Rare sight in remote state

Rare sight in remote state

In the heat and dust of India's election battle, a shy young woman was always seen beside her politician husband.

She smiled more than she talked, meeting voters with the traditional greeting of Namaste, pressing both palms together with a slight bow.

Elderly women were even seen blessing her by placing their hands on her head.

In the north-eastern state of Assam, well known for its tea, British-born Elizabeth Colebourn Gogoi, 29, was making waves as a star campaigner.

Her husband, Mr Gaurav Gogoi, was contesting for a seat in the Indian general elections held earlier this week.

Braving the heat, Mrs Gogoi accompanied her husband on the election trail for weeks wearing a traditional sari.

In broken Assamese, the local language, she canvassed the villagers to vote for her husband.

And it seemed to work. Some voters were taken by what they called her "charm".

University student Sharmila Mahanta said: "She (Mrs Gogoi) looks like a Hollywood star. She is gorgeous."

Another voter, Atul Das, said: "We have voted for generations for the Congress (Party), which is a secular and cosmopolitan party. Elizabeth's presence by Gaurav's side proves it."

Mr Gogoi, 32, is the son of Mr Tarun Gogoi, a senior Congress Party leader and chief minister of Assam for three terms.

The son is fighting his first election to become a member of the Indian parliament.

Mr Gaurav Gogoi said: "My wife was my star campaigner. People listened to Elizabeth very attentively and appreciated her efforts to learn the Assamese language.

"People have genuine affection for her."

He added: "Voters realised that she is really interested in Assam's economic development and wants to work for the empowerment of the rural population."

Other than Assamese, she is also learning Hindi, India's most widely spoken language.

The Gogois' New Delhi wedding last October was a glittering, high-profile affair.

Hosted by the Assam chief minister, the wedding reception was attended by scores of VVIPs, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Gaurav Gogoi has a master's degree in public administration from New York University while his wife has a master's degree in international political economy from the London School of Economics.

They met in New York in 2010 while interning with the sanctions committee of United Nations Secretariat.

Since the marriage, she has been dividing her time between Guwahati, the capital of Assam, and New Delhi, where she works for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, a non-profit organisation supporting climate compatible development policies and plans.

Mr Rajibaksha Rakhshit, Guwahati-based correspondent of the Anand Bazar Patrika newspaper said the visual impact of Mrs Gogoi's campaigning should strike a chord.

He said: "A blonde canvassing for votes in the boiling heat in a poverty-stricken, far-flung corner of India is a stunning sight.

"Elizabeth followed her husband virtually like a shadow during the poll campaign. It was an intriguing - and endearing - sight." Has her charm worked?

We will have to wait until May 16, when the results will be announced, to find out.

tnp@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 12 in The New Paper.

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