Sitting on the edge of her chair in the centre of the dais, Aparna Yadav starts biting her nails. There are minutes to go for her public meeting to end and the Samajwadi Party newcomer is waiting for the arrival of the star campaigner of the day, UP Congress president Raj Babbar. When she speaks, she keeps glancing at the road. When Babbar finally arrives, she hands him the stage smiling, as if with a new confidence.
Aparna, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger daughter-in-law, is contesting in Lucknow Cantonment, which goes to polls Sunday. Her rival is Congress-MLA-turned-BJP candidate Rita Bahuguna Joshi. What additionally makes the contest stand out is that the SP-Congress alliance seems to be smooth here.
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She mentions “Bhaiyya” and “Netaji” in the same breath, praising the work of one and claiming the blessings of the other. She also claims credit for “Rs 40 crore development work” already undertaken in the constituency, apparently on her initiative.
To workers of both alliance partners, Aparna and Joshi are both “Didi”. But Congress workers are also upset by Joshi’s departure, which partly explains the support they have given Aparna on door-to-door campaigns as well as in public meetings.
“Bina vidhayak bane maine yahan itna kaam karwa diya hai, to sochiye agar aap mujhe majboot karenge to yahan kitna kaam hoga,” says Aparna, addressing a gathering at a coffee shop in Aishbagh area. A local introduces her as a “future minister in the upcoming government, while presenting a long list of work she has supposedly got done in the last eight months. Her supporters keep telling people that she belongs to the Diamond Dairy locality of the constituency. Aparna herself says, “Mai yahan ki beti pahle hoon, Etawah ki bahu baad mein.”
This claim of her routing Rs 40 crore on development is repeated in almost each public meeting, and there comes the long list: “255 roads, drainage and toilets, 58 submersible pumps, 8 tubewells, street lights, Samajwadi pension to over 2,500 women on her initiative…”
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While criticising demonetisation, she tells the crowd a joke about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She is interrupted by Congress worker Om Prakash, who wants her to visit the slum of Gulzar Nagar; Rita Joshi, he says, has already visited there and people are now asking for her.
“I have worked hard for the last eight months to get work done for this constituency,” Aparna responds to a question by The Indian Express.
“Things are difficult even if you are one of the family because there are certain legalities you have to look at, various officers you have to deal with.”
Asked about the other daughter-in-law, MP Dimple Yadav, whom she calls “Bhabhi”, Aparna says, “Both of us have our individual personalities. I respect her a lot and we share a good bond.” She says they kept the bonding going even during the family feud. “We used to chat a lot even then. Sometimes, we were in tears over the hate statements on social media, sometimes we laughed at them.”
Helping her on her campaign is SP founding member Ashok Bajpai. He walks quietly, at a distance, hands folded behind his back, guiding the team through the undeveloped Sudamapuri colony next to Haider Canal. “There are 10,000 voters in this locality. There is a fear among people that their houses would be buldozed but it is not going to happen. They had been asking for Aparna, when I came here yesterday so she is visiting them today to give them assurance,” he says.
Aparna travels through the lanes assuring the public, “Naala nahi tootega.” She stops at Chhitwapur to offer toffees to children playing on the roadside. “Kaun aaya tha kya bataoge?” she asked them. “Aparna Yadav,” she makes them repeat, and moves on.
After the team leaves, Babban Sonkar of Chhitwapur says, “Each is giving the other a fight based on her pluses and minuses. Aparna is new and promising, Rita is a senior and approachable. She might not get votes as she has shifted parties, but those who want BJP will vote for her here, which was for long a BJP seat.”