Newly elected Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan Ruhi has been in the limelight ever since she was fielded by her party from West Bengal’s Basirhat. Nusrat, who took oath on Tuesday after her marriage to a Kolkata-based businessman in Turkey, spoke to CNN-News18 about her new role, women empowerment and the backlash she received for her sartorial choices. Edited Excerpts:
Q. It is customary for members to greet the Speaker on the podium but you decided to touch Om Birla’s feet. What exactly was going on in your mind?
A: It was my first day in Parliament and I have been taught in school and by my parents that work is worship. Many people would not have noticed that my friend (MP Mimi Chakraborty) and I touched the stairs of Parliament before entering. We are the youngest and it will be a great learning opportunity with all dignitaries sitting in front of us. I am looking forward to be guided well and I am all set to learn, observe and work for my people.
Before we start anything, we always seek blessings from god and the people of India as well. That was going on in my mind when I thought of touching the Speaker’s feet.
Q: Your career has seen several bold moves. You moved out of the comfort of cinema to the heat of public life. Your marriage is also very unconventional. What is the next bold step that we expect from you for your own constituency and India?
A: I never think I am taking bold steps. I have always followed my heart and done what is good for me and never harmed anybody. When I was doing films, I was doing good to others as well as to myself. So it was like a win-win situation for all.
Similarly, when I came out to meet people in the heat and worked at the grassroots level, I realised there is lot more I can deliver for the people in my constituency and make a difference in the overall livelihood of the people living in India. It’s a great opportunity and cause for me and I am working towards it. It gives me a lot of honour and strength from within.
Also, I am glad that everybody is happy about my marriage, which was a personal decision. Lot of people asked me that I have 'sindoor' on my head, if I have converted because I married a Hindu. But I think we all have the right to choose our religion. I have chosen Islam by birth and will follow it but I respect all religions and their rituals. My husband and I follow our respective religions and I don’t think this is a bold step; it is natural.
Q: What pushed you towards taking the political plunge? Who was your inspiration? [West Bengal Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee is one woman leader who actually gave the highest number of tickets to women, and you are one of the MPs now.
In Bengal, we have always believed in women empowerment and my first vote had gone to our chief minister. She has always been a big inspiration for all women in Bengal. I have been inspired by her fighting spirit; she never gives up easily and somehow that touches my heart. Politics was a very strong decision I had to take. Once I took the decision, I made up my mind that there is nothing better than serving your people and country. This gives me lot of honour and somehow, I have started respecting myself that I have the opportunity to work for my people and for their betterment.
Q: The 17th Lok Sabha has most women MPs, 12 West Bengal MPs are women. Do you think as a woman MP, you have greater responsibility but the representation is still marginal? Would you say that a woman in Parliament, in public life still has a long way to go?
A: Let’s not think of it that way; at least we took the initiative. I don’t want to think of the future. Obviously, I expect more empowerment. But we have come a long way. From my state, we have 12 of 42 [women MPs]. It was not there earlier. So we are promoting women… being feminist, because that means we want equality. So, I am excited and looking forward to the numbers getting better in the near future.
Q: Most actors are not seen as serious politicians or they fail to make such an image. What is your own assessment of actors as politicians?
A: I would not like to comment on other actor-turned-politicians but in my case, I can say acting is my profession and I haven’t given up on that. It’s because of acting that I stand where I am today. I have taken politics seriously as well. People have elected me as MP and they have a lot of expectations from me. So I have to keep the faith and fulfil the responsibility I have. I hope I can do the best for them.
Q: There is some kind of resemblance in acting and politics.
A: I too have found similarity as films provide lot of happiness and entertainment to people. Now that I am working in politics, I am giving them a better life, thus also providing happiness but on a bigger scale. Somewhere, you can spot the similarity. Like when you say ‘abhineta’ (actor) and neta (politician), there is a difference of only ‘abhi’ in between
Q: You and Mimi [Chakraborty] have been trolled. Did it come as a surprise for you or were you expecting the backlash based on your sartorial choices much before you spoke?
A: I do not keep track of how many times I have been trolled. I feel this is a kind of love they shower on us. Basically, it is love in disguise. They probably like to hate or love you in a way so that you reply to their comments, just to grab attention. They are basically of no party, not of ours or opposition. They are basically nobody, just longing for attention.
If you don’t give them attention, they will shut up in some time so I’ve never paid heed to negativity in my life. I've always thought that one’s work or actions speak for oneself. My actions will speak for me. So when people were talking about me when I got elected as MP, I chose not to react. I had won the elections, they had nothing more to say. So they had to come up with something new to bog me down. It is their job, they will do theirs and I will do mine.
Q: Basirhat is a constituency you represent, and you won with a huge margin. Did the acceptability come as a surprise for you?
A: The margin was a bit of a surprise. I did not think of the margin when I was going and appealing to the people because I did not come from politics and when I entered Basirhat, I had entered as an actor. People would come down to see the actress Nusrat Jahan but after a week or 10 days, when I came back home post campaigning, I felt like I belonged to their family.
They (voters) would come and complain to me, shower me with their love, few would bless me or even scold me; just as you would behave with your family. This made me realise that I am acceptable to them. I have only spoken about secularism, humanity and love because I want to restore peace in Basirhat. I want to give people livelihood because people in Bengal live a simple life, they want food, work and a decent living for their family. I promised to provide that and I am working towards it.
Q: Last question. One thing actor-politicians are associated with is that they don’t participate in parliamentary proceedings and rank low on attendance. How are you going to change that?
A: I am going to raise a question in Parliament provided I have an opportunity because my people need help and I am here to represent them. I am here to work for my people so whatever is required, will be done.