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I’m learning how crooked the system is: Sarabhai
Dinesh Kumar writes from Ahmedabad

Irrespective of whether or not she wins, danseuse Mallika Sarabhai is easily the most glamorous candidate in this birth place of Mahatma Gandhi.

Even though she herself is an accomplished dancer and belongs to a distinguished and affluent upper class family, Sarabhai’s disillusionment is as deep with the “intellectual and upper classes” in Gujarat and the country alike as it is with the ruling BJP in the state. Her description of the “intellectual class”, liberally punctuated with profanities, is too severe to be printed. But she does not hide her utter disgust at the deafening silence, the inactivity and cynicism of the affluent classes on the rot that has set into Indian politics.

“I was hoping that clean and committed people would step into politics. But I could not find any. Cynicism among people has set in deep and I have waited for 15 years before deciding to contest,” she says. Her reason for not contesting as an Independent in earlier elections is a bit surprising. “It did not strike me to contest as an Independent,” is her simple explanation even as she adds that it was only after some NGOs decided to back her that she decided to contest alone.

For Sarabhai, every day of the past fortnight since she decided to become a “sacrificial goat”, as she describes it, has been a learning experience. She is learning how crooked the system is; how, as she claims, the story of development in the state is a “lie”; how large sections of the populace continue to live in filth and squalor sans basic amenities like water, toilet and employment; and how politics is used as an instrument of “division” by scheming politicians. She launches into examples of localities that are located close to the state assembly or near affluent areas where people are living in abject poverty. She claims to have met 1.3 lakh people in the last two weeks. “They are not a vote bank. They are 1.3 lakh stories,” she says.

Sarabhai, who’s declared wealth at Rs 5.15 crore exceeds that of both her high profiled rival and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani (Rs 3.55 crore) and Congress candidate Suresh Patel (Rs 2.64 crore), hopes that at the end of this electoral exercise at least 50 “clean, honest and committed” people will jump into electoral politics. “There is a need to change the paradigm of elections. I am learning how crooked the system is,” she says.

She complains of how it has been nine days since she has been trying to obtain permission to install loudspeakers on her cavalcade of cars; how she will have to wait until April 13 for an obscure symbol after which she will get less than two weeks to inform the public; and how the city administration allegedly “plays tricks” by deliberately switching off electricity to the area where she resides in the city. 

But how can an Independent do much in a country dominated by party-based politics? How will she get funds from the Centre? Isn’t being a greenhorn a liability? Sarabhai’s answers are simple if not simplistic. “A member of Parliament can do a lot for the constituency. I have been educating people on how the RTI can be used to ask the government about schemes meant for them. This will help convert my 16 lakh constituents into empowered people,” she explains. But that is not all, she adds. “As an MP. I will be on various committees. An MP also becomes the chair of all local development committees.” She takes pride in pointing out how she has a “pesky voice” that can be persuasive. 

Two of her star campaigners are Bollywood stars Om Puri and Irfan Khan, says Sarabhai, who has a PhD in “organisational behaviour”. The danseuse, whose mother and two children are also performing dancers, is relatively silent about the Congress compared to the BJP for which she has a pronounced distaste following the Godhra riots. “I don’t know anything about Mr Patel,” she claims, but adds that she would prefer a Congress victory over the BJP. “The Congress has been offering me a ticket since 1984. But I don’t want to contest from any party ticket,” she says. “I cannot be a party to the kind of things that political parties engage in. I hope I will set the trend for more Independents entering Parliament.”

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