Obama said yes we can, I say now we must: Mallika Sarabhai (Interview)

April 5th, 2009 - 1:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Murali Krishnan
New Delhi, April 5 (IANS) The firebrand danseuse has been hotfooting it around her Gandhinagar constituency in Gujarat, meeting thousands of voters in slums, condominiums and in villages to understand their issues, find solutions in partnership and even involve them in her campaign.

“If Barack Obama believed in yes we can, I say, now we must,” exclaims Mallika Sarabhai, 55, who has embarked on an enormous challenge taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani in Gandhinagar as an independent candidate in the Lok Sabha polls.

“I never knew whether I had it in me to jump into the electoral fray some months back. But after meeting close to 70,000 people in the last nine days I am more than convinced that I am grounded. This is my karmabhoomi (workplace),” Mallika told IANS in an interview.

Belonging to one of Ahmedabad’s leading families, Mallika has an excellent pedigree. Her father Vikram Sarabhai is considered the father of India’s space programme and mother Mrinalini was a renowned danseuse herself.

“There are real issues which have been ignored in so-called vibrant Gujarat. Questions relating to livelihood, sanitation and safety of ordinary people to which mainstream politicians pay little heed. Politics is going from bad to worse and it needs to be reclaimed from their hands.”

Mallika has taken on the political establishment in Gujarat on several occasions.

She incurred the wrath of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters for her open criticism of the 2002 communal riots in the state, describing it as genocide.

Apart from criminal cases including that of human trafficking that were booked against her, BJP workers allegedly beat her, along with activist Medha Patkar and others. She was subsequently acquitted and declared innocent by the Gujarat High Court.

“Advani may have been representing this constituency since 1991 but I want to know how many times he has raised Gandhinagar’s problems in parliament. Not once. Isn’t that a shame?” she queries.

“He (Advani) wants to challenge Manmohan Singh to a debate but I dare him to debate with me. He will be exposed.”

According to Mallika, who has over 25 years of experience working in grassroots development, her dedicated band of supporters has been swelling over the days.

“More volunteers are joining up and donations are also trickling in. Till date we have mopped up Rs.500,000 though I know the Election Commission limit is Rs.25 lakh (Rs.2.5 million).”

She is trying hard to obtain the drum symbol from the Election Commission as she believes it is significant.

“The nagara (drum) is something special to Gujarat. It is used traditionally to summon people for meetings. And for me this instrument will be used to take back space, space which has been usurped by mainstream politicians.”

Along with Captain Gopinath, the pioneer of budget air travel, entering the electoral fray from Bangalore and Meera Sanyal, ABN-AMRO senior executive, contesting from Mumbai South, Mallika believes contesting as an independent candidate should be construed as a symbolic censure of mainstream political parties.

“I have an alternative view of politics and want to claim democracy back for the people. The common man has been reduced to the level of a non-entity,” she holds.

And Mallika is confident that when results come out on May 16 she will create electoral history.

“Now, we must.”

(Murali Krishnan can be contacted at m.krish@ians.in)

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