She is never short of words. The sharpness of her responses can stun friend and foe alike. And she has the capability to create frenzy and energise the crowds. The 53-year-old firebrand Sadhvi Uma Bharti whose political career has seen major ups and downs, is now the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the drought-prone, poverty-stricken Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Uma Bharti's presence as the BJP candidate has brought Charkhari – an extremely backward region – in to the limelight.
Born to a farmer in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti belongs to the Lodhi community, classified as a backward class. She has formally studied up to Class VI and rose from a “katha vachak” to become the first woman Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2003, defeating Congress bigwg Digvijay Singh, though she had to resign within months when a warrant was issued against her in connection with a communal riots case.
Having served as a Minister of State at the Centre in the Union Cabinet during the National Democratic Alliance regime, Uma Bharti won the Khajuraho Parliamentary seat three times and Bhopal Parliamentary seat once.
But while Uma Bharti is known more for her fiery speeches, she is also prone to emotional outbursts and mood swings which can go from one extreme to another. She had an important role to play when the Babri Masjid was demolished and she was vocal in expressing her unhappiness against L.K. Advani during a party meeting in 2005 in full media glare after which she was expelled from the party for five years. She started a new party, by the name of Lok Janshakti Party but eventually came back to the BJP fold. Uma Bharti avoids any conversation about the five years when she was out from the BJP.
Are you the BJP's Chief Ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh?
No, I am not in the race for Chief Ministership. Let me make it clear. And I do not want to get trapped in this conversation. All I want is that the BJP should come to power in Uttar Pradesh.
What is your assessment of how the BJP is likely to perform?
I am hopeful that the BJP will win a majority and I see no reason why we should not. But, yes we need to put an extra effort to pull the indecisive voters into our fold. There are a large number of voters who supported the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) over the years but are unhappy with these parties now. We can draw them towards us.
Is it Rahul Gandhi versus Uma Bharti in Uttar Pradesh?
I did not start any personal attacks. Rahul started it. For me, the issue has always been bad governance versus good governance. But I do want to end these personal attacks.
The BJP has always been a supporter of smaller States. Will you push for a separate Bundelkhand?
Yes, the BJP supports smaller States; we created Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh when we were in power at the Centre. However, there is a technical issue involved in the creation of Bundelkhand as it has to be carved out of two States. There is no demand for separate statehood from Madhya Pradesh except in Panna and Datia districts. We cannot force a State on the people if they do not want it.
The matter will have to be looked into by the States Reorganisations Commission that would talk to the people from both the States before any decision is taken.
The resolution for creation of smaller States passed by Chief Minister Mayawati pertains only to the districts within UP. It is not enough and I would describe it as a mere political drama.
The Reorganisation Commission will take its own time coming to any conclusion. Until then what will you do for Bundelkhand?
The people of the region are very poor. There is no irrigation facility and no proper demarcation of Bundelkhand. These issues need to be addressed. The area has to be developed. I propose to develop Charkhari as a tourist destination that will improve the economic condition of the people. There are allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds released under the special package announced for Bundlkhand. Implementation of the Bundelkhand special package could be the biggest scandal going. The way funds have been utilised needs to be looked into.