IN AN ELECTION where youths and their aspirations took centre stage, Pushpam Priya Choudhary had just the right credentials — age (33), political lineage (family links to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar), qualification (a London School of Economics education) and promises (80 lakh jobs, making Bihar Europe by 2030).
Beyond that, Choudhary hardly played by the books. She named her outfit Plurals Party, to denote a caste-less inclusiveness and “progressive politics”, designated herself the CM candidate, ditched Indian outfits for Western wear she was comfortable in, was a prominent presence on social media with professionally shot photographs, cites Gandhi and Shakespeare in the same sentence, counts Martin Luther King apart from Subhas Chandra Bose as her hero, and she chose the Bankipur seat to contest from, despite another high-profile scion (Shatrughan Sinha’s son Luv) trying to make his debut from there along with a three-time BJP MLA, an Oxford University alumnus and 18 others.
It’s a day after campaigning for all the phases in Bihar has ended. Choudhary has 148 candidates in the race, 35 of them as Independents after Plurals Party could not register in time for the first phase. Bankipur (held by the BJP) registered a dismal 35.9% voting, among the lowest in these elections.
But, having spent the past four months in public meetings, she tells The Indian Express over the phone from Patna, where she stays on her own, she is confident. “I am the only one talking about real issues… Everywhere I went, people told me no leader has come to meet them… I have seen the system from within, I know the problems.” (She worked in the Bihar Health and Tourism Department for a while.)
In fact, Choudhary claims, she set the agenda for the polls. “The so-called young leaders started talking about jobs and development, and not caste, after I came into the picture… One (Tejashwi Yadav) has been the deputy CM, the other (Chirag Paswan) an MP. Age does not make one young.”
On November 7, after voting in Darbhanga in the last phase, she told reporters. “We will win, we will form the government, and there will be no coalition with any other party.”
This confidence was what first brought Choudhary to notice when eight months ago, on March 8 (Women’s Day), when the Bihar elections were still distant, she appeared in full-page newspaper advertisements in Delhi, announcing her new Plurals Party and herself a Bihar CM candidate.
Choudhary says her decision to join politics was her own, “unknown” to her professor parents, and has left her ties with the family “strained”. Her father Vinod Choudhary is a former JD(U) MLC, and her elder sister is settled in Britain. “In Darbhanga, my life revolved around home and school. In Pune for my MBA, I realised how poor the perception of people from Bihar is. Later, when I went to study in the UK, I saw how strong their systems are, how equal the society is. I want the same for Bihar.”
Choudhary claims to have raised money for her campaign by crowd-funding and picked candidates after “rigorous interviews and background checks”. The Plurals Party says it has a presence in all districts, with “thousands of workers”. But the three-phase polls did stretch their resources, with a state as large as Bihar difficult to cover for a small party in a short time, Choudhary says. “It is a system of elimination, meant for big parties who can travel in helicopters and conduct big rallies.”
About whether she “fits in” into Bihar politics, the 33-year-old says, “You dismiss something you are scared of. Only misogynists and corrupt people are dismissive of me… Men wear white kurta-pyjamas and women saris the moment they get into politics, to show touch with the grassroots. I don’t feel the need to do that.”
Come November 10, Choudhary says, the results will “surprise everyone”.