Woman power to the fore

Woman power to the fore

Woman power to the fore

From a firebrand sadhvi to an actor to an animal activist, the Narendra Modi government has seven women, and one of them could even find place in the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

Najma Heptulla (74), a Rajya Sabha MP since 1980, is the oldest, while actor Smriti Irani (38) is the youngest in the Cabinet. Sushma Swaraj, who has a towering presence, may be the first woman to be included in the CCS.

Uma Bharti, Maneka Gandhi and Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur are the other members of the women’s club along with Nirmala Sitharaman, who will be a Minister of State with independent charge.

Women’s representation in the Cabinet is 25 per cent, while it is 15 per cent in the Council of Ministers. Sitharaman (54), who is not an MP, will have to secure either a Lok Sabha seat or Rajya Sabha membership within six months to continue in office.

In the outgoing Manmohan Singh government, there were just seven women out of 71, with only two — Girija Vyas and Chandresh Katoch — in the Cabinet. Even now, the number of women ministers may go up as Modi is expected to expand the Cabinet soon. If that happens, it will be the icing on the cake as the 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of women MPs (61). The Rajya Sabha has 29 women MPs.

If Swaraj (62), the outgoing Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, who won from Vidisha with a margin of over four lakh votes, gets one of the plum portfolios of home, defence or external affairs, she will be the first woman to be part of the elite CCS.

Irani, a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, seems to have been rewarded for her spirited electoral battle against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in his pocketborough Amethi, though she lost by over one lakh. Incidentally, she had earlier criticised Modi for the 2002 riots but later moved to his camp and got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.

Heptulla, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, will be Modi’s lone Muslim face. A former deputy chairman in the Rajya Sabha, she moved to the BJP from the Congress after differences with the top leadership.