As the team of the New Indian’s Executive Editor Rohan Dua reaches Barabanki’s Kursi assembly constituency that goes to polls in the fifth phase, Shreya Verma, the Samajawadi Party’s National vice president of women wing bursts with dynamism and energy. An alumna of the prestigious Welham Girls School in Dehradun and Ramjas College, this economics graduate is carrying forward the legacy of her grandfather Beni Prasad Verma. Excerpts…
Rohan Dua: How difficult or easy has it been to try and win people since BJP has made a lot of in-roads in the UP after 2014 and the parties which your father Rakesh Verma or grandfather Beni Prasad Verma represented were out of power for the last 5 years?
Shreya Verma: Since childhood, I have been under the influence of Samajwadi Party (SP). In fact, I joined the party officially last year around October and since then I have been looking at other parties from a competitive lens. I have worked a lot on the ground in the past 6-7 months and I really can’t see any work done by BJP here. Now that I am here, I am trying very hard to reach every door in the constituency and discuss the problems they are facing. Because there is not one, but many. You must have heard about “Chutta Janwar”. It is such a big issue. The farmers who are up late at night, taking care of their farms often get hit by stray cattle. Some have lost their legs, get fractures, so it is a big issue. And then, there is a problem of education, especially girl education and of course, there is security.
Rohan Dua: So, did you find anyone affected?
Shreya Verma: Yes, every village I visited, door to door, I found at least 2-3 people who are wounded and lying on the cot with bandages and plasters on their leg. It is worrisome.
Rohan Dua: Your grandfather was a part of the Congress government, where he served as a powerful Steel minister. What influence has he had on you and in shaping up your politics?
Shreya Verma: I spent most of my childhood with my grandfather. Even when I was in Delhi, in college, I used to stay with him. He was the Steel Minister then. That is when I got to observe him closely as to how he worked in the political field. The impression is even stronger, now that I am in this space. Everything I do — even when I am speaking to people, or interacting with pradhans — is a learning from him. I remember how he used to interact with people, how he used to make quick decisions… Those flashbacks keep coming back. Whatever I saw while growing up, is somehow coming out to be helpful now. Like how he used to work for people, it was heartfelt. He never discriminated on the basis of any colour, caste, who you are, where you are from. He just used to work. That is something I really want to instill in myself.
Rohan Dua: You were raised in Delhi. How was it like coming back to your native place after completing your education?
Shreya Verma: I did my schooling from Welham. Then I did Economics Honours from the Ramjas College. That was the time when I was living with my grandfather who was serving as the Minister of Steel. He used to travel a lot and I was busy with my studies so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. However, he used to make it a point to take me to meet the President and for the meetings of his department. It was really good. I did not know then I would enter this space (politics) one day. But I started working with a few organisations in Delhi who engage in social work. When I returned home, I started taking care of the college in our constituency which was opened by my grandfather in 2004. We set up coaching institutes for civil exams aspirants after our grandfather’s name. Now, I want to be in this space and do more work here. People want to study in this constituency but they say they don’t have good schools or college. I have worked in education space after my college as well, so I want to take that forward and work for the public.
Rohan Dua: You lost your grandfather during the COVID-19 pandemic. How would you like to remember this campaign for your grandfather and father?
Shreya Verma: I remember him and his teaching every day. This campaign is a tribute to him. The meetings and rallies during the campaign have also been emotional for my father. This entire election is dedicated to him since this is the first time we are contesting polls without him.
Rohan Dua: Arithmetic plays a vital role in elections. Rajbhar ji and you are from non-Yadav OBC category. What’s your take on that, especially since SP leadership is dominated by Yadavs?
Shreya Verma: We are a Samajwadi Party. We believe in taking all castes along. Of course, backward castes need a lot of push and incentives to come at the same level as other castes. Our fight is against the BJP and we have the support from all the communities, including mine.
Rohan Dua: BJP actively wooed and got support from non-Yadav OBCs in 2014, 2019 and 2019. Non Yadav OBCs have not been traditional voters of the SP. Has the SP learned its lessons and trying to woo other castes, not must Muslims and Yadavs?
Shreya Verma: That is not true. My father was the founding member of the SP. He was a very important person. Caste is not the only factor we rely on. Muslims and Yadavs have always voted for us. But they are not the only ones. We have everyone working for us, be it from any caste.
Rohan Dua: How is it like campaigning for your father? How much time do you devote to his constituency? Are your siblings and mother also participating in the campaign?
Shreya Verma: It is just me. I am spending my entire day, from morning to night campaigning for my father. We do door-to-door during the day and meeting in the evening. My day usually ends at 10 pm.
Rohan Dua: Do you get polite enquiries from people for your grandfather? Do they remember him still?
Shreya Verma: I must have visited more than 300 villages, and in every village I have met at least one or two people who have either worked for my grandfather or they have been benefitted by his policies and work. All the roads in ‘Kursi’ constituency are built by him. Three bridges have also been constructed by him when he was the PWD minister.
Rohan Dua: Your recent tweets heap praises on Akhilesh Yadav, the party’s supremo, on how he’s maintained security as a foremost issue during his regime. BJP has been contesting that on ground saying that there was a lot of Gunda-ism during their rule. Do you think the party is on a back foot there?
Shreya Verma: I disagree there. Crime rate has always been high in UP, but the rate is much higher now than it was before. UP has become number one in the entire country for crimes against women. It is a very serious issue which I think the government is not taking seriously. The ministers of the current government are going on stage, claiming women are safe and that they can move freely in the night wearing all their jewelry. It is not even possible for them to step out during the day with so much freedom, forget night.
The reality on ground is very different from the claims. I get a lot of complaints every day from Barabanki. Life is not easy.
Rohan Dua: You, Juhi ji, Jaya Bachchan are some of the prominent women leaders of the SP who form the backbone of the party. You are one of the youngest leaders in the party. Congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi, has launched a programme ‘Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon’. Do you think it affects SP’s bid to reclaim the glory it once had as far as women’s representation is concerned?
Shreya Verma: It’s good that she has launched this campaign. But this is just on paper. We are working on the ground. I have campaigned in various constituencies and villages, but I rarely bump into anyone who says they will vote for the Congress. The Congress workers are not on ground.
Rohan Dua: Your father’s constituency will vote in the fifth phase. This phase encapsulates ‘Poorvanchal’ region which has voted for the BJP in last few elections. Do you think SP can make a mark in this region, especially since your alliance partner Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) has good base in some parts of the region? Akhilesh is also an MP from a constituency in this region.
Shreya Verma: We have the momentum going for us right from the start. We will score a bumper win. Om Prakash Rajbhar (SBSP chief) has a lot of influence in this region and his speeches are watched keenly even at roadside kiosks.