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The Rediff Election Interview/Nafisa Ali
May 10, 2004
The strong sun beating down on Kolkata turns it into a veritable oven, but it is the political theatre that has really turned the heat on in West Bengal's capital.
The city is festooned with banners, cut outs, flags, pamphlets and posters. Huge rallies and forceful speeches have been the order of the day. But on Saturday evening, the vibrant cacophony of electioneering gave way to the silent buzz of normal life as the loudspeakers finally fell silent.
The heat nonetheless is oppressive, enough to wilt many a flower. But Nafisa Ali, the Congress candidate for the Kolkata South parliamentary constituency, comes forth -- or tries to -- as fresh as a daisy.
She is locked in a triangular battle of the ballot against the redoubtable Mamata Bannerjee of the National Trinamul Congress Party and Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate Rabin Deb. But she seems unconcerned by the tough competition and is confident of her chances.
Only the apparent relief on her visage and in her voice give away her tiredness. With electioneering coming to an end, the frenzy of the last day's campaigning seems to have taken a lot out of her. Yet, her voice remains affable, her charm intact, her smile instant.
And no sooner are some questions put to her than her eyes turn focussed -- she is no longer 'just a beauty queen', 'a champion swimmer' or 'a living room activist.' It is the politician in her that takes over and she rattles off the replies as if she is on autopilot.
Shortly after campaigning came to an end in West Bengal, Deputy Managing Editor Shishir Bhate caught up with her for a brief interview:
You are close to Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Why did you then choose to contest on a Congress ticket?
I have been in the Congress for many years now. It is natural that I should contest on my party's ticket. Yes, Amar Singh is a good friend of mine, but that has nothing to do with my political leanings. Friendship and ideology need not necessarily coincide with each other. I have friends across parties, ideologies and borders.
Why Kolkata South? What have you done for Kolkata South?
I have given myself up for Kolkata South. I have been a social worker for 24 years. I have worked with the people, for the people. I understand their pain, their anger, their needs and wants. In my own way I have tried to help better people's lives. If I win, I can do so much more for them.
Your father, the photographer Ahmed Ali, has been voting for Mamata Banerjee, one of your opponents. Your comments.
The truth is that many people were disillusioned with the Communists and their rule. They suppressed growth, they put paid to progress, they crushed modernisation. Their policies seemed anti-growth. At that time Mamata provided a viable alternative, a fresh force. She seemed to offer hope. But that hope has since dwindled quickly. She aligned forces with groups that were inimical to communal harmony. She toyed with the cultural sentiments of the people of West Bengal by ganging up with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
But people have seen through the game and that is why the hope that she bore earlier has dwindled.
Mamata Banerjee is a strong brand. She enjoys mass appeal and is perceived to have done a lot for the people. On the other hand, she says you are just a 'pretty face.' How do you respond?
Well, I am! I can't help the way god made me. But more than that I am a social worker who wants to improve things in West Bengal. I am totally committed to doing that. Having worked with people for 24 years, it's not just a pretty face that has kept me here. It is my commitment to people, my work, my dedication and determination that is known here.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi handpicked you. How did that come about?
Bengal needs new leadership. It needs a progressive, modern, growth-oriented, people-friendly and dedicated leadership. I represent modern, progressive leadership. I can do so much for the people. I can work across party lines, across ideologies for the good of the region, the people, the nation.
Grapevine has it that even if you lose the election, a Rajya Sabha seat will be reserved for you.
I hope my party gives me a Rajya Sabha berth. I have done so much work for the people. I am totally committed to working harder still.
Image: Rahil Shaikh