You don’t normally dress up as your political rivals, but Dr Neha Sharma isn’t quite your normal candidate.
The Samajwadi Party candidate from Indore has adopted a plain, scaled-down look that recalled Sumitra Mahajan, the veteran BJP leader who has represented Indore for nearly a quarter-century in the Lok Sabha.
And these days, you can see her meeting constituents dressed as Narendra Modi, complete with a fake white beard and bright red Gujarati turban of the kind the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has been photographed sporting.
Sharma is clear she needs to do this to grab eyeballs in an election market where her party by itself does not sell.
“This is the best way to catch attention. I have grabbed more media space than my rivals and succeeded in getting people to talk about the SP. Debates are useless, because your rivals keep cutting you off,” she says.
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The SP has lost the small presence it once had in the state assembly. Politics in the state is now dominated by the BJP and the Congress. And so, when Sharma went to file her nomination earlier this month, she dressed as goddess Durga, wearing a red sari, garlands and a crown, and carrying a trishul.
Later, she did a satirical nukkad play on sitting MP Mahajan’s alleged ineffectiveness, titled Saat baar ki saansad (Seven-time MP). Then, dressed as Modi, she acted out an imaginary transformation in the Gujarat chief minister, as part of which she showed him promoting communal harmony and speaking the language of unity.
“I am an MA, LLB, PhD, and have more energy than others,” says the 29-year-old doctorate in Hindi literature. She rejects suggestions that her campaign is frivolous.
“If I were not serious about contesting, why would I allow myself to be arrested,” she says, referring to an incident in which she and her supporters broke a portion of a railing of the Bus Rapid Transit System after a child was knocked down in the dedicated corridor recently, and had to spend a night in the police station because bail could not be arranged.
Sharma claims she is putting up a tough fight in the election. “Because of my presence the RSS has become active,” she says. The SP has put up large hoardings that are disproportionate to the clout the party has in Indore, and Sharma sought police protection after her posters were burnt.
Sharma is a director in an NGO run by her mother Sonia Sharma, who has been associated with both the SP and the Congress, and contested the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Khandwa. Sonia Sharma is managing her daughter’s campaign, using infrastructure of both the SP and her NGO.
Sharma, who says she is also a yoga and aerobics teacher, claims she does her make-up by herself. “I can do it because I am talented,” she says.