It all began with an earthquake for Shefali Misra, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Sitapur. Her father, was posted in Bihar’s Darbhanga district when it was hit by earthquake in 1988.
“A small town overnight turned into a relief hub and all big politicians, Rajiv Gandhi included, landed there. I had seen nothing like this before,” says the 39-year-old, then a teenager. What she saw influenced her to pursue social work.
Years later, as a philosophy student in Delhi’s Lady Sri Ram College, she was influenced by Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, her principal, “a fighter, a feminist who stood up for women issues.” She also met Aung San Suu Kyi, an LSR alumnus. “One of the things I learned was to learn to struggle in life.both of them have faced struggles very well,” Shefali says.
Ranked third in philosophy, she enrolled for a masters in social work. She went on to work in Delhi’s slums, and in Mumbai where she studied counselling psychology, in Orissa after the 1999 supercyclone, and in Bhuj after the 2001 earthquake. And long before the AAP called for inclusion of the common man in decision making, she helped the Chhattisgarh government formulate the state’s first livestock policy through jan sunvais.
She had a four-year stint with Food and Agricultural Organisation and UN Developmental Program, besides pursuing courses at London School of Economics and Henan Agriculture University, China.
It was during her time as a UN employee in Delhi when “the whole of Delhi was out on the streets” during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement.
“We were curious about Anna and on my first visit to his protests, I wasn’t quite motivated,” she says. It took another visit to Anna’s protest site to convert her. She decided to join in when “Arvind Kejriwal called out to people with no political background to adopt the worst constituencies and contest.” She was given a choice between Chandauli and Sitapur, both among the worst performers in UP on several indicators. She chose Sitapur as it was “logistically” easier.
Her rivals include BSP’s sitting MP Kaiser Jahan. Although she doesn’t ask for votes along caste lines, the people she meets often deconstruct her with just a single word: Brahmin.
“This is an experiment. It’s a long term, ideological fight. I didn’t leave my job to do this in a hurry,” she says, and, as an afterthought, adds, “Don’t worry, we’ll get there.”
Her father retired as chief secretary of Jharkhand and her mother teaches at Delhi Public School, Delhi. An Ayn Rand fan, Shefali, who is not married, likes travelling. She has a younger brother who worked at Oxford until recently.