Moga: All eyes are on Sonu Sood as he strides into a public meeting in Khukhrana, a village in Punjab’s Moga constituency. Starstruck, people leap up in excitement. But this time, the film star is only essaying a supporting role, walking a step behind the hero — his sister, Malvika.
Malvika Sood Sachar is contesting the upcoming assembly polls from her hometown, Moga, on a Congress ticket. A social worker, she has been running a secondary school as well as a coaching class for the IELTS English language test in the town.
She provides the needy with free education, and also distributes stationery and books to children whose families can’t afford it. She has been engaged in charitable work for the past seven years, primarily in the fields of education and health.
Her candidature is in the shadow of her brother’s stardom. Sonu Sood has worked in cinema since 1999, having featured in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi films, and his philanthropic work during the Covid-19 lockdown has made him a household name.
Malvika says she’s used to hearing that she’s just a “dummy candidate” and that if she wins, the power of the Moga seat will actually sit in Mumbai.
It’s something she doesn’t shy from joking about. “I was born in Moga, studied in Moga and got married in Moga. But people say if I win, I’ll go to Bombay and live with Sonu Sood, my brother. Well, my father had established a clothing shop here by the name of Bombay Mill. I’ll be there. If anyone wants a discount, feel free to ask,” she says while addressing a gathering, as the crowd erupts into laughter.
If Sonu brings stardom, Malvika brings humour to the table. Her brother stands right behind her, cuing applause and laughter whenever necessary.
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Foray into politics
It was Sonu who encouraged his sister’s plunge into politics, “I’ve been offered opportunities by political parties for the past 10-12 years. But after the work we did during the lockdown… when I saw people’s pain, and the burden of responsibility that I felt I had on my shoulders just kept growing,” he says.
“Malvika politics mein aayi nahi laayi gayi,” Sonu adds. (Malvika didn’t come into politics, she was brought in.) “The work needed simply wasn’t happening in Moga. So we said, we’re helping so many people in the country, now it’s time to work at home,” he says.
It’s evident that Malvika’s campaign team makes a conscious effort to ensure that she is the centre of attraction. When she walks into a meeting, her brother is never by her side — he’s always a step behind. And whenever there’s a felicitation, Sonu leaves the stage to his sister.
But the Soods don’t fight shy of leveraging Sonu’s popularity for the campaign. For example, Malvika is known by her maiden name, Sood, and is using it in her campaign. “My full name is Malvika Sood Sachar, but to keep it short, let’s go with Malvika Sood,” she says while addressing the crowd.
In the meantime, Sonu greets his fans, obliges the crowd with photographs, and doesn’t forget to mention his philanthropic endeavours during the lockdown. “I didn’t ask for anyone’s religion when I arranged their transport home. I just helped. You saw it,” he reminds the gathering.
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According to Malvika, the biggest problem in her constituency is the main civil hospital that caters to around 42 villages. This is in very poor shape and is inadequate to give people the treatment they need, she says.
“While working during the lockdown, I saw that the hospital was inadequate for the people here. We had donated one ambulance for people to use free of cost to get to the hospital. We even got a team of experts from Mumbai to work to make the civil hospital better, but the paperwork we did has been lying in some corner somewhere,” she says.
Malvika adds that the education system is in tatters in her constituency, and needs work. “The people of the village we just visited told us that there are no teaching staff at the school there. Some schools only go up to the fifth or eighth grade, so students have to commute to schools as far as an hour away from their homes,” she says.
She also identifies unemployment as a major issue in Moga. “If I work on these issues, the common man’s life will get better,” she adds.
However, if these are Moga’s problems, they’ve persisted under the Congress’s watch. The party has won the constituency every year since 2007. In the last assembly election in 2017, the party’s candidate, Harjot Kamal Singh, won the seat by just over 2,000 votes. However, he defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 15 January after the Congress denied him a ticket in favour of Malvika.
When asked about limitations in her own party’s work, Malvika, who joined the Congress on 10 January, says she believes the party isn’t at fault, and the blame falls on the candidates it fielded.
“I have associated with the Congress because many families in the village are associated with this party. So I thought I would have more and more people who would be able to help me do my work. It depends on the individual and how much work they’re willing to put in. I will give my 200 per cent,” she says.
Last year, Sonu had met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, after which there was speculation that he might join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). There was an offer on the table, but he didn’t take it up, says Sonu.
“The Aam Aadmi Party had offered me some good posts. But when I decided I wouldn’t be the one getting into the political arena, I chose to decline it. Before making this decision, we spoke to a lot of people here in Moga, a Congress stronghold. Out of 46 villages, 70-80 per cent of sarpanches are from the Congress party. They wouldn’t have been cooperative had we aligned with another party,” he says.
The mood in Moga remains difficult to gauge. While there are staunch Congress supporters, ready to vote for whoever stands on the party’s ticket, anti-incumbency is also high. A villager says, “Aam Aadmi Party ki hawa hai, (there’s a wave in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party), but the Moga seat will go to the Congress. Sonu Sood is the boy who has made Moga proud in the world.”
On the other hand, Kulwinder, who works as a mechanic, is unimpressed by the Congress campaign. “They had nothing to show for their work, so they brought in a star. I’m not falling for it. Sonu ji is great, but I’m voting for the Aam Aadmi Party,” he says.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
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Source: The Print