I worked with Smriti Irani in 2014, I cried when she took oath

The one thing you can't get away from while working with her is hard work.

 |  10-minute read |   10-12-2015
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“On one side we have @smritiirani who openly supports SM warriors on TV channels.”

“Then there is minister like @smritiirani who never fails to mention the contribution of tweeps who campaigned for her in Amethi.” These were the kind of messages I read as I sat back in bed, tired after a long day’s work. It took me some time to figure the context of the messages and Dr Chandan Mitra’s recent statements about those on social media. It may come as a surprise for many but I do work for a living and I have a hectic life beyond the little Twitter feeds you get to read.

Another tweet I read was:

“A pregnant lady 'who did not have anything better to do' campaigned for @smritiirani in Amethi. Does @DrChandanMitra know?”

Yes, I was pregnant when I chose to go and stay for a month in Amethi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. I am extremely grateful to Smriti Irani for mentioning my efforts in public during an interview with Barkha Dutt on NDTV. In my view her words were more of a reflection of the kind of person she was rather than our contribution. After hearing the recent statements of others speaking about the support base and opinions on social media, many would agree I couldn't be more accurate. She is different from others in recognising efforts of simple folk and it is not like social media has been kind to her.

Also read - I worked for Modi in 2014: Now I regret it

As I heard the interview and read through the messages, I was flooded with memories. While a lot has already been said about the Amethi campaign, for me personally, it was an emotional journey.

In 2013, like many others, I gave up my job to volunteer with an aim to contribute to bring about a much-needed change in the nation. For many months we worked on projects like "Mere Sapno Ka Bharat" and "India 272" that created a buzz across many cities.

The team that helped us conduct the programme comprised those who connected with us through social media. There were professionals, there were students and many others from all walks of life. Without their contribution of time and effort nothing would have been possible. They had come out of their comfort zones with a passion for change that was unprecedented. All of them saw hope with Narendra Modi.

A large part of the same team chose to travel with me to Amethi. Abhinav Sharma, Ankur, Shivam, Karan, Ashwani were some of the prominent contributors.

Also read: Is Modi the worst thing to happen to India? Two friends discuss

I left my five-year-old at home with a calendar and taught her how to count 30 days in reverse till I came back.

The adventure called Amethi started just as I landed a few days before Irani was scheduled to arrive. I found myself all alone in a godforsaken village station about an hour-and-a-half away from my destination. There was no time to think what had led to the confusion. I was anxious, felt unsafe and worried as to how to reach my team without creating any panic.

I was in Uttar Pradesh and being from the same state, I was aware of the challenges of law and order. Hence refusing to interact with anyone, I picked up the luggage myself and walked out in search of a transport. There were no taxis, the roads were bad and I could sense several eyes on me. Putting up a brave front I chose a half-open tempo with a front passenger seat to reduce the jerks that would be caused due to the terrible roads. Throughout the lonely route, all I could do was say a little prayer for my baby and sometimes for myself.

Also read: How we must judge Smriti Irani as HRD minister

The district headquarters of Amethi had no lodging (no jokes! you have to be there to believe how far it is from development). All we had was one dhaba with one room that had an occasionally working AC. Not to forget that it was the peak of summer and the temperature there was above 45 degree centigrade. The dhaba owners were kind enough to keep the room as clean as possible for me.

While we were struggling to set up basic facilities for the team, I was aware it was important for me to have nutritious food. Busy in all the important work, the all-male team around me obviously were clueless of my requirements. I knew no one else and the only dabha in the vicinity had terrible food. I depended heavily on fruits and rations from my parents. It wasn't good enough.

Our first big task was to prepare for Irani's arrival in Amethi. The doubts that we face today with respect to volunteers from social media were also present amongst the karyakartas of Amethi. It was only a gradual realisation that we were no different from them and were just another group of karyakartas responsible for a different kind of work.

Finally amidst huge support and fanfare, Irani arrived in Amethi and after a day-long rally, and came straight to my room.

If not for the crowd around her I would have broken down to finally see someone I could talk to. Though all I managed was a meek "Hello". She looked around and it didn't require me to say anything. She immediately arranged for a comfortable house with a caring family host who would understand my position adequately to provide food and other facilities.

I realised at the end of the campaign that the space made available to me was much larger and more comfortable than the one she managed to arrange for herself.

The one thing you can't get away from while working with Irani is hard work. She is a tough task master and no excuses are acceptable when it comes to delivery of work. You can't even complain because she would do much more than others and additionally would be available for every little detail you would want to ask. I was well aware of this before, so was prepared for a hectic routine. Yet not everything came easy.

Even though in my last pregnancy I had strenuously worked till the last hour, this time it was slightly difficult due to some medical complications. The fact that there was no real hospital around would never leave my thoughts. In case of any emergency requirements I would have to drive to Lucknow (yes, that's how bad it is there). Others were unaware of my complications, so I decided to ask my parents to send me a vehicle that would be at my disposal all along.

The road right in front of my temporary accommodation was so bad that I was barred from travelling outside unless absolutely necessary. As a person who was used to working out everyday, this was one instruction that was extremely difficult to adjust to.

I would be thankful when team members would visit me. I did try to sneak out twice without Irani's knowledge in order to see the campaign, only to be spotted by her and sent back home.

Mid-month, my five-year-old came to stay with me for a couple of days for my birthday. To leave her home was probably more difficult than coming to Amethi. As I saw her cry as I left, I was tempted to go back immediately. Ma’m called me to assure that I could leave if I wanted to. My husband told me, "Finish what you have come for. We will wait for you. I can take care of our little girl."

My thoughts immediately went to some Amethi residents who, on my arrival, had asked me: "How did your husband give you permission to come to campaign in this state?"

I had then replied: "I never asked for permission. I don't have to. Wait till you meet him. He encourages and supports me in my work more than I could wish for."

He was doing exactly that and I got back to work.

Every day after the campaign and the round of meetings, ma’am would stop by my place for some time and discuss everything except work. This meant a lot to me in that lonely space. I know she didn't have to and it was extremely difficult for her to take time out from her schedule. There were days when she arrived at 1.30am or 2am at night despite the fact that her day would begin at 7am without fail (and so did ours without a choice). Yet she made sure she visited me each day till the last week started. By then I guess it became simply impossible as I was just one of many karyakartas she took care of.

The last week was also when the stress levels were very high. I couldn't come to terms with the emotional turmoil within me. I tried to tell myself - "calm down, your hormones are playing games with you" but I would often burst into tears and get offended at the tiniest mistakes. After a couple of incidents, I made sure I kept to myself as much as possible and refused to react to any unfavourable situation.

This restraint took a toll on me, my blood pressure dropped and I called my husband to take me home as soon as I finished work. He immediately left for Amethi. However, before he could arrive, I collapsed.

Despite my utmost resistance, the message of my bad health reached ma’am during a village meeting. Someone later told me that while giving a speech she spotted one of the family members of the house I lived in. She called him on stage and instructed him to go back immediately to take care of me. Half the team was sent back to ensure I was taken care of. The doctor arrived, and most importantly, my husband reached. Almost miraculously, I felt half my energy was restored.

That evening when ma’am visited my place, I was half asleep. I could hear them talk. Extremely worried, she said, almost all the work was done. I could leave Amethi and move for the last two days to Lucknow for the film that was to be completed for the prime minister's event.

The two days in the Lucknow studio was one of the worst work experiences I have ever had. Inadequate facilities, no electricity, low voltage and as hot as it could get.

These were the professional working conditions in the capital city of Uttar Pradesh. Terrible.

With whatever I could manage, I returned to Amethi just before Narendra Modi was to arrive. The heat was extreme, the crowd was huge, too many vehicles and lots of dust all around. To my disappointment, I was asked to leave the biggest moment in Amethi elections as it may not be safe for me. Adamant on staying around, I parked my vehicle behind the venue and saw the enthusiasm in the public and heard Mr Modi motivate karyakartas of Amethi. The applause left me satisfied. Only then did I leave for Delhi.

Very few people from social media were aware of the condition of my health during the campaign. As word spread after some time, Congress supporters and a couple of journalists indulged in mindless canards and even insinuated that my pregnancy was false! Honestly it was a bit difficult to face this kind of abuse at that time. During the campaign I had seen how Irani dealt with extreme abuse and slander on social media. Therefore, I took some lessons and ignored them all after a few laughs.

When my baby was born, I received blessings from all I had worked with. A special one came from the prime minister himself. That gesture shall remain as a treasure forever.

On May 26, 2014, I watched the oath ceremony on TV. I smiled and clapped from bed as the prime minister took his oath. And tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks and I choked with overwhelming emotion as I heard the words: "Main Smriti Zubin Irani, Ishwar ki shapath leti hoon..."

Every struggle and effort during the campaign was worth this one moment.


Shilpi Tewari Shilpi Tewari @shilpitewari

The writer is a Delhi-based architect and active on social media.

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