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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Women Power

By Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

What we are witnessing these days is not a flash in the pan – not one odd woman leader on the centre stage. There is a profusion of women climbing the power ladder across the country right from the village to lead India into a new dawn, says the author.

Women power and most powerful women. These are topics for animated discussion in the corridors of power and the lanes and by lanes of cities, towns and villages across the country.

Reason? Mehabooba Mufti in Srinagar, Mayawati in Lucknow, Mamata Bannerjee in Kolkata, Vasundhara Raje in Jaipur, Uma Bharti in Bhopal and Jayalalithaa Jayaram in Chennai have carved out their niche. Pratibha Patil has moved to the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the first woman President. And Sonia Gandhi is heading the Congress led UPA.

There are several other women players. Renuka Chaudhary for instance. She was summoned to join the Pratibha campaign to match the ‘spin’ power of Sushma Swaraj, from the BJP camp. Born in a RSS family and married to a socialist, Sushma is a ‘natural’ spokeswoman for the Parivar. That is the reason why she continues to pop up on the BJP media radar at regular intervals and every time she gets the mike, she hogs the lime light as she did as the chief spokeswoman for Bhaironsingh Shekhawat in the Presidential race.

Renuka is no less gutsy. Daughter of an army officer, she can startle you with the force of her logic as quietly as she can turn what appears to be adversity into her advantage. Like she did at Khammam, the red citadel which has the reputation of not sending the same representative to the Lok Sabha twice. Her victories in two successive Lok Sabha elections are a tribute to her ability to leave a mark like an intrepid voyager.

Renuka and her gutsy politics notwithstanding – one day she drove to parliament in a tractor - founding fathers of the Constitution should be greatly relieved and indeed pleased to see the upswing in women’s fortunes as the nation is celebrating 60 years of independence. There is a flip-side to the story though. It relates to the question: Has the situation in any way led to improvement of general condition of women?

The answer to the question is an emphatic no. Even in Rajasthan where a woman is heading the political executive, a senior woman officer, holding the rank of additional district magistrate, is facing dowry related harassment. Her complaint did not get the police attention till she went public with her case on TV.

Says a sociologist, "Such cases are not going to disappear. They will remain. They will haunt our national conscience. But the very fact that women issues are not relegated to the backburner and are being debated in the media and in the public shows, India has come a long way".

60-years are too short a period in a nation’s life, remarks another.

Women leaders are not new to India. Both during the freedom fight and afterwards, there were several women leaders of substance, like Sarojini Naidu, and Sucheta Kriplani (chief minister, UP in the Nehru era) for instance. Then there was Indira Gandhi, the iron lady, as some called her and the only man in her cabinet as some described her.

What we are witnessing these days is not a flash in the pan – not one odd woman leader on the centre stage. There is a profusion of women leaders across the country in the political arena despite the failure of national parties to agree on the percentage of seats that can be reserved for women in Parliament and state assemblies.

One factor that has contributed to women upsurge is Rajiv Gandhi’s faith in Panchayati Raj. And the rest is history as the saying goes. Rajiv’s insistence on reservations for women led to ushering in a social change of the magnitude probably the young leader did not even visualize. These reservations are misused in several places, no doubt. Proxy Panchayat members have appeared as a new breed. That is a small price.

Mayawati is rewriting the rules of the political game. Her social-political engineering in Uttar Pradesh has for the first time made BSP a player of substance and relevance on the national scene. If she extends her ‘experiment in vote politics’ to other states, as she said she would, the traditional parties have every reason to worry. The Brahmin-BC-Muslim –Dalit will be a formidable combine at any time. And can make split verdicts a thing of the past.

Jayalalithaa is not in the same league as Mayawati. To a certain extent Mamata is. Both Jayalalithaa and Mamata have faced lot of adversity. Both have displayed lot of tenacity.

About a decade ago Mamata was a mere maverick urging her central Congress leadership to take on the Marxist big brother in Bengal. She still remains a maverick. But has carved out a place for herself. And made the Marxist sun go behind Nandigram clouds. Her Singur battle of wits with the small people’s car dreamer Ratan Tata and market’s Marxist darling Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is stuff legends are made off. Today if there is any political force that can give sleepless nights to the Left in Bengal, it is Mamata and Mamata alone.

Jayalalithaa is presently out in the Dravidian woods. It is not new to her. She has been in and out of power. And she cannot be wished away. The Tamilnadu politics are a two-leg race between Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and Muthavel Karunanidhi’s DMK.

In central India, Uma Bharti is making ways in her own way and is making the BJP miss its beat. She no longer wears the tag of sexy sanyasin. She has emerged as a leader of substance. Yes, her party suffered reverses in two by-elections in Madhya Pradesh. The fact that VHP had to intercede with her on behalf of BJP at the time of UP elections to prevent ‘split’ in the Parivar vote tells her relevance.

Vasundhara Raje is fighting her back in Jaipur. More so after the recent Gujjar agitation. The odds are undoubtedly not in her favour. Some acolytes have portrayed her as a Goddess. For her political survival she may need divine intervention.

Yes, no discussion on women power in India will be incomplete without a reference to Sonia Gandhi. She has breathed life into a Grand Old Party and brought it from the margins to the centre. Naturally therefore, her control over Congress is absolute, more absolute probably than her mother-in-law had during the height of her popularity. The Right to Information Act and the rural job scheme are two of the high points of UPA rule are her contribution to good governance.

"Women of India, Awake, Come out in the open, Take leadership, Lead and not be led, Mother India wants you in her service," wrote a progressive lyric writer in the 60s. He has every reason to celebrate now with the way women have emerged as the leaders of the nation climbing the ‘power ladder’ right from the village to the district and to the state and beyond.

- Syndicate Features -

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