Raised to the power of W

They want to look at themselves more as people’s representatives rather than women. In a polity where veterans prefer to take shortcuts to success by playing caste and communal cards, these political greenhorns dare to talk about development. We have to wait for another five years to see whether these ‘powerful’ women can deliver a ‘power-packed’ performance, but for now, it’s time for setting priorities and charting new courses of action.

They have come from different parts of the country — Mausam Noor, Shatbdi Ray and Kakali Ghosh Dastidar from West Bengal, Dr Jyoti Mirdha from Rajasthan, Sarika Singh, Seema Upadhyay and Raj Kumari Chauhan from UP, Meenakshi Natrajan from MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal from Punjab, Shruti Chaudhary from Haryana and Agatha Sangma from Meghalaya. They represent different political parties and come from diverse family backgrounds. But one thing is common for the new women MPs — they are all young and do not want to consider their new assignments as ‘business as usual’.

“Being an MP is not something special. He or she is one among the millions in this country and the mindset of the people’s representatives should be like that,” says Meenakshi, a member of Rahul Gandhi’s much-hyped youth brigade.

“I dream of an India where the President travels with his or her fellow countrymen in an ordinary compartment,” says the young leader, who still prefers to travel in an autorickshaw.

Record number

A record 59 women MPs have been elected to the new Lok Sabha — the highest since independence — and 17 of them are aged below 40. True, most of them are following the footsteps of their fathers, grandfathers or husbands, who are already known faces in the corridors of power.

While Congress MP Jyoti Mirdha from Nagaur is the granddaughter of veteran Congress leader Nathuram Mirdha and won the battle of ballots mainly on the strength of the immense goodwill created by the farmer leader, Mausam banked on the legacy of her uncle late A B Ghani Khan Chowdhury.

However, Mausam feels that though coming from a political family gives a platform, it is only hard work, which can sustain a people’s representative on a long-term basis.
“Simply saying I am so and so does not help you in the long run, you have to show something concrete, some achievement to substantiate your claim,” she says.
There are certainly others, who have charmed their voters with their conviction and fought against seasoned political leaders to make it to the highest seat of democracy. 
Meenakshi is not from a political family, but still how can this 35-year-old first timer manage to vanquish septuagenarian BJP leader Laxmi Narayan Pandey from the Mandsaur constituency?

Prior to this defeat, Pandey had defeated many Congress stalwarts including ministers like Narendra Nahata, Ghandshyam Patidar and Balkavi Bairagi.   
 
But what these stalwarts could not do, Meenakshi has achieved and she is now a Lok Sabha member. However, this Post Graduate in Bio-Technology is not keen to take any credit.

“My rival tried hard to divide the electorate on caste and communal lines, but the villagers refuse to accept it. I talked about development — roads, drinking water and schools — and people felt that I am talking about their issues and I won,” Meenakshi says. “Let me tell you common people in India do not think about caste and creed, it is the political leaders who force them to do so,” she adds sagely.

Her colleague Shruti Chaudhary, former Defence Minister Bansi Lal’s grand daughter and the Congress MP from Bhiwani-Mahendragarh constituency, Haryana, also feels the same.
Pitted against stalwarts

Pitted against Indian National Lok Dal candidate Ajay Chautala, grandson of Devi Lal and son of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, the 33-year-old, spoke about building roads to get better markets for the farmers and getting water for their parched lands. 
A law graduate from Oxford University, this daughter of Haryana Minister for Forest and Tourism, Kiran Chaudhary, has cashed in on the development story written by her grandfather.
She told the crowds that all three Lal families had ruled Haryana for 12 years each, but the development during Bansi Lal's rule was more than anyone else.
She recalled the old story of the time when Central Government officers refused to visit Mahendragarh district because it had no water, electricity, roads or a decent guesthouse.
Her grandfather had an airstrip built and officers from Delhi and Chandigarh started making trips to the area. The increased visits led to more blueprints for development.
Such stories were widely appreciated and the young leader was honoured with pagris (turbans) as per the local custom.
“I did not make long speeches during my village campaigns, I simply asked for the blessings of the elders and they liked this humility,” says Shruti.

Looking for causes

It happened also with Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the Shiromani Akali Dal candidate from Bathinda, who crossed swords with Raninder Singh, a Congress leader and son of former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
Harsimrat’s USP was her campaign ‘Nanhi Jaan’, a campaign against female foeticide which made her a household name.
She is synonymous with the cause of anti-foeticide movement in Punjab, where the male and female ratio among the poor has been a matter of serious concern.

No typecasting please

But do the women representatives prefer to deal only with social matters and shy away from the more complicated political and economic issues?
“Please do not try to typecast women representatives saying that they over-emphasise certain things and tend to leave out others,” says Mausam.

This 29-year-old niece of Congress veteran and former Railway Minister A B Ghani Khan Chowdhury has already learnt her first political lessons as the MLA from Sujapur Assembly seat in Malda district of West Bengal.

Ask her about the subject of her maiden speech in Lok Sabha and pat comes her reply, “it ought to be infrastructure in my constituency.”

“We need more roads, more connectivity. The farmers should be able to sell their wares directly in the market rather than going through the middlemen and for that we need better infrastructure,” she says.

For this practicing lawyer, electricity and drinking water come next. But Mausam comes from a minority community where the literacy rate among girls is one of the poorest in the country!
“Yes, and for me setting up adequate number of schools will be a priority as girls cannot walk for three/four miles every day to go to far away schools and that is precisely the reason why the drop out rate is higher among them,” she says.
“Bijli, sadak and pani (electricity, roads and water)” are the three catchwords for popular Bengali film star-turned MP Shatabdi Roy. “Infrastructure is in a shambles in my constituency and that should be my priority,” says the close confidante of Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee.

For Meenakshi, the priorities are clear — to restore transparency to the system of governance and make politics accessible to all.

Game for the wicked?

But isn’t there a growing cynicism among the young generation about joining politics as they feel corruption and criminalization have turned politics into a ‘game for the wicked?’
“No, it is very urban and bourgeois point of view. About 75 per cent of the leaders of the 5.5 lakh panchayats are young. They have joined politics,” she says.

Cleansing the political system would be an effort she would likely to focus on under the “effective leadership of Rahulji.” However, she pins her hope on the fact that a number of leaders with criminal records have bitten the dust in the polls.

But a number of fresh MPs with “not-so-praiseworthy” records have made it to Parliament as well! “True, but that is because India is still in a transitional phase in democracy. Fifty years is just a beginning and give her some more time,” she says. 
 
The heiress to NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s political legacy Supriya Sule might not be a new face in Parliament, thanks to her Rajya Sabha membership, but Sule, already an active member of the Young Parliamentarians’ group on Malnutrition, would like to become more vocal on these issues when she joins Lok Sabha for the first time.

“I consider malnutrition as one of the most important issues to be tackled on a mission mode on a national basis and MPs have a responsibility,” she says. 
Interesting stats
According to PRS Legislative Research, an organisation that aims to strengthen legislative debate, among the 59 women MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha, a majority — 23 — are from the Congress. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 13 women members.

The All India Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) follow with four women each getting elected to the Lok Sabha. The Janata Dal-United, Shiromani Akali Dal and Nationalist Congress Party have two women MPs each.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Shiv Sena, DMK and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have one woman MP each. Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of 13 women MPs to represent the most populous state. It is followed by West Bengal with seven. In all, 556 women had contested the 2009 general elections, of which 59 were elected. In the 2004 polls, 355 women contested the elections of whom 45 won. In 1999, 284 women had contested the elections and 49 were elected.

The lowest percentage of women representations was in the sixth Lok Sabha (1977-80) when there were only 3.8 percent women MPs. The first Lok Sabha (1952-57) had 4.4 percent women MPs. In the 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004), the figure was 9.2 percent, the research group said. There are 30 freshers in total this time.



First-timers all

Candidate                     Party

Vijaya Shanthi M    Others
Killi Krupa Rani    Indian National Congress
Rama Devi    Bharatiya Janata Party
Aswamedh Devi    Janata Dal (United)
Saroj Pandey    Bharatiya Janata Party
Shrimati Kamla Devi Patle    Bharatiya Janata Party
Dr Prabha Kishor Taviad    Indian National Congress
Jat Poonamben Veljibhai    Bharatiya Janata Party
Patel Jayshreeben Kanubhai    Bharatiya Janata Party
Shrimati Darshana Vikram Jardosh    Bharatiya Janata Party
Shruti Choudhry    Indian National Congress
J. Shantha    Bharatiya Janata Party
Jyoti Dhurve    Bharatiya Janata Party
Meenakshi Natrajan    Indian National Congress
Rajesh Nandini Singh    Indian National Congress
Supriya Sule    Others
Harsimrat Kaur Badal    Others
Dr. Jyoti Mirdha    Indian National Congress
Helen Davidson J    Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
Raj Kumari Chauhan    Bahujan Samaj Party
Seema Upadhyay    Bahujan Samaj Party
Sarika Singh    Others
Tabassum Begum    Bahujan Samaj Party
Kaisar Jahan    Bahujan Samaj Party
Annutandon    Indian National Congress
Kakali Ghosh Dastidar    All India Trinamool Congress
Satabdi Roy    All India Trinamool Congress
Dr. Ratna De(Nag)    All India Trinamool Congress
Mausam Noor    Indian National Congress
Deepa Dasmunsi    Indian National Congress

Data courtesy: PRS Legislative Research





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