New Delhi: The Samajwadi Party has a new media face. It is not a veteran, instead it is Pankhuri Pathak.

All of 24 years, she is unfazed by either the media glare or hostile opponents (as we saw during the unusually acrimonious debate hosted by ABP News on the Dadri incident in Uttar Pradesh).

She, like others, is part of the new narrative being spun by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav ahead of taking on the feisty Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and a confident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly election due early next year.

“I just wanted to work for the party. Representing it on national media was never on the cards," says Pathak, who was appointed SP’s youngest spokesperson in February 2016, and has now a regular on prime time TV debates.

Depending on the topic of the day’s debate, she prepares for the debates by taking pointers directly from Yadav, who she fondly refers to as “bhaiya" (elder brother).

Pathak’s entry into SP as a member of its student wing, the Samajwadi Chatra Sabha (SCS), in 2011 coincided with a major transition in the party. SP was contemplating a transition handing over the leadership to the next generation led by Akhilesh Yadav; another matter that the old guard refused to budge leading to stalemate.

Inclined towards politics, Pathak, a history student at Hansraj College, Delhi University, took to student politics in her first year itself—getting elected as a joint secretary as an Independent candidate. Soon this led to an association with the SCS.

“I had gone with a delegation of Delhi University students to meet Dharmendra Yadav (Yadav’s brother). We got into a discussion on student politics and he was really impressed with me. He said the party needed people like me as it was planning a massive organisational shift with youth taking over," she recalls.

Having no political background whatsoever, both her parents are doctors (mother is a gynaecologist and father is a physician), and no connection with UP, expect for the fact that her grandmother belongs to the state, Pathak decided to give it a shot.

She would attend party programmes and help SCS in Delhi University elections; she was made SCS’s general secretary the same year. However, it was in September 2011 when she attended Yadav’s Kranti Rath Yatra (bicycle processions and road shows were held throughout UP) before the 2012 assembly elections that she found her true calling.

Pathak was asked to take a team of 15 students to attend the march from Noida to Agra. This was her first stint with “real politics."

“I still remember there were more than one lakh people at Pari Chowk in Greater Noida who had cycled all the way from Lucknow. You really need to believe in someone to cycle this distance. I saw a promising leadership in front of me and knew I was going in the right direction," she says.

Subsequently, Pathak was made the National Secretary of Lohiya Vahini—one of SP’s four youth wings—in December 2012 for SP’s national expansion.

Work, however, took a toll on her academics. An IAS aspirant, she took a year off after graduation to prepare for the exam, but to no avail. The gap year was spent in working for the party and civil services are off the list now. Even her pursuit of a degree at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University, has been put on hold.

Her hobbies were the second casualty. A graduate in Kathak, a dance form she has been learning since she was four from the Lucknow and Allahabad gharana, Pathak finds no time to practice. Similarly, she has had to give up on her habit of reading, limiting her range to newspapers and magazines.

“One day I went to bhaiya and asked him if I had any future in the party. A lot was on stake and my family wasn’t convinced it was worth it. He asked me to come back the next day. This is when I met Dimple bhabhi (Akhilesh Yadav’s wife). I was told I could choose any issue- health, education, women and child development –and work under her," she says.

It was time to shift from student politics to a bigger role in the party.

In the beginning of this year, Pathak was chosen from a group of 25 people who were being trained to become the party’s spokesperson. Needless to say she was the youngest. In addition, she has also been assigned a social media campaign, “I support Akhilesh," which she manages from Delhi. This will be her role for the 2017 assembly elections.

Is contesting elections on her mind?

“I joined when I was very young, I know I have time. Right now I want to work for the party’s national expansion. Once I am eligible, contesting is always an option," she says. As a good politician, holding her cards very closely.

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