I HAVE CONSIDERED entering politics since 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi first offered me a party ticket, which I eventually refused. I felt I could be more effective being unattached to a political party. It allowed me the freedom to comment on what I felt was wrong without being tied down by the party diktat. All that changed two weeks ago after a phone call from a colleague in the Gujarat secular movement. He told me they had decided that I should enter politics. Over the last 25 years, politics has become dirtier and more criminal. After reflecting, I realised that standing on the periphery is not enough to effect a change.
People seem to doubt my decision to contest as an independent candidate. There is a feeling that this is just a symbolic gesture, mere tokenism. I disagree. I will fight to win. I don’t want to take on any banner because the criminalisation and corruption that I criticise is present across parties. While I do feel that winning is important, running a clean campaign of principles is much more important. If LK Advani proclaims his greatest achievement is the rath yatra, which was responsible for tearing apart India’s social fabric, then it is important that I throw down the gauntlet even if it means that I get five votes. The throwing down of the gauntlet is itself an important act of recapturing something for the public. I am targeting the policies of the BJP, its practices and divisiveness, that are ripping apart the Constitution. Also, I belong to the constituency where Advani is contesting from. I have been born and brought up in Gandhinagar. I have worked here with people at the grassroots for the last 20 years.
For years people have said the educated need to join politics. For five years I have been trying to gather around me 100 people from across the country with similar goals — be it transparency or giving a voice to the dispossessed, to bring them back into the conscience of our democracy. I have not succeeded in doing that, and in another five years, it will be too late. I may not have the money, machinery, or muscle power, but I will make my campaign a people’s movement. People who believe in a just fight are with me; they will go out and campaign because it is their campaign for getting back their space in society. Today, our democracy is for the politicians, by the politicians, and of the politician. It has to be brought back to the people. And I think that time is now. If I can get even a few people to believe in a movement which is not funneled by hatred or violence, or a few to believe that ideology and ideals still count, then that in itself will be a huge moral victory. If it is 5,000, so be it; if it is five, so be it.
Even if I get only five votes, throwing down the gauntlet is itself important in reclaiming public space
In Gujarat, a would-be candidate says he will go to the highest bidder, Congress or BJP, and nobody thinks it is nonsensical. Is that what we want from our country? In 2003, I was called the whore of the Muslims whose burqa had been ripped off. They said my father would be turning in his grave except that as a Hindu, he was cremated and therefore there was no such risk. I know that I will be scurrilously attacked, but I will not attack. I’m sure it will hurt. I am preparing friends for shoulders to cry on. I have already started receiving threatening calls from various people. Suddenly, I am no longer a social activist. I am a danseuse. A Gujarati paper for which I have written columns is now calling me a cine starlet. But I would still urge others to do what I am doing, because nobody is going to give us our public space. We have to take it.
My agenda is to make people feel safe again, develop a model that is sustainable, inclusive and empowers women. It is a tall order, but any change is a tall order. And if you want lasting change, it has to be brought about by the public being enabled to find their own solutions, rather than my thinking that I have the solution.
(Sarabhai is an artist and social activist)