Lok Sabha seat. She has as powerful opponents as the UP Congress chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, BJP leader Lalji Tandon and BSP’s Akhilesh Das.

She swears by Lucknowvi culture and says her affiliation with the “City of Nawabs” goes back to her college days in Kolkata when she used to visit Lucknow for cultural and extra-curricular activities.

Her name was suggested by Manyata, Sanjay Dutt’s wife, when the Supreme Court denied him permission to contest the election. Initially, Mulayam Singh was reluctant because Nasifa has her commitment to the Congress. According to Amar Singh, when the Congress kept on dilly-dallying over her candidature, “we told her our intention to field her and she readily agreed”.

During a secret visit to Lucknow a month back, Nafisa assessed whether she would get the leading Maulanas’ support there. Their support could swing a large chunk of city’s Muslim voters in her favour.

She was accompanied by a prominent Congress leader who enjoys close proximity to Maulanas, particularly Khalid Rasheed, Lucknow’s Naib Imam and head of 300-old Islamic seminary, Darul-Uloom Firangi Mahal.

Subsequently, Digvijay Singh, AICC General Secretary and Rita Bahuguna called on Maulana Rasheed.

Lucknow is not Nafisa’s first election. The Congress fielded her from Calcutta (South) in 2004 to take on Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee. Evidently, Nafisa had no chance against Mamata. Nafisa is a former beauty queen, a swimming champion of yesteryear, a social activist and actress.

She retains, since her beauty queen days, her ‘1,001-watt smile’ though she has dedicated herself to the extensive care of HIV and AIDS patients.

Her Care Home provides holistic care and support to those suffering from HIV. Her service to AIDS patients has been widely lauded and she has also made a documentary United Against AIDS.

Why did she turn to the hurly-burly of politics? The Gujarat riots moved her as she went to the affected areas and relentlessly took up the cause of the hapless victims. The Gujarat police slapped two cases against her for allegedly fomenting communal violence but the ostensible reason was her equating Chief Minister Narendra Modi to Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden.

The charge of fomenting communal violence was contrary to truth. Far from igniting passion, she was courageously raising her voice for justice and calling for bringing the real culprits to book. The Gujarat High Court came to her rescue and ordered a stay in the two cases.

The incident changed Nasifa’s course of life as the Gujarat experience further firmed up her resolve to fight injustice. Determined as she is, she decided to join politics because she thought social activism was not enough to take cudgels against oppression.

She does not mince words in admitting that the two cases served as a catalyst for her plunge in the weird world of politics.

What future awaits her in politics? It will be known when the election results are declared on May 16 but one can say with confidence that she is a formidable candidate from Lucknow.

Initially, Nasifa was not a religious person but a visit to Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati and, later, a discourse by an architect-turned Swami at Sri Chinmaya Mission changed the course of her life.

She was 37 when she went to Tirupati, got her head tonsured (to honour a wish come true), stood in front of Lord Venkateswara and mumbled: “I’m putting my life into your hands. Guide me, I need direction”.

The discourse at Chinmaya Mission made her realise that she had shut spirituality out of her life. Now she reads Swami Chinmayananda’s books late into the night. “I have learnt the essence of spirituality in goodness, and the right way of living”, she says.

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