They stood for hours to catch a glimpse of her, braving the heat and the crush of sweaty bodies. They gossiped and complained while they killed time, waiting for her to arrive. And as her car rolled into the narrow Meerut lane, they went berserk. Cameras flashed, there were roars and screams as hordes of men fell on top of each other, all trying to catch her attention.
She had arrived, and how. Many in political circles, and some within her own party, look at her as an outsider, but looking at the crowd on Tuesday, you wouldn’t agree. Nagma, the actress, is the Congress candidate from Meerut.
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“Main aap logon ki samasyaen sunne aayeen hoon (I have come here to listen to your problems),” she says. “The central government has been providing funds, but your state government has not been passing the benefits to you. You need a leader who can raise your concerns. I want to be that leader. If you elect me, I will take a home here, and stay with you.”
The huge, mostly male, mass of people around her roar, applaud and whistle.
She refers to nukkad-conversation issues: non-payment of prices to sugarcane farmers and better Meerut-Delhi connectivity. She talks of women’s safety and promises to find a “solution” to the problem.
Her biggest strength, she says, are her secular credentials. “I am Hindu and Muslim at the same time. Aap jis tarah se mujhe project karna chahein, kar sakte hain. I have been told that using my Hindu name would give me a definite advantage against the BJP,” she tells a meeting of her election workers.
Nagma was born on Christmas day to a Hindu mother and Muslim father. “I am as secular as they come,” she says. “I hope the people of Meerut will appreciate that.”
Meerut, she says, wasn’t a constituency she chose, but one that she was “destined for”.
“Sonia Gandhi asked me to contest from Meerut in 2004 and 2009, but it never materialized. I guess I was meant to fight elections from this place at least once in my life,” she laughs.
And yet, she knows that the battle is difficult, and that her party has not made things easy for itself. “There is absolutely no communication within the party. Kisi system ke tehat kaam nahin ho raha (Nothing is working). We have to win, but we can’t win like this,” she almost screams at the 30-odd men listening to her at the meeting.
“The party has organized a massive roadshow to introduce me to the masses, but even members within the party are not aware that it’s happening. We need to step up,” she urges the local leaders.
“I have only 20 days. I don’t know this place, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to know everything in time. But if you think I can do it, help me to win.” Meerut votes in phase 3 of the Lok Sabha election, on April 10.
Sources in the Congress said the actor turned politician intended to stay in Meerut continuously until polling day. Party workers have been looking for a house for her over the past few days, and expected to find one by the end of Tuesday.
Asked how she hoped to handle her all-male election team, Nagma replies, “I am used to it. As an actress, this is all I ever did. Everyone, except my hairdresser, was male. You can say I have been trained well.”