SPECIAL: India’s richest woman on campaign trail

Savitri Jindal, India’s richest woman, campaigns like a commoner… reports Jaideep Sarin 

 She lords over a multi-billion rupee industrial empire. She is the mother of nine children, including a leading corporate tycoon-cum-politician son, Naveen Jindal. She has been tagged the country’s richest woman, yet she is no more than a commoner when she takes to the main streets and by-lanes of Haryana’s Hisar assembly constituency.

Savitri Jindal, 64, is usually clad in a simple printed sari. And that is not just for her election campaign period. Even though a minister in the Haryana government, she prefers to keep it simple and low-profile.

At her election rallies or during discussions and door-to-door campaigning, Jindal ensures that her head is partly covered by the ‘pallu’ of her saree. To keep her connect with the people who are her voters, Jindal also keeps her political address simple.
“There are other parties and leaders who may talk big. But you have all supported me in 2005 and 2009. Our government has done a lot of development in the last nine-and-a-half-years. I urge you to vote for me and the Congress again so that we can ensure development of the area in future too,” Jindal, whose name figures in the list of top-100 richest people in the world, tells electors in her constituency.
Jindal is the chairperson of the multi-billion rupee O.P. Jindal group that has interests in the steel, power and mining sectors. First named the country’s richest woman in 2008 by Forbes, she retains the position in the to-be-published October issue of the respected business magazine. She has been placed 12th in the list of India’s richest, with a net family worth of $6.4 billion (Rs.395 billion). The list includes industrialists Anil Ambani and Mukesh Ambani, NRI steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal and realtor K.P. Singh.
Though there are many who are impressed by the way she keeps things simple, Jindal faces a tough contest this time for the Hisar seat.
“I have read in newspapers that she is the richest woman in the country. We all know that she heads the Jindal group, which is a big industrial empire. Yet she looks so simple. Unlike other politicians who don’t mind using flashy cars and SUVs for campaigning, she prefers to use simpler ones,” Gayatri Goel, a student in Hisar, told IANS.
Jindal’s high-profile son, Naveen Jindal, a former Congress member of the Lok Sabha, is also campaigning for her, including going from door to door.
“We have done a lot of work in recent years but we have not been able to publicise it much. I think people are with the Congress,” Naveen Jindal said during his campaign.
Born in Tinsukhia (Assam) in a business family, Savitri Jindal, who has studied till matriculation, is mother of four sons and five daughters. Her interests include reading books, watching television and cooking, even as she is “widely travelled”, as per her official profile in the Haryana assembly.
Jindal became a minister in the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government in Haryana last October for the second time. She had been inducted as a minister of state in January 2006 in Hooda’a previous government (2005-09).
Her industrialist-cum-politician husband, O.P. Jindal, who was a minister in the Hooda government, was killed when the private helicopter he was travelling in crashed near the Haryana-Uttar Pradesh border in March 2005.
Though Savitri Jindal keeps a low-profile, she courted controversy in early 2013 when the Punjab and Haryana High Court asked her to vacate a government bungalow in an upscale Chandigarh locality which she had been occupying unauthorisedly despite having ceased to be a minister in 2009. The Haryana govenment penalised her nearly Rs.90 lakh – the market rent for the house.
Though the Jindal group has business interests across the country and even in other countries, including in South America, the Jindal family mainly operates from Hisar town, 250 km from Chandigarh.