If contesting elections is the quick fix lateral entry to a career in politics, former model and Miss India Grand International Anukriti Gusain has already made her first move.
The just held elections for the Uttarakhand assembly was certainly different for this 28-year-old former software engineer, born and brought up in the hills of Lansdowne, 155 km from the state capital Dehradun—a constituency that is considered a bastion of her father-in-law Harak Singh Rawat, a former minister.
From donning several beauty crowns on her head, wearing best outfits at pageants, promoting commercial brands and on-screen appearances as TV show host, she has suddenly changed her outlook. As the Congress candidate, she was mostly seen aggressively campaign in salwar-kameez, with matching dupattas draped elegantly over her head.
Her entry into politics appears to be aimed at inheriting the political legacy of Rawat, and thus couldn’t have been a sudden decision. In fact, Uttarakhand has been witness to her rise in public life for quite some time now. She is now being seen as the new star politician—bringing beauty and brains to the show.
Right from the days when she handled the campaign for her father-in-law, or ran a NGO for women empowerment in the hills, or set up computer education centres for especially underprivileged children, or organised free medical camps and distributed Covid relief material during the pandemic—Anukriti has been hogging the limelight, like in her days in beauty pageants.
“For me, every job is a mission. Uttarakhand women are tough and hardworking, but their condition in rural areas is miserable. I feel blessed to have risen to such a level that I can give a voice to them, bring a change in their condition by hand-holding those in need. You can’t imagine the health issues they face. Many women have died during pregnancies, unable to reach hospitals,” she says.
Anukriti also speaks of children in Lansdowne who have never seen computers, while the entire Pauri Garhwal belt struggles with poor connectivity—in both roads and digital communication. These are focus areas she highlights as her top priority if elected, she explains in fluent Garhwali that endears her to the locals.
Beginning her career as a software developer, Anukriti’s first steps in the glamour world were in 2013, when she was crowned Femina Miss India Delhi 2013—a regional pageant that took her to the international ranking after being one of the five finalists at Femina Miss India 2013 held in Mumbai.
After a stint in TV anchoring, Anukriti chose to return to the hills and set up her NGO—Mahila Utthan Evam Bal Kalyan Sansthan. In the past three years, she claims to have imparted free training in soft skills to 14,000 women in fields like food processing, agriculture, handicrafts, floriculture and hospitality. The NGO has also been marketing products made by these women’s self-help groups.
“A year ago, we also launched a brand—Yellow Hills—to commercially market the products by setting up ventures to add value to products sourced from across the state, particularly the hilly region. This will give national and international visibility to Uttarakhand. Women associated with my NGO will be immensely benefited,” she explains.
Anukriti acknowledges the role of women in Uttarakhand—the state where women led the Chipko movement to save trees—and the aggressive role they played in the movement to demand a separate state.
But she admits not much has changed in the condition of women in the 22 years since the formation of the state. “Being young and someone who intimately knows the issues being faced by women here, I have promised to be their voice of transformation. If I have chosen to enter politics, it’s with the simple objective of making Lansdowne a model of development and women’s empowerment. I’ll show the world what an empowered young woman can do for the community, state and nation,” she boasts.
Yet all eyes are on how election results shape-up, in the state where politicians like her father-in-law are known to jump ships. This election is a test of Rawat’s popularity, after he was expelled from BJP ahead of the polls, apparently after he began lobbying for a ticket for Anukriti.
Claiming it is opposed to dynastic politics, BJP did not take much time to show him the door, when he and Anukriti joined Congress. Rawat is not in the fray this time, so he is backing a bid for his daughter-in-law.
She defends his action, asserting, “My father-in-law wasn’t ejected because he was asking for my ticket, but other reasons. He had been raising his voice against BJP’s misrule and declining popularity graph, non-fulfilment of poll promises and lacklustre rule. They (BJP) never valued him or acted on his advice. My entry to politics is a surprise, but it’s going to be fruitful for the women of Uttarakhand.”
A fitness freak, Anukriti is also into meditation, yoga, adventure sports, trekking and skiing. She has been educating rural women about health and personal hygiene issues, distributing sanitary napkins among girls and training women in practising organic farming.
But many believe she got into the limelight mainly due to her glamorous image and her father-in-law’s prominence as a politician. “Her efforts with her NGO and now entry into politics will add to the glory of women leaders in the state,” feels Rajesh Pandey, a Dehradun-based senior web-journalist.