Nafisa Ali is a regular fixture in the giddy, high society whirligig of the Indian capital, Delhi - she's an ageing trendsetter of sorts.
Nafisa Ali - from 'sizzling water babe' to parliamentary candidate
Once upon a time, she was Miss India, a swimming champion and a part-time actress.
Today Nafisa Ali, 46, has returned home to the eastern city of Calcutta
to stand for the national parliament for the main opposition party, Congress.
Her main rival is a feisty 40-something politician, Mamata Banerjee, who
leads a breakaway Congress group called Trinamool Congress, a member of India's
governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling coalition.
The contrast between the two candidates could not be more glaring.
Ms Banerjee is a street fighting, rabble rousing, plain living populist
politician living in a slummy red-tiled one storey home on the banks of
a stinking canal in a run-down Calcutta neighbourhood.
She turns out in cheap, pale, sometimes-tattered saris and strikes an instant chord with the
millions of jobless young men and women in the state of West Bengal that has been ruled by the
Communists for 27 years now.
Mamata Banerjee - a feisty, street-fighting populist
Ms Banerjee has also been representing the constituency of South Calcutta - a
mix of upscale neighbourhoods, shoddily planned suburbs and leafy farming
and fishing countryside - for over a decade.
Conventional wisdom has it that the battle for the seat will be a straight fight between Ms Banerjee and her hard-boiled Communist Party rival, Rabin Deb.
But the arrival of the Nafisa Ali has injected an element of glamour into what threatened to be a dreary, colourless campaign.
Mrs Ali says she is glad to return to Calcutta to contest her first elections because she was born here.
This was the city from where she became Miss India in the 1970s.
It is also where she developed into an ace swimmer - "Sizzling Water Baby" was how one magazine cover described her.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Calcutta was wracked by a violent ultra-left movement.
Nafisa says she remembers writing posters with lines like: "The time has come to skin the rich."
"When I look back," she smiles, "I find it pretty embarrassing."
On the campaign trail there's palpable
excitement among voters gaping at her in her open-roof jeep.
"She has come from Delhi. She was a swimming champion. She was Miss
World ... oops, sorry, Miss India," shouts a young man into a giant
loudspeaker fixed to the jeep.
"She has come to meet you, to seek your votes - the famous Nafisa Ali!!"
Analysts say Mrs Ali may not sizzle very much when the votes are counted,
but there is little doubt that her presence has added some novelty value to
West Bengal's predictable contests where the Communists
romp home, election after election.
Nafisa Ali rejects the 'Delhi socialite' tag
I ask her whether her rivals have been putting her down as a lightweight
socialite from Delhi trying her luck at the polls in a politically
conservative Communist state.
"I don't know, but Mamata Banerjee has been telling people at meetings,
'Don't vote for Nafisa. She will run back to Delhi after the polls!'."
Nafisa tells me how she hates the socialite label given to her
by Delhi's pulp-hungry newspapers.
"I am a normal person. I dress simply. I don't wear expensive jewels. I have
even stopped going out. The media is so arrogant," she insists.
Small groups of people flock to her jeep.
"I will stalk you madam," says a dishevelled
smiling young man. "I will stalk you till you provide me with a job. Give me
At the far end of the town, rival Mamata Banerjee exudes a quiet
confidence on her home turf - she won by over 200,000 votes in the last
But analysts say she's skittish about her party's prospects.
Mamata Banerjee appears unworried by Nafisa Ali
West Bengal in a state which has been reduced to
a industrial wasteland. Joblessness is high and the state of
education, health and infrastructure is appalling.
On the podium her face is dwarfed
by a huge portrait drawn a fan as she launches into an emotional
speech against West Bengal's ruling Communists.
It is a speech laced with fears of
persecution, a pitch for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and a dig at the
"They say I tear my clothes deliberately to be known as anti-rich. I want to
ask the Communists: 'How do you manage to wear those shiny dresses?'"
She says she always worries about the people and leads a simple life.
"I don't sleep at night. I surf news television, paint and write. I don't
fly first class. I don't claim allowances."
That night, Mamata Banerjee doesn't even mention Nafisa Ali. She seems to
have no worries on that count.
When the votes are counted on Thursday, she'll find out if her confidence is justified.