Friday 27 May 2022
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Shazia will be a nagging problem for AAP

As a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party, I observed that this woman — who was a known face by then, thanks to her regular appearances on television as India against Corruption’s spokesperson — was quite jovial and easy to mingle with, and yet I was not comfortable interacting with her. The reason was her naïve expressions — too risky for the party she was a prominent face of, and also risky for fellow activists spotted with her.

During our trip around the southern parts of the city one day, when Shazia Ilmi, Rajan Prakash and I were looking for a building to set up an office in Delhi, there were numerous instances that indicated the woman was not cut out for politics, no matter how much she was excited about it. Recently on social media I compared her with Anurag Kejriwal, former president of the Delhi unit of Lok Satta Party, expelled after being stung by a television channel. Both are sitting ducks for sting operations — so clumsy they are with their words and actions. The day the film shot by a hidden camera at the Ashoka Hotel was broadcast, former AAP colleagues, who are now cross with me for leaving the party and campaigning against it, quipped on Twitter whether I was going to form a new party with the disgraced LSP man. Why? Because I happened to attend a few events organised by the LSP where we were seen sharing the stage. Ilmi can make a party colleague an object of derision — if not suspicion — one day similarly.

That Ilmi was a rank newbie was evident when I told her society had become too corrupt for our anti-corruption plank to succeed, and that we might at best leave a mark in Delhi but not beyond. I told her the socialist image we were building up, against the wishes of members like me, would make it difficult for the brand to look distinct when we would compete with the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh or the Janata Dal (United) of Bihar. Are the people discerning enough to appreciate the difference between their socialism and ours? The poser was thrown at her with the expectation of a rebuttal. But Ilmi despaired as a result. So easily I could convince her that our brand-building exercise was all wrong!

“Phir kaise hoga?” Ilmi asked innocently, wanting to know how the party would then succeed in electoral politics. Clearly, Ilmi was neither a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who could insist the party’s ideology was right, nor was she given to saccharine sophistry of the Yogendra Yadav kind.

In another instance, when she appeared on a television channel to express outrage over a minor’s rape, I texted her that the victim should not be named on the show. On receiving the message, in a bid to urge other panelists not to do so, she actually named the poor little girl!

Within the party last year, for months the leadership tossed her around, or she hopped around, trying to find her relevance outside television studios. She would call me over the phone once in a while, complaining that Sanjay Singh was wielding too much of clout in the party, and Arvind Kejriwal, “who is like a brother to me”, was hardly in control of things. Once she complained that IaC’s media manager Shivendra Singh Chauhan, whom I was not acquainted with till then, had to leave what was referred to as Team Anna because Kumar Vishwas used to heckle him. Was she looking for a shoulder to cry on? The tenor of her speech did suggest so.

This year, she indeed complained publicly when she was first denied a Lok Sabha election ticket from Delhi and then was asked to fight against Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli. In fact, the Vidhan Sabha nomination from Ramakrishna Puram came about as the thought it was an impossible seat to win. She missed that by a whisker. She actually wanted to fight from Greater Kailash II where she lives, but was told it was a BJP bastion. That the AAP assessment was either wrong or they lied to Ilmi to get rid of her was proven when the party candidate defeated Vijay Kumar Malhotra’s son from the so-called saffron fortress.

Once Rajan Prakash, a former Sanghi, small-time journalist who used to help the with its press releases in Hindi for a salary from Kejriwal’s NGO PCRF, and who suffered the ignominious defeat by the largest margin from Kirari in the Delhi Assembly elections, confided in me that Ilmi was a complete dud. He said the only saving grace about her was that she was not cunning unlike most others in the party. “Shazia would never conspire against anybody,” Prakash opined.

Of course, Indians are sick and tired of scheming politicians. But does it mean they must be replaced by intellectually challenged rookies?

The sting operation aired on 21 November 2013 cut a very sorry figure of the kind of representatives the has. A stranger approaches Ilmi with the request of using her reputation as an activist to get even with a rival in the profession. And the AAP’s pretty face obliges! Forget about there being no deal struck after that, how can persons who just forayed into politics with the alibi that they wished to rid the country of corruption, and would hence be subjected to intense scrutiny, afford to entertain such an indecent proposal? Why did Ilmi not shoo away the woman right then? Why was she seen giggling her way into the conversation thereafter?

Why did Ilmi giggle again when Rajeev Laxman, infamous for his brutish behavior on MTV, used a cussword for Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde while campaigning for the party? Yet another embarrassing moment!

The list of indiscretions is long. Before Lokpal became a buzzword, thanks to the inexplicable coverage media gave to the self-styled IaC, Ilmi was hobnobbing with the Congress, and happily getting her photographs clicked with known faces of the country’s oldest party. Her estranged brother Rashid Ilmi uploaded on Facebook her photo with Sheila Dikshit that was snapped on one such occasion, and it became a rallying point for BJP supporters active in the social networking site that day.

Arif Mohammad Khan, the politician famous for revolting against the Rajiv Gandhi Government in whose Cabinet he was a minister, is married to Reshma Arif, elder sister of the subject of this article. He was a patron of Youth for Democracy from where senior journalist Sudesh Verma and I had joined the AAP. He has said a couple of times he finds Shazia stupid. And he does not trust Kejriwal because, in his words, the convener “looks for bearded Muslims for his brand of politics, not those like me who do not come across as typical Muslims”.

That assessment gels with what we found in the latest video, where the representative is seen blatantly exhorting the Muslim gathering she was interacting with to turn communal. Later she told journalists, by “communal” she meant “of a certain community”. Why would they then vote for Kejriwal that she was heard urging them to do? We didn’t know Kejriwal had converted! Well, it shows her reasoning is not quite sound.

Sirf News does not believe in dragging a politician’s personal affairs into the public domain unless it’s a case of conflict of interest. However, that is a media ethic. There is no assurance that Ilmi and the ’s rivals would let such opportunities pass. We have no interest in the property dispute the Ilmis are involved in. I challenged Rashid about the timing of release of a video, where the Ilmis are found yelling at each other. It was uploaded on Facebook a few months before the Delhi Assembly elections, making the media speculate that the act could be politically motivated. He said, “I will cry when I’m slapped, not hold back tears till some event is over.”

Alleged letter from Naushaba Ilmi expressing the fear that her children Shazia and Irshad pose a threat to her life

Alleged letter from Naushaba Ilmi expressing the fear that her children Shazia and Irshad pose a threat to her life

Complaint lodged to the police based on the alleged threat to Naushaba's life posed by Shazia and Irshad

Complaint lodged to the police based on the alleged threat to Naushaba’s life posed by Shazia and Irshad

Be that as it may, can the threat to Naushaba’s life from Shazia and Irshad, as alleged by the duo’s mother, be brushed aside? The issue transcends the private realm of the public figure. If a person intimidates someone, her place is not in the legislature; she must be behind the bars if the allegation is true.

Rashid told me the video of the family feud was shot by him. Since it wasn’t a hidden camera, couldn’t Shazia have been more careful in her conduct? That was yet another instance of her silliness.

Do I personally think Ilmi would kill her mother? No. But my hunch is not the law of the land. In any case, I do feel the lady is prone to intemperate comments. And that is something to watch out for the party she belongs to. In all likelihood, there will be more occasions when she will embarrass her party. It is equally probable that the party is looking for ways to do away with her. As such, a defeat from the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha constituency would mean two defeats on debut: devastating for her career in politics. And on 22 April, unlike after the sting in November last, the party did not come to her defence. Seems the party is readying the epitaph of its regular, -speaking, female face on television screen!


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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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