New Delhi: Shweta Bhatt’s life has taken a sudden twist. From being a trained classical dancer and housewife, she has taken the mantle upon herself to set right the wrong done to her husband.
Having initially decided to fight as an independent candidate, she is now contesting the Gujarat assembly elections on the Congress Party ticket from Ahmedabad’s Maninagar constituency. Her opponent is Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart, who has held the seat since 2002.
It is a direct contest between Shweta and Modi and while the latter’s performance will be seen as a preview for 2014 general elections, for Shweta it is a fight against injustice.
She is the wife of suspended Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court (in April 2011) against Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 1,200 people had died. Alleging that Modi had said that rioting mobs attacking Muslim neighbourhoods should be allowed to “vent their anger”, Bhatt claimed he was present at the meeting.
Within four months, Bhatt was suspended from duty by the state’s home ministry for not showing up at work. Shweta clarifies, “The fact is that all that while he was required to attend various legal and investigatory hearings and suspension came as punishment for speaking up against Modi.”
“I am not fighting this political battle for myself alone. The fight is on behalf of entire Gujarat and those who have faith in the Indian Constitution and democracy,” she said.
The second phase of the polls is on December 17. The first was held on December 13. The results will be out on December 20.
Taking time off from her rigorous election campaign, Shweta speaks to Gulf News in a telephonic interview.
Gulf News: Since you say that victory is not the essence of your contesting these elections, then what exactly is the idea behind it?
Shweta Bhatt: Victory is always the most desirable outcome of any contest. But the ultimate victory in the contest is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that given the situation, one has done the best. In any struggle, step follows step and hope follows courage. So, however daunting it may be, I am facing the challenge.
While on the one hand you are being considered bold and courageous for contesting against Modi, on the other hand it is being said that the Congress Party has allowed its adversary (Modi) to walk all over it. Your comments.
I have stepped into the arena to take on a ghoul, who is aspiring to devour the soul of this nation. It is for the people to choose between the truth and untruth and it is up to them what they opt for.
On the development plank, Gujarat has for the past few years been portrayed as a role model and the BJP is advising other states to learn from it how to rule, govern and take care of the poor. How realistic is the growth?
Gujarat has been in the forefront of development since the past many decades. Its story has not been scripted by one individual or by one government. The development is attributable to the spirit and acumen of the people of the state. I would rather say that the development of the state is despite the Modi administration and not because of it.
The last decade has seen the development of certain individuals, groups and industrial houses proximate to the current administration. The poor in the State have, in fact, become poorer. The concept of inclusive development is absolutely alien to the political dispensation currently in power.
What negatives do you find in Modi’s administration?
One individual for the advancement of his own political career and megalomaniac ambitions has turned Gujarat into a very finely tuned Gestapo state. Today, we are in a state where cabinet ministers cannot speak freely during meetings. It is believed that members of legislative assemblies have to get their questions vetted by the clerks in the chief minister’s office before raising them on the floor of the House. Most democratic institutions have been either stifled or subverted. So, this battle is for reclamation of democratic space, which is shrinking at a very alarming rate in the state.
What kind of response have you gotten from the voters in your constituency? How do you rate your chances of winning?
I have been receiving a very warm response everywhere I have gone. People realise that I am giving voice to their genuine apprehensions and fears. Time will tell the rest.
Is it not ironic that you are yet another women after Teesta Setalvad, Mallika Sarabhai and Zakia Jafri to take on Modi? What could be the reason for men (barring your husband) not taking a strong stand against him?
This question is for the men of Gujarat to respond to. But I believe that the situation is now changing and people will again begin voicing their views.
What do you fear the most regarding these elections?
I have no fears whatsoever for my family or myself. We are capable of taking care of ourselves. But it always remains at the back of mind that the brand of divisive politics used in the state has to be done away with.
Shweta Bhatt was born on November 30, 1964 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
She finished her schooling from GLF High School in Ahmedabad.
Graduated in Political Science from L D Arts College, Ahmedabad.
Did her LLB from LA Shah Law College, Ahmedabad in 1998.