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Lucknow: The Samajwadi Party (SP) has fielded student leader Pooja Shukla, who had stopped chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s convoy in 2017, from the Lucknow (North) assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh. Shukla was also one of the prominent faces of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protest.
She was named as the SP candidate from the Lucknow North seat on Tuesday. Former minister Abhishek Mishra had contested this seat on the SP ticket consecutively in 2012 and 2017; he won the seat in 2012 but lost it to BJP candidate Neeraj Bora in 2017. The BJP has fielded Bora again this time.
Many believe that Shukla chose the Lucknow North seat because it has a sizeable Muslim population that has been loyal to the SP since it was founded by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1992. Shukla herself is also popular among Muslims, specifically women, since the anti-CAA protests.
Shukla, who celebrated her 25th birthday on January 6, hails from the ‘upper’-caste Brahmin community, which has substantial strength in Lucknow North. In the 2012 assembly elections, the Brahmins swayed towards the SP candidate, Mishra.
The student leader had begun her campaign even before getting the ticket. She previously spoke to The Wire and revealed that she was in contact with party leaders and was looking to get the ticket from Lucknow North.
To mobilise women on the issue of atrocities, Shukla organised a programme in memory of the Hathras victim in December last year. During the programme, she slammed the Yogi Adityanath government, terming it a “dictatorial regime”, and exhorted the women to unite against the ruling BJP.
In 2017, just a few months after the formation of the Adityanath government in the state, the students of Lucknow University (LU) launched an agitation against the fee hike. The chief minister was on his way to LU to take part in an event on June 7, 2017.
Students from various student organisations, including the All India Students Association (AISA), the Students Federation of India (SFI), and the Samajwadi Chatra Sabha, demonstrated on the road, blocking the chief minister’s convoy a few metres away from the LU gate and waving black flags.
Shukla and some other students jumped in front of the Adityanath’s convoy and stopped it in the middle of the road. They chanted slogans against the BJP government.
That was the first time Shukla was in the limelight. The state police arrested her and sent her to jail for violating a number of strict laws. After 20 days, Pooja stepped out of jail after getting bail on two sureties of Rs 40,000 each.
Later on, the LU administration withheld her entrance exam result for the Master of Arts in Women’s Studies. Shukla began a hunger strike against it on the LU campus, and many prominent people rallied behind her.
Shukla also dissented against the government on the CAA and participated in various anti-government protests. She was a popular face of the anti-CAA protest that was held at Ghanta Ghar (Hussainabad), Lucknow after being inspired by the Shaheen Bagh protest. She was at the protest site from the onset of the agitation on the evening of January 17, 2019.
She once again made headlines when the state police arrested her from the protest site on the eve of Republic Day in 2020 and sent her to jail, allegedly for violating Section 144 CrPC.
After the declaration of her name as an SP candidate, Shukla told the media that this election is her political debut. She went on to say, “I will continue my fight against injustice, and contesting the election will strengthen my struggle for students, women, and other deprived people.”
Pooja also said that “the BJP government sent me to jail several times and filed dozens of cases against me, but I am not afraid and am ready to challenge the saffron camp in an electoral battle. …If they have muscle and money, I also have the support of the people of Lucknow.”
Women’s rights activists expressed hope that Shukla will work for people of all walks of life as she emerged from social movements. Professor Roop Rekha Verma, the former chancellor of LU, said that “it is appreciable that women’s participation has enhanced in electoral politics”.
“I hope she will work for communal harmony and help to eradicate the atmosphere of hatred that has been spread by the saffron hate mongers,” said a former vice-chancellor who had supported Shukla during her struggle for admission to a postgraduate course at LU.
Another social activist, Meena Singh, said it is expected that now the voice for women’s rights will echo in the assembly. As earlier, it seems that the opposition is weak, but now the contest has become interesting as the BJP’s principal rival, SP, has fielded a candidate like Shukla, Singh said.
Political commentators opined that giving tickets to people who had participated in social movements would encourage social activists. A veteran journalist, Sharat Pradhan, said, “Earlier political parties ignored the social movements at the time of elections, but the trend of giving a chance to social activists in electoral politics sets a new narrative, which strengthens the social movements in the country.”