Ruby Phugat Yadav, who has several beauty titles to her credit and is now a member of the executive committee of the BJP's Delhi wing, says it is easy to let power go to your head in politics, but one has to be professional.
It's the golden-blonde hair that first catches your eye. In fact, it has become something of a calling card for the 38-year-old. "People sometimes refer to me as 'woh sunhere baalon waali madam' (the madam with golden hair). Once I tried hazel, but everyone disliked it so much that I had to change it in two days," she says.
Ruby is a member of the executive committee of the Delhi state BJP but has many other claims to fame. Chief among these are her beauty titles — Mrs India Queen 2013 and Mrs Universe-West Asia 2015. In her long list of achievements is also an award for 'world peace' from the 'International Human Rights and Peace Union'.
If you live in Delhi or the neighbouring areas, together known as the National Capital Region (NCR), chances are you would have come across Ruby's billboards, especially near IGI Airport. Showing her draped in bright sarees with a BJP sash, the golden hair ever prominent, the billboards don’t say what she does but do generate curiosity. A new breed of politician for the people’s republic.
As far as politics goes, Ruby is a novice. Her journey started only in 2014 when she contested the Lok Sabha election as an Independent candidate from South Delhi. She finished last but managed five percent — a little over 56,000 — of the vote.
"I have never done anything on a small scale. People spend years building up a career that leads to a Lok Sabha election but I covered a 20-year gap in just one leap," she says from her well-appointed office in Rajokri, an urban village that straddles Delhi and Gurgaon. Interestingly, the office is pinned as "Ruby Yadav's BJP Office" on Google Maps, which is also how she directs first-time visitors.
The crown affair
It is not easy to pigeonhole Ruby in any category of political aspirants in the country. She is a Jat woman, married into another community (her husband is a Yadav) with a rather pronounced taste in clothes and jewellery.
She acknowledges the deep-rooted patriarchy in both her communities but after jettisoning her ambitions — Ruby wanted to be a beauty contestant in her 20s — she wants to seize the day now.
It all began when she was crowned Mrs India Queen 2013. The space for beauty pageants for married women in India seems to be crowded, with several contests, each with a grand title like Mrs India Earth, Queen of Substance, or simply Mrs India."The crown made me feel that I had everything I wanted, so naturally then I wanted more," she says. She doesn’t have a coherent explanation for why she turned to politics, except for the burning desire to do "something big".
Rajokri is one of the 135 urban villages in the NCR, flanked by farmhouses and barely two kilometres from the busy National Highway 8. The expansion of IGI Airport and emergence of Gurgaon as a technology hub turned humble farmers into millionaires as land prices soared.
Most urban villages in NCR started out as Jat- and Gujjar-dominated zones, followed by Yadavs in the pecking order. Rajokri is no different, with Ruby's husband's family — Yadavs — holding sway here. In fact, she kick-started her Lok Sabha campaign with a panchayat in Rajokri.
Ruby is well aware of how Indian politics tends to slot women candidates in the beti-bahu (daughter and daughter-in-law) category, and plays on it. "Main Jaaton ki beti hun, Ahiron ki bahu hoon (I am a Jat daughter but married into the Ahir community). I understand not just their concerns as a community, but also the challenges of daily life. I spend my own money in clusters like Sangam Vihar and Neb Sarai. I meet people every day, carry their complaints to the office. In politics, it is easy to let power go to your head but one has to be professional," she reasons.
The term 'urban village' was first used in the Delhi Masterplan of 1962. It referred to villages outside the walled city, scattered all across the region we know today as Delhi. As agricultural land shrank, some villages were shifted while others remained on the frontlines of the battle against a fast-encroaching city.
Delays in notification and lack of understanding of construction rules under the Delhi Masterplan 2021 have left these villages with unplanned and unrestricted growth of both residential and commercial establishments. Rent from these establishments is the primary source of income for most families; there is no pressing need for the men to go out and seek jobs.
Breaking the mould
For deeply patriarchal and traditional communities where masculinity was often defined through physical labour in the field, the loss of agricultural land combined with indolence due to availability of easy cash has led to a deep crisis that impacts the lives of women.
In a 2013 paper called First Our Fields, Now Our Women: Gender Politics in Delhi’s Urban Villages in Transition, sociologist Radhika Govinda takes the example of Delhi’s Shahpur Jat village, examines women's efforts to push the boundaries.
While boys often drop out of school, girls exhibit desire, ambition and dreams often at odds with their community's notions of womanhood. Govinda interviewed young women who harboured dreams of going out and working while their brothers spent their days drinking and roaming around on motorcycles.
But this desire to push the envelope can have disastrous consequences if it crosses the boundaries of caste and self-determination as Monika Dagar discovered in 2010. A resident of Nistoli village near Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Dagar was killed for marrying a man from another caste. The two met online. "Be it in cities or in the villages, self-determination among women in the Jat community is a rare occurrence. People often praise the performance of Haryanvi girls in sports like wrestling but does anyone ever ask about our representation in other fields or even the private sector?" asks activist Sangita Dahiya.
It is interesting to place Ruby's ambitions in this context as, she herself admits, that her family is rooted in "traditional Jat culture", although they are from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.
Ruby's ambitions seem to be supported and bolstered by her husband Vinay Yadav. A quiet, soft-spoken man who is always by his wife's side, Yadav runs Apex Fleet Management Private Limited, a company that "imports spare parts for luxury cars". He comes from a family of "government servants" and admits that his first reaction to Ruby's decision to contest elections was that she "had gone nuts".
Ruby's core team comprises her husband's family but there are others who are opposed to her. "Not a rupee has been spent on the upkeep of our village. On the other hand, we have had to deal with sealing and loss of livelihood. Ruby is my nephew's wife and she has political ambitions, but that has not translated into any development here," says Ranjeet Yadav, a Congress member.
Voting in urban villages, like those in rural areas, is often along caste lines but with an influx of migrants, priorities are changing. Today, basic amenities like sanitation, sewage and drainage are core issues.
The road leading to Ruby's office in Rajokri is narrow and traffic jams are frequent. There are open drains and piles of garbage even as one has to cross swanky showrooms and fancy resorts on the national highway to get there — the classic urban village syndrome.
"Our needs are very simple — bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads and water). Over the past two years, the issue of sealing has become a big one as shops have shut and young men find themselves unemployed," says Prem Singh Sehrawat, a resident and former pradhan of Rangpuri, an urban village close to Rajokri. Sherawat doesn't buy Ruby's claims of being invested in the area. "She is neither a councillor, nor an MLA or an MP. Where is the power to do anything?" he asks.
Opinion is divided on Ruby, who in the four years of her induction in the BJP, has managed to make her presence felt in the South Delhi constituency.
Trilok Mehlawat of Kishangarh, a self-confessed Congress supporter, says Ruby works very hard but admits a part of the charm in the numerous beauty titles she holds.
It is difficult to pin down her ideological leanings, although her office has all the trappings of a BJP politician. A cow statue occupies a prominent space on the left side of her office table. There is the mandatory photograph with Prime Minister Narendra Modi from 2015 — the only time she's met him, she says with a trace of wistfulness. Ruby says she has always voted for the party as her paternal grandfather was a member of the Sangh but attempts to get her to open up on issues like nationalism and lynchings leads to a quick change of subject.
The gold is here to stay
Politics is an expensive game, especially when you are trying to establish yourself and it's no different for Ruby. "Everything in politics is about money and Ruby is out there everyday, spending her own money. What she lacks in power, she is trying to build through goodwill and that does not come cheap," says Mehlawat.
By Ruby's own admission, she spends anywhere between Rs 1.5 and two lakh every month cultivating the clusters of South Delhi. Her Facebook and Twitter accounts are updated almost hourly with her visits to different places in South Delhi. The occasions range from inaugurating the office of a women's group to meeting a visiting seer.
Not everyone is happy with Ruby's presence in the party or the profile she cultivates but she persists. "Rajneeti bahut tough hai, himmat chahiye isme survive karne ke liye but mujhe dar nahi lagta (Politics is very tough. You need courage to survive, but I am not afraid)," she says
Ruby doesn't shy away from saying that women get exploited all too easily in politics and one of her biggest fears is to be maligned. She was reportedly told to "tone down the lipstick and rethink the hair colour", when she joined the party, but is adamant she won’t change. "I am not just a politician. I hold titles. I also get invited to places in my capacity as a beauty queen. Young people like to take photographs with me that then become their DPs (display pictures on social media). I am very particular about how I look."
A Delhi BJP member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the general perception about Ruby in the party was that of a very ambitious woman, determined to get some place in a hurry. She is seen as someone who capitalises on her 'titles' to get media coverage and grab eyeballs but doesn’t really pose a threat to sitting MP Ramesh Bidhuri.
A few years ago, Ruby got an astrological reading from the Nadi School that believes that the past, present and future lives have already been foreseen and written. All she is willing to disclose from that reading is that she was promised big things, although the first step does seem to be the 2019 Lok Sabha election. But that alone is not the reason why she persists. "Politics is nasha. Until 300 or 400 people say namaste to you and acknowledge you, you feel bereft. It's a drug." And therein lies her motivation.