Nov 26, 2008

India - Congress & the little Uma Bharati

She is too young to vote but she crisscrosses the state telling large audiences how they should vote. Fourteen years old and less than five feet tall, Sadhna Bharti has become a sensation in Madhya Pradesh in the run up to the polls.

She is being touted as 'the Congress's Uma Bharti'. But she has much more in common with sadhvi-politician and chief of the Bharatiya Janshakti Party Uma Bharti than just the surname.

Consciously modelling herself on her better-known namesake, Sadhna has become a star campaigner for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh having addressed 73 meetings over the past two weeks. Her eloquence in chaste Hindi, her frequent metaphorical references to the epics and Hindu religious scriptures in her speeches, her mannerism of raising both her hands when she has completed her address are all reminiscent of Uma.

Further, she hails from the same OBC Lodh caste that Uma does - a caste with considerable political clout in both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. And there is more.

The burden of her speeches is openly casteist - the BJP wronged the Lodh community by removing Uma Bharti from the chief minister's post in 2004, and should be taught a lesson. "The only party capable of doing so is the Congress, hence Lodhs should vote for Congress," she declares.

Why not Uma Bharti's own party? For her age, Sadhna displays immense - if tutored - political savvy. "Don't waste your vote on the nagara (drum)," she adds, referring to Uma Bharti's election symbol.

"She cannot possible defeat the BJP." As she walks up to the podium to address a large audience at Bamori Mala village, 40 km from the district headquarters of Damoh, an old man stoops low to touch her feet. She repeatedly refers to her 'inner voice' that she suggests is the Almighty himself speaking to her.

"My inner voice says the BJP will lose this time," she states. But although the air is thick with religiosity, Sadhna's speeches are fiercely secular, repeatedly stressing the need for Hindu-Muslim amity and unity.

Her origins, however, are neither humble nor rural like Uma Bharti's. She lives in Delhi, studying in Class IX in an English medium school.

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