LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh -- When HuffPost India sat down with Congress Party's Uttar Pradesh chief minister candidate Sheila Dikshit this weekend, it didn't go very far as the veteran leader got upset with questions about her health.
Dikshit, a three-time chief minister of Delhi, asked us to stop spreading rumours when this reporter posed questions about her falling ill while campaigning.
She is reported to have become unwell while on a bus tour in July, which she says was viral fever, and then again in August, which she refuted. Reports of both instances were carried by several publications and not refuted by the Congress Party.
The age and health of those running for office are subject of scrutiny. In the United States, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, 68, is being asked to release her medical record over her perceived lack of stamina and ill-health. During the 2008 race, John McCain, who was 72 at the time, released his medical records after his age and health became an issue.
In India too, the age and health of several politicians, including Manmohan Singh, who was 81 when he retired as Prime Minister, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was 80 after finishing his term as PM in 2004, have been the topic of public discourse.
While her chief competitors are younger (43-year-old Akhilesh Yadav and 60-year-old Mayawati), Dikshit believes that her long experience in governance will win the day.
At the conclusion of the interview, we came into the lobby of the hotel, where several Congress Party workers and members of the public were waiting. Here, Dikshit once again told this reporter "not to spread rumours" about her health.
Here are edited excerpts:
Since the campaign started, you've been taken unwell twice, how are you coping?
I haven't been taken unwell twice.
It was reported....
Papers can say what they like. I fell sick in the beginning. I got viral, which is spreading all over. After that nothing has happened. Suppose, I do fall ill. I'm saying suppose because all of you want me to fall ill.
That's not true...
No, of course you do. You have nothing to say about me except that she is ill. Why am I ill?
It's a question...
I'm giving you an answer, I'm giving you an angry answer. Don't spread rumours. I'm perfectly all right.
You were supposed to address a rally in Lucknow, which you did not. It was reported that you were taken unwell in Kushinagar.
I wasn't unwell in Kushinagar, I did the whole of Kushinagar. Have you come to interview me for my illness?
Let's move on...
No, I want to ask you this simple thing because all motivated people have nothing against me other than thinking that I'm ill. I'm sorry, but I'm really angry about this. I was not supposed to attend Lucknow meeting. I'm supposed to be on this caravan and I'm doing it except the first one when I had a viral. Hundreds of thousands and millions of people get viral. I can't get a viral. I feel very angry, I feel disappointed, and I feel disgusted. I don't feel like carrying on with the interview.
Please do not get angry. One of the concerns is your age, and what vitality can you bring to the campaign. How do you respond to that?
Time will tell what vitality I can bring. I can't say it right now. Lots of people have dropped out. I haven't dropped out even once. I am 78-years-old, but I'm an active 78-year-old, that's all.
Why should UP vote for you?
People will vote for me for my record. People are voting for a government and they would want government which functions. And the governments that I have run function.
You are currently dealing with the water tanker scam....
There is no water scam. The water tankers are still being used by the current government. There is no scam whatsoever because whatever decisions are taken by the government and in jal board are taken by at least 20, 30 people including engineers, including member of the Assembly, including member of the MCD, including the chief secretary, including the finance secretary. Now if something has gone wrong then it should be probed properly. As the head, I don't have to chose who it is to be given, the officers do that. That's all.
When is Priyanka Gandhi going to join the campaign?
It depends on when she feels like, it is her decision. Congress would like her to come. Rahul is doing very well now, so let's see when she comes because it will add another feather to the cap.
How is Rahul Gandhi handling the campaign?
Things have been successful.He has touched the heart of the agriculturists, the farmer. Yesterday, when he went to Ayodhya, he touched the heart of the people.
So, what will Priyanka Gandhi add to the campaign?
She will add to the campaign her personality.
Congress has been out of power for 27 years in UP, what is the party doing differently, this time?
We are reaching out to people like we have never done before, and it is having a huge impact.
How do you know it is having a huge impact?
Because of the numbers that come, their eyes, their enthusiasm to see the Congress. If they were not interested to see the Congress, they wouldn't be there. Every ten minutes we are stopped by the people.
Could you talk a little bit more about how you are connecting with the people.
Everyday we are traveling about 150 to 200 miles. If 10 stops are scheduled, these become 20 because there are so many people.
One of the reasons that you were chosen is because the Congress Party's strategy is to woo the Brahmins. Does that make you uncomfortable, to be chosen for your caste.
We are an all inclusive party. I happen to be a Brahmin, very good, Brahmin leadership is being welcome. But as a Congress philosophy and my own philosophy, we carry everyone along.
The fact that caste is still such a big part of electoral politics.
It is a reality that you can't escape.
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