Waving black flags at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and her subsequent arrest for what she calls a “democratic protest” opened the doors of mainstream politics for 25-year-old Pooja Shukla.
She is now the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate from Lucknow North and is among the youngest candidates in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
Ms Shukla hogged the limelight in June 2017 when she, along with 10 others, tried to stop Adityanath’s cavalcade on the Lucknow University Road and waved black flags to protest against government policies.
“On June 7, 2017, when Yogi was on his way to the Lucknow University campus to take part in `Hindi Swaraj Diwas’ event, students affiliated to All India Students Association, Students Federation of India and Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha sat on the road and blocked his convoy, showed him black flags and raised slogans against the state government,” Ms Shukla told PTI.
We were arrested and sent to jail the next day. This happened despite using democratic means to protest. I had never thought we would be arrested but it reaffirmed my faith in fighting for what is right, she said recalling the incident.
On being released from jail after 20 days, Pooja Shukla met SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and became the face of Samajwadi Chatra Sabha, the party’s student wing.
When asked why she chose the SP, Pooja said, “I was impressed by the political struggle of Mulayam Singh Yadav and policies of Akhilesh Yadav. Further, as a youngster who has been active in student politics, I find SP closer to democratic values, something which the BJP and its supporters are hell-bent on violating.” As Lucknow University in 2018 denied her admission for protesting against the chief minister, Pooja launched an indefinite hunger strike, forcing the university administration to buckle down and allow admission to all students.
As a politician, Ms Shukla said, she wants to continue fighting for the rights of youngsters and students.
“I believe that young people, especially the students, are kept away from politics in the name of education. This must be changed. Only a politically aware student can choose a better leader. This is how young people can change the politics of the country and take it towards development.” Ms Shukla had joined a group of women staging a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Clock Tower in Lucknow in January 2020.
While the SP gave the ticket to Shukla, Sadaf Jafar, another known face of the protest, was fielded by the Congress Party from Lucknow Central.
“Ever since coming to power, the BJP has passed laws which are undemocratic, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the farm laws. Democratic protests are the only means to force the government to repeal such laws. But the BJP has done everything to curb the very right of protest of the people,” Ms. Shukla said.
She has been actively campaigning in the Lucknow North constituency even before the SP gave her a ticket. She is pitted against BJP’s Neeraj Bora.
When asked how she was planning to take on the BJP, Ms. Shukla said, “I come from a middle-class family and lack resources to fight against a BJP candidate. However, with the support of the party and the local people, especially the youth, I believe I will be able to secure a victory.” Lucknow is going to the polls on February 23 in the fourth phase.
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