Tai In The House

Tai In The House

Sumitra Mahajan: Tai In The House. Sumitra Mahajan started her political journey as the president of BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Madhya Pradesh and went on to rise to the position of national general secretary.

Sumitra Mahajan started her political journey as the president of BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Madhya Pradesh and went on to rise to the position of national general secretary. Today, however, Mahajan, who is fondly called ‘tai’ (aunt), has got her due, having been appointed Speaker of the 543-member Lower House of Parliament

When the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) picked Sumitra Mahajan, 71, for the high office of Lok Sabha speaker, the decision was accepted across the political spectrum without demur. In fact, there was all-round agreement that the soft-spoken, but firm, BJP leader was indeed the most deserving candidate for this all-important position. Mahajan’s poll track record has been exceptional – she has consistently won from her constituency, Indore in Madhya Pradesh, for eight consecutive terms making her the first woman parliamentarian to win as many elections without a break. Moreover, with the exception of 2009, the election year in which her victory margin had dipped to 11,000, she has been trouncing her political rivals by massive margins.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan with Vice-President of India and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari

Apart from diligently working for the development of her constituency, Mahajan has held several key positions within her party. She started her political journey as the president of BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Madhya Pradesh and went on to rise to the position of national general secretary. But despite the consistent electoral victories as well as her untiring work in the organisation, Mahajan never really got her share of recognition from the top party leadership. For somebody with her seniority and experience, she has served only once as a minister of state in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government from 1999 to 2003. Today, however, Mahajan, who is fondly called ‘tai’ (aunt), has got her due, having been appointed as the Speaker of the 543-member Lower House of Parliament.

A quintessential old-world politician – quiet, honest and down-to-earth – Mahajan, a law graduate, began her career as a municipal corporator in 1982 after she was introduced to politics by former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, when he was a senior party leader in Madhya Pradesh.

For someone who always maintained a low-profile, she came into the limelight after defeating Congress Party heavyweight and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister PC Sethi in 1989. She has not looked back ever since. Over the years, her name has become synonymous with Indore and it is to Mahajan’s credit that this Lok Sabha constituency has become a BJP citadel. Her detractors, both within and outside the party, have made several attempts to dethrone her but to no avail. The people of Indore have stood by Mahajan and she has done likewise.

Though Mahajan was born and brought up in Chiplun, a small town in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, her association with Indore began when she moved to the historic city after marriage to Jayant Mahajan, an advocate of considerable repute. It was in this city that she found her role model in Ahilyabai Holkar the 18th century queen, often described as “a magnificent woman and an able ruler”. And it is here that she developed a strong commitment to women’s empowerment.

Although nobody in her husband’s family was interested in politics and she was initially a homemaker, Mahajan gained access to the BJP because of her father, Purshottam Sathe, who enjoyed a high standing in the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh. Of course, her husband and her in-laws were her greatest supporters, constantly encouraging Mahajan to chalk out her career.

In her recent interviews, Mahajan dismissed suggestions that her husband could have developed an inferiority complex because she was better known than he was. On the contrary, she pointed out that it was her husband who was recognised by far more people when they went out together, as he was a well-established lawyer in Indore. Indeed, they complemented each other perfectly.

People in Indore, who have followed Mahajan’s career closely, recall that it was her husband who had bought her a two-wheeler so that she could move around the city easily. Mahajan soon became a familiar figure around town as she zipped around on her scooter. Before that she used to ride a bicycle, which she used extensively during the Emergency period – 1975-77 – to deliver food ‘dabbas’ (boxes) to the imprisoned BJP leaders.

When Jayant Mahajan passed away, it was generally believed that she would retreat into a shell and return to domesticity given the strong bond between them. But she proved everyone wrong as she stood her ground and was soon back at work, showing that she is far tougher than she looks.

It is not only work but also her love for cooking and reading, especially Marathi literature, which has kept Mahajan going over the years. Her love for reading is evident as this Indore Member of Parliament (MP) makes it a point to gift books (preferably biographies) to journalists when she invites them for an annual meal at ‘bhaiya dooj’, a popular Hindu festival.

Besides the fact that she is easily accessible and makes an effort to reach out to her people, Mahajan’s biggest asset is that she is completely neutral. Soon after being appointed Lok Sabha Speaker, she made it abundantly clear to MPs from her home state and others from her constituency that they should no longer approach her for any work as she would not be able to help them. Now that she is occupying the Speaker’s chair, Mahajan told them, it would not be proper for her to associate openly with any political party.

It is these two qualities – her neutrality and her easy bonding with people of all political hues – that will stand her in good stead while conducting the Lok Sabha. According to an Indore resident, while she may appear to be soft and affable Mahajan has the ability to be quite formidable. But it looks like she may not have to display her tough side as the ruling alliance enjoys a brute majority in the 16th Lok Sabha and the Opposition is completely fragmented.

As Parliament has embarked upon the budget session – from July 7 to August 14 – Mahajan has several hectic days ahead. Not only is she keen to “lay down discipline in the House”, but is also eager to “usher in democracy in its true spirit by giving an opportunity to smaller parties to have their say”. Where women are concerned, she has a special agenda in mind – “it will be my endeavour to encourage the 61 women MPs from across party lines to make their presence felt and raise pertinent issues”. Yet, what Mahajan is truly hopeful of is the passage of the vital ‘Women’s Reservation Bill’ that will allocate 33 per cent seats for women in parliament - “it is my dream to see the women’s bill pass during my tenure”.

From Meira Kumar to Sumitra Mahajan, women are firmly establishing themselves at the helm in the Parliament.

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