The cotton saree has come to be her trademark, so have the long-sleeved blouses and loosely worn hair, but this election has seen a new Dimple Yadav. Having shed her initial reticence, the 39-year-old wife of UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is now the star campaigner of the Samajwadi Party (SP), with candidates now clamouring to get her to campaign for them.
At a rally in Kanpur Dehat on Thursday, former SP MP from Jalaun, Ghanshyam Anuragi, tells the crowd, “Sab ki demand thi… party mein logon ki maang thi: agar mananiya mukhyamantri na aa payein to mananiya Dimpleji aa jayein. Woh keh jayein to hum chunao jita denge (Those in the party have been saying that if the CM can’t come, Dimpleji should. If she comes and talks, we will ensure the party wins).” A raucous cheer follows amidst chants of “Vikas ki chaabi… Dimple bhabhi”.
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Still to recover from the bitter family feud, Mulayam Singh Yadav hasn’t campaigned much this election and and so, Dimple has had to step up her game. She began her first public meeting in Agra on February 8 with Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan but it is Samajwadi Party spokesperson Juhi Singh, who accompanies her to most of her rallies now. So far, she has addressed over 15 public meetings, covering districts such as Agra, Kanpur, Kanpur Dehat, Lucknow, Kannauj, Hardoi, Sitapur and Lakhimpur and is expected to be in Allahabad on February 21.
Individual candidates and their work rarely find a mention in her speeches, which revolve largely around Akhilesh’s record as chief minister. At almost every rally, she begins her speech by seeking the blessings of bujurga jan (the elderly)” and then tells the crowd that their vote is not just for the candidate but for the CM.
At Bidhuna Assembly constituency of Auraiya, she interacts effortlessly with the audience: “Kaam kiya hai ki nahi kiya hai (Hasn’t the government done its work or not)?”, “Baat sahi hai ki nahi hai (Am I right or wrong)?” Each time, the crowd chimes in. She even chides a group of excited youngsters shouting slogans, “Agar aap beech mein bolenge to humein chillana padega (If you keep butting in, I will have to shout).”
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At the Kanpur Dehat rally, she stands behind the lectern and begins by reading out from a sheet of paper the names of party leaders from the region. She fumbles with some names, but doesn’t let that ruffle her. She finally puts the paper aside and starts, raising her pitch, “Aap sab apne bhaiya ke saath hain ki nahi hain (Are you with Akhilesh or not)?”
A Samajwadi Party campaign manager, who is involved in planning Dimple’s campaign schedule, says her rallies are usually planned around constituencies with women candidates or the ones Akhilesh can’t make it to.
Talking of Dimple’s speeches, he says, “I am not saying they are perfect but the public responds to her the way they don’t to any other party leader, except maybe the Chief Minister. There is no denying that she is a crowd puller. For whatever reasons, the public listens to her right till the end of her speech. What more would a candidate want from a star campaigner?”
Though she sometimes gets stuck, pausing to remember a line or looking at the papers in front of her before resuming her speech, even turning to people around her to ask for Hindi translations of words, the crowd waits patiently.
At a rally in Lucknow where her sister-in-law Aparna is the party candidate, addressing the women in the audience, she says, “Lucknow metro project mahilaon ke liye sabse safest means of transport hain.” She quickly clarifies, “Matlab… sabse surakshit hai”. In Bhognipur Assembly constituency, while speaking on demonetisation, she says “duplicate” notes have come into the market and then immediately turns back to ask for the Hindi translation before continuing, “Nakli note aa gaye hain”.
But the audience goes easy on her. “Arey, koshish to kar rahi hai. Achha to bol rahi hai (She is at least trying. She speaks well). I hope they do all that she is promising,” says 61-year-old Uma Devi, who had walked over a kilometre with some other women in her neighbourhood to see Dimple and listen to her. “Suna tha sundar hai. Hum to ise hi dekhne aur sunne aaye they (I have heard she is beautiful. I came to see and hear her).”