Photographs: Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com Prasanna D Zore in Ahmedabad
After completing a hectic day of campaigning among the voters of Maninagar, Shweta Bhatt answers Prasanna D Zore's posers with the ease of a master politician. Read on to know why she decided to take on Narendra Modi, how campaigning has changed her and how she copes with all the stress that comes with fighting against a chief minister as powerful as Narendra Modi.
Ever since Shweta Bhatt, wife of suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, filed her nomination as the Congress candidate from Maninagar assembly constituency against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, life has taken a new turn for this housewife.
If she wins against Modi she will make history.
If she is defeated, she has nothing to lose. And she and her husband -- who have been fighting against the state's law and order machinery ever since Sanjiv Bhatt went public with his allegation that Narendra Modi asked law enforcement agencies to let Hindu mobs have a free hand post the Godhra train carnage in 2002 -- don't care much about the consequences.
With her elder daughter Aakashi studying MBBS at Navi Mumbai's DY Patil College and younger son studying engineering in Ahmedabad's St Xavier's College and her husband unable to help her during a hectic day of campaigning, the aspiring giant-killer sounds relaxed and unfazed about the task at hand.
Interestingly, proving her critics wrong that her husband Sanjiv Bhatt answers media questions, Shweta Bhatt faces the camera with consummate ease as her husband and son take the guests away from where this interview is conducted.
How has life changed after filing your nomination papers against Modi?
If you look at it in terms of my routine, then I was a lazy person before. I would wake up late in the morning, have a cup of tea and then do my routine. Now I get up early in the morning, get ready quickly and go to my people. So, yes, life has changed.
Are you enjoying it?
I don't look at it that way. Now that I am in the midst of people I have started looking at life differently. I have started seeing a life that I had not seen before, and people's problems have started hurting me. In my own Ahmedabad people could face so many issues; women, despite all their problems, can manage to have a light moment, find time for leisure. They are really strong women.
Complete coverage: Modi battles for Gujarat
'I wonder what sort of development Modi is talking about'
Photographs: Courtesy: Narendra Modi's website
What are the problems the women of Ahmedabad face, and how are they related to the elections?
I am talking about Maninagar, the constituency of Gujarat's chief minister, and now my constituency as well.
There is no water, no proper gutters and drainage system, no hospitals, no schools, no proper roads or transportation. Basic problems.
And when CM sahab talks of development, I wonder what sort of development he is talking about.
People come to me with their hands folded and tell me: 'Whatever you may do or not do for us, please help us get potable water'. The gutters are so filthy and emit such foul odour that small children fall ill.
So, what do you promise to them?
I sympathise with them. I tell them not to fold your hands and ask for these basic amenities. These are your rights and you must demand them. This is a total failure of Narendra Modi's government. They could not provide people their basic rights. These things are not something that one has to plead for like beggars. And I am going to lead their fight now. I will make their plight and woes my own and fight for their due rights.
What gave you the courage to take on the mighty Narendra Modi? The perception among a majority of Gujaratis is that Narendra Modi is invincible.
Nobody is invincible. But if you do that kind of self-propaganda then it is a different thing. I don't think that (Narendra Modi is invincible).
I had taken this decision to fight against Modi for quite some time. In fact, I had made up my mind to fight against him when I was fighting for my husband. Those people (Modi's law and order machinery) extended my husband's bail issue for 17 days when he could have got it in just 20 minutes. Advocates were paid accordingly to prolong the issue as much as possible.
So many people would express their solidarity by bringing candlelight vigils outside my house. Now, that could not have got my husband bail earlier, but I felt very good about their support. So many people coming out in support, peacefully, unknown people coming to meet me -- such things were very encouraging.
That taught me that when people come to be with you in your bad times, your strength to face difficulties increases.
Did that support give you the courage to fight against the Gujarat chief minister?
At that time I had decided that if I could be of any help to anybody I will also do it. Secondly, the people who try to scare others, threaten them so much with the intention of cowing them down, should know that the powerless too can fight.
My husband has been fighting against them. I wanted to tell them that even being a woman I can take them on (irrespective of whatever the consequences). And I am fighting this battle with even more strength.
I want to prove that getting scared is not going to help find solutions. You can surely solve difficult issues if you face them bravely.
What chances do you give yourself of a victory against Modi?
I am not thinking on these lines right now. As of now I am trying to connect with people, understand their problems and think of helping them as much as I could. I am not making any tall promises. See, I don't have a great standing right now. If I promise people big things... I just cannot do that.
But I can assure my voters of one thing: your difficulties will be mine from now. And I fight very well in difficult times.
'I am grateful to Keshubhai Patel'
Photographs: Courtesy: GPP website
How does your day begin and end now?
Under any situation you will find me among the voters of Maninagar by 8 am. My husband wakes me up in the morning. We have tea together.
Does he make the tea for you?
No, no. We have people who do it for us. But he is always there and we make it a point to have tea together. Then all the running begins. I spend the rest of the day among my voters trying to connect with them as much as possible. In between I do a few interviews and by the time I reach home it is almost 11 pm.
How much do you know your constituency?
The day I filed my nomination papers I visited as much of Maninagar as I could to acquaint myself of my constituency. Now, the effort is to concentrate on Maninagar ward-wise.
Do you ever get a feeling you are fighting a losing battle?
I am not treating this contest as a battle. I take it as my duty and trying to find ways to fulfill my duties as best as I can.
Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party has withdrawn its official candidate from Maninagar so that there can be a straight fight between you and the chief minister. How did this happen?
I had this feeling that I should request people to support me in my fight for truth and against injustice. I told them that if they believed in my fight sincerely and if they felt that I should defeat Narendra Modiji, then please support me in my fight. And they believed in me and supported me.
Keshubhai is very much a senior politician and I respect him a lot and the way he is supporting my fight, I am really very grateful to him.
On a lighter note, I felt that I should also ask the BJP if they could do the same and withdraw their official candidate against me.
You want Narendra Modi to withdraw his candidature?
Just on a lighter note.
Keshubhai has also withdrawn another candidate from Naranpura contesting against the BJP's Amit Shah there. In fact he has extended that courtesy to you as well. Do you see the possibility of the GPP and Congress coming together after the elections to keep BJP away from power?
I have really not given that a thought. To be frank, I am not a very political person. I don't think so much, and again to be very frank, I don't understand much of number games.
But one thing is certain: Keshubhai wants Modi to go. And even the Congress thinks the same. This could be the reason (why Keshubhai withdrew the GPP candidates).
'Modi is not capable of being the CM of Gujarat'
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
What do you think of Narendra Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat?
I don't approve of him at all. He is not capable of being chief minister. A person who doesn't want to understand the problems of his voters just can't be the head of a state, that is what I firmly believe in. Because the person who heads a government assumes the responsibilities of all his people, meets people who have problems, issues, connects with them and tries to solve their problems.
Narendra Modi doesn't have any of these good qualities.
So many small children have been missing from their homes. How many parents has he asked if he can be of any help to them? Has he taken any steps (to find these missing children)? None at all.
Crores are spent on making huge cutouts, on doing Sadbhavna Missions, there are 3D images, but not a single photograph of these missing children has ever been published in newspapers. Why is this happening? Why can't you launch a media blitz by publishing pictures of these missing children and make a sincere effort to trace them?
Let everybody know who are missing, how many of them are missing from their homes. People in Gujarat are not safe. Chain-snatching cases have increased tremendously. Looting is rampant, people are being killed. Forget about all these things; people are not comfortable even using their mobiles. They fear their mobiles are being tapped.
Do you and Sanjiv Bhatt also fear that your mobiles are being tapped?
Arre, I am absolutely sure our phones are under surveillance. But we communicate with each other using the same numbers. Let them hear as much of our conversations as they want. But we are not scared. My husband and I will continue our fight from our homes in Ahmedabad.
The Gujarat CM has said the top Congress leadership comprising general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are scared to come to Gujarat to canvass support for party candidates. What is your counter to Modi's assertion?
I don't want to give any importance to his comments. He talks nonsense, I don't know why. At times we feel ashamed why he has to stoop to such low levels despite being Gujarat's CM. Some time ago he had made controversial remarks about Tharoorsahab's wife. That was in such bad taste, especially coming from somebody who heads a state government. He should stop doing this.
Do you think the top Congress leadership should come to Gujarat soon to prove Modi wrong?
Let the party take a decision on that. I'm doing only one thing: trying to connect with my voters as much as possible, trying to find their problems and raise them democratically and trying to solve them.
'I will always be there for the people of Maninagar'
Photographs: Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com
How does it feel not to have your pillar of support, your husband, next to you during campaigning? How does it feel to face the electorate without having him by your side?
Bahut khali-khali sa lagta hai (I feel very lonely without him). Sometimes I feel very uncomfortable. You won't believe, very soon we will complete 25 years of happy marriage and in all this while main kabhi bhi mere mayke nahi gayi hoon (I have not gone to visit my maternal home). Not a single day. We have always been together.
But for the first time now it is so happening that I leave quite early in the day and come home late and we are not with each other all this while. But neither does he eat food at home, nor do I eat food outside. But whenever we meet at night we eat dinner together. That's it.
In between I definitely find some time to call him on the phone.
What do you talk about?
Anything, anything. 'Did you drink tea? What did you do about this particular thing or that thing? I did this today. Did I do it properly?'
Do you feel more energetic after that chat? Despite your fear of your mobile being tapped?
No. Usko bhi sunne do ki husband wife ki baatein kaisi hoti hai (Let Modi also listen to how a husband and his wife talk and bond with each other). Unko pata hi nahi hai jeevan ke kuch achche moments ke baare main (he doesn't know and won't understand the importance of these sweet moments in one's life).
Your message to the people of your constituency and people of you state?
To my constituency I can only say that I am always there (with you, for you). I had decided a long time ago that I will fight against Narendra Modi from wherever he contests. That one thing was decided. He is contesting from Maninagar, so I am also contesting from Maninanagar. But now since I have been interacting so much with them it has become my constituency. I am now committed to them.
I'd definitely like to solve all their issues. I will always be there for them.
You look very relaxed despite a hectic day of campaigning. Raaz kya hai (What's the secret behind your energy)?
Seedha sadha jeevan hai; seedhe sadhe tarike se jeete hai. Koi tension nahi hai. Kuch ban jaane ki mere main woh tamanna kabhi nahi rahi thi -- ke main yeh ban jaoon, na woh ban jaoon, na yeh karu. (We lead a very simple life. There is no tension. I was never very ambitious to become something in life)
I was a housewife; a very fulfilled housewife, very happy with my husband, my kids and my family. What I always look forward to is to spend time with my husband and children and I am happy. My daughter studies in Bombay. She is in the final year of MBBS. Bus, din main do-teen baar uski aawaaz sun leti hoon (I feel relaxed to speak with her twice or thrice a day). That makes my day.
And your son is always with you...
Since he has his college vacations he is with me.
Is he enjoying the experience of campaigning with his mother?
Yes, yes. He pops up from somewhere in the middle and offers me water. He wants to do something for his mother but he gets a little confused as what he should do to make his mother happy and comfortable in between all the din of campaigning. A small hug sometimes, asks me if I need water... All these small things... But these small things really help me a lot.