They called her a sari-draper to ridicule her, but that didn’t affect one-time designer Shaina NC, one of the most powerful politicos in the country today. She tells Reema Behl how she learned her lessons and why she is here to stay
As I waited for Shaina NC to meet me at her place, located in Mumbai’s famous Malabar Hill area, I thought of ways in which I’d begin the interview. What would be the first thing that I’d say to her, would I require a ‘breaking-the-ice’ moment? I generally play this little game before an interview. I imagine various ways in which I’d begin it and then see which one of my imaginary beginnings is the closest to reality. With Shaina NC, however, it never felt like an interview. She greeted me the moment I was ushered into her living room. Seated with some party workers, she was discussing her upcoming travel plans. Once she was done with them, she came to me. “Before we begin, please have some sweets for Makar Sankranti. I am really sorry to have kept you waiting. I have a busy day ahead. Would you mind if we continue the interview in my car?” Thus began my journey across the city of Mumbai as I accompanied Shaina to her various engagements and learnt firsthand about how busy a single day in the life of a politician can be. Through the day, Shaina juggled phone calls, attended four events, tackled questions patiently from people who thronged the entrances of whichever place she went to and updated her social media accounts after every activity.
I’m tempted to call you a superwoman, Shaina!
(Smiles) I feel burnt out sometimes. My mind works 24/7 and that gets tough. I am on a special diet right now because otherwise I feel really fatigued. Every single day of my life has panned out like this. Sometimes, I feel I need to take a break, but it’s a constant struggle between moving fast and wanting to slow down.
I see that you dedicate a great deal of your time to social media. How do you handle the trolls?
Earlier, I didn’t think social media was important but our prime minister has shown the country how crucial it is for politicians. As for the trolls, they would affect me initially but now I simply ignore them. People want to be heard, they want to feel that they have a voice, which must be represented and sometimes they go overboard with it.
It has been 12 years since you began your political journey. What has been the toughest moment for you?
I have taken a few wrong decisions; otherwise I would have been catapulted into a different space altogether by now. In politics, you can see the crab mentality being played out—the moment you go up, they pull you down. So, you have to be very strong. Here, nobody is a friend and nobody is an enemy permanently. Earlier, I would take people at face value but I learnt my lessons along the way!
And what has been your biggest lesson?
I had to accept the fact that this is a male dominated space, no matter what you say. Women are just tokens. However, if a woman gets the opportunity to perform in this space, the sky is the limit. I worked really hard to reach where I am today. I am the only woman to hold the position of the party treasurer, that too of a state like Maharashtra. This is also a position where people are gunning for you, so you have to use your power judiciously.
Has power changed you as a person?
I have a few of my father’s traits (former mayor of Mumbai, Nana Chudasama). Like him, I am a people’s person. Intrinsically, I don’t have many enemies. But in the space of politics, there are lots of people who treat you as a threat. I am a very sensitive person, though, and that is rare among politicians.
Do you think you were seen as a threat or regarded as a token?
People used to say, ‘she just knows how to drape saris, what can she do’. But I knew that I am here to stay. I worked as a fashion designer when I was 18 and made a lot of money at such a young age. Being professionally sound helped me establish myself as a politician. Politics is about giving to the people, not taking from them.
Why did you decide to join politics? Your father was good friends with Bal Thackeray. Didn’t they expect you to join the Shiv Sena?
Somehow, I always knew it was coming. The first person I spoke to about this was my father. He said that I should take an informed decision based on research. So, I went from office to office and decided to join the BJP. It was the only party that answered all my questions. I asked them about the Uniform Civil Code, Article 370, etc. In fact, today, I can say that I am proud to be associated with the RSS, even more than the BJP.
Why is that?
There is a perception that the RSS is hardcore and right-wing. That is all nonsense! It is a nationalistic organisation that does not believe in propaganda. You can keep talking about them, but the pracharaks have given up all the worldly pleasures just to work for the country. Do you realise what a sacrifi ce that is? Under the RSS, you have almost 100 splintered groups out of which BJP is just one. I actually feel blessed that there are organisations like the RSS contributingto independent India.
How do you explain people like Mohan Bhagwat?
If you meet Mohan Bhagwat, I challenge you to not be impressed with his thought process. People just go by what they hear in the media. Don’t cherry-pick statements. He has never said that women should stay at home. I don’t think you need to be ashamed of the fact that there’s an ideology to guide you.
And you believe in that ideology?
Yes, I do. The RSS does not play votebank politics. Even the prime minister is an RSS pracharak and that is why he is so disciplined.
Do you recall your first interaction with Narendra Modi?
It was in 2007. I was helping the party during the Gujarat elections, going from one venue to the other, speaking about Narendra Modi. One fine day, I got a call from him. I was surprised. He said, “I want to thank you for all your efforts.” I have always admired him, and I was absolutely elated after the call (smiles).
What are the key projects that you are working on now?
As part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, right now, my main aim is to create awareness about clean public toilets and sanitation in Mumbai and Pune. I will be implementing the Swachh Majha Maharashtra project with the help of firms under their corporate social responsibility involvement. There is a need to create awareness about sanitation, which is important, especially for women, who contract so many diseases due to the lack of a proper sanitation system.
As the national spokesperson, how do you manage to do all your research?
I read a lot. Ensuring that there are no slip-ups or goof-ups is a must! Once at an event I said something about Mayawati being a ‘he in a she’. I meant that she is a toughie, but it was taken in the wrong sense and became a huge, huge controversy.
Why is it that women are asked to choose between marriage and career? Were you ever asked to make such a choice or made to feel guilty for not being there ‘enough’ for your kids?
I have grown up with a working mother. I take great pride in the fact that she worked so hard. Today, my family understands that I am going to be busy. After the 26/11 attacks, everyone was going on and on about how bad politicians are. At a similar discussion in my daughter’s class, she said, “My mum is a politician and she is not bad. She goes to JJ Hospital every day to help the victims.” That, for me, was one of the biggest rewards. My son is a great Rahul Gandhi fan! I feel that he says it to get my attention. The biggest support though comes from my husband Manish Munot. There are few Indian men who can take it if their wife is famous. He believes that you should do whatever gives you happiness.