'I Get Jai Shree Ram Messages on Eid': TMC MP Nusrat Jahan Opens Up on Trolling, Basirhat Violence and More
Jahan won the Basirhat constituency with 3.5 lakh votes, replacing the powerful TMC leader Idris Ali and beating BJP's Sayantan Basu and Congress's Quazi Abdur Rahim.
29-year old actress and first-time Member of Parliament Nusrat Jahan during an interview with News18
Much about 29-year-old actress and first-time Member of Parliament Nusrat Jahan would remind one of a feline. Be it the passing glint in her beryl eyes, the ingratiating smile, or the feisty hints a of a quick temper sealed tightly under the effortless sheen of her graceful stature.
Ever since her entry into formal politics this year, Trinamool Congress's Basirhat candidate and subsequent MP has grabbed eyeballs and headlines alike, wittingly or unwittingly. A lot of it has had to do with her clothes — an occupational hazard, one would assume, for women politicians — but the MP seemed unfazed.
Sitting inside the disheveled study of her newly acquired ministerial residence in the capital, Jahan brushed off the controversies with a shrug, "I think I was destined to be a politician. But it's all still sinking in".
Jahan won the Basirhat constituency with 3.5 lakh votes, replacing the powerful TMC leader Idris Ali and beating BJP's Sayantan Basu and Congress's Quazi Abdur Rahim. However, her candidacy and subsequent victory have been tailed almost constantly by controversy, be it the violence that ensued in her constituency post results or her marrying into a Jain family and participating in Hindu rituals such as the Rath Yatra alongside CM Mamata Banerjee.
In a free-flowing interview with News18, Jahan opened up on the recent Basirhat violence, accusations of minority appeasement against TMC, lynchings and the 'trend' of screaming "Jai Shree Ram" in Bengal. She also spoke on how she dealt with trolls and what she planned to do for her constituency in the coming five years.
Here are some excerpts:
Your first day in Parliament created quite a splash because of your clothes and selfies. How has been a first-time MP been like at such a young age?
It was a pleasant surprise to see my name on the list of TMC's Lok Sabha candidates. But now I feel I was destined to become a politician. The Parliament has been very exciting from Day 1. I don't know what other people have to say about my clothes but the people inside the Parliament have been very warm even beyond party lines and supportive of me newcomer. I had a few jitters initially but the people as well as the CM has a lot of faith in me. It's a big responsibility and I am still observing and learning. But I've been having a very pleasant time. I will soon start taking up questions on matters of public interest.
Do you think there's a trend of an increasing number of actors being roped in to politics? What is you take on that? Prior to this, you yourself have starred in 16 films. At the time, did you think you would become an MP?
If it's a trend, then I think it's a good one. Why shouldn't actors be allowed to become politicians? Politics is open to people from all walks of life. Maybe in case of some celebrities, it could be said that they don't have ground-connect. But I'm not like that. Yes, I did enter the poll fray as an actor and Basirhat welcomed me as a celebrity in the initial days of campaigning, many came out to my rallies just to see me. But in time, the people can see that I'm not just a smiling face. I am here to work for the community and to make life better for residents from Basirhat. However, I never planned to become a politician, much like I never planned on becoming an actor.
How do you respond to targeted and sexist trolling? Do you think politics is still a boys club?
When the clothes controversy happened, I did not even respond to it. It was too insignificant and I didn't want to dignify trolls with a response. But turns out, I didn't have to. My followers on social media came to defence, there were so many in my support that it was heartening. My colleagues in Parliament too were with me. I think one should look beyond the fact that I'm an MP sometimes and realise that I am also my own human being and I get to make my own choices about what to wear and whom to marry.
Also, I feel that today, more women are indeed a part of politics and that image of Parliament being a male reserve is changing. There are many women in Parliament, women's mindsets are changing. It's pointless to always be a 'biplobi' (revolutionary). Sometimes, we must also pause to celebrate the progress we have made. In the near future, the percentage of a women is sure to increase.
Do you think your inter-faith marriage has been blown out of proportion? And what is your take on the flak you have received for sporting sindoor in Parliament?
Nobody else can take a call on my life. I judge people by their humanity. In Nikhil, I found a really nice human being and I took a call. It's nobody else's business. It is bizarre that we are still so stuck on communal lines. A small section of Muslim leaders and clerics may think I have become less Islamic by adopting certain Hindu customs. I had previously joked that those people were surely not on phone with Allah every day to confirm whether or not I have lost my faith. Religion is as much mine as theirs. You cannot just take away someone's religion from them, you aren't entitled to do that," she asserted.
But what of the accusations of minority-appeasement that have dogged the TMC for sometime now? Do you think it is a pro-minority party? And do you think it could be projecting your secular "Indian Muslim" image to change public perception of its own?
What even is 'pro-minority'? If the honourable CM defends the rights of the minority, works for the betterment of the minority, she is doing appeasement? I don't understand how working for minorities makes a party appeasing. And, as far as TMC 'using' me, it is a secular party, we respect all religions equally. No one TOLD me to go to the Rath Yatra as is being said or wear sindoor. If you had known me from Adam you'd know that I have always participated in these festivals. Of course it's only making news now because media always wants to polarize.
Basirhat has been burning. Post results, the constituency has seen various cases of violence with clashes between TMC and BJP workers taking fatal turns. There have been casualties on both sides. Has the situation stabilies now? What do you think the state response should be to such violence?
"It was never really 'burning', these are just conflagrations of the media. Someone says it's burning, someone says its raging. But people have always seen the picture from the outside. Yes, there were disturbances, I agree. But those were swiftly handled by the leadership there as well as the local administration and we were proactive about it. Even when I was getting married in Istanbul I was coordinating with leaders here before my feras because I was deeply concerned about the safety of people. The situation was handled overnight. But I don't understand the "sensitive" tag on Basirhat. Why would it be sensitive? People have been living here peacefully for ages. What suddenly changed? I hope people stop mixing politics with religion.
What is the one thing you'd like to change in your constituency? You recently started a bus service from Basanti to Basirhat. Are more populist measures to be expected?
There's a lot to do. I would like to take up the issue of getting a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Basirhat, as of now there is none. The bus service has made a lot of very people very happy. I want to work on water distress in the area and ensure every household has access to clean water by the end of my term. These are things that can be done by my team or the state government. Beyond that, I want to take up certain issues with the Centre too. My constituency being 84 percent of minority, it become essential for me to bring up the issue of mob lynchings of Muslims. I don't just speak from the perspective of my own constituency but all of India. This kind of targeted violence must stop and the Centre needs to look into making laws against such mob action. I would personally like to focus on educating youth on social media use in my constituency.
As instances of violence and forced chanting of "Jai Shree Ram" echo through Bengal, do you think the socio-cultural atmosphere of the state is somewhat on the boil?
Look there is nothing wrong with chanting God's name or a holy sermon. One's religion is an important part of identity and it is important and acceptable to express it. But doing it to needle someone or provoke someone is wrong. When on Eid I get thousands of messages wishing me "Jai Shree Ram" instead of Eid Mubarak, I try not to respond. The only thing one can do to fan communal hate is respond to it.
It's also important to understand that many times these instances are instigated by people who do not belong to any party, neither us, nor the Opposition. These are people who just thought they could have some fun but end up sowing hate between parties and communities.
All of us studied in school that India is a secular nation. If it isn't so then what even is it anymore?
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