Despite allegations of scoring poorly on granting representation to women in the Vidhan Sabha, Haryana has a record of electing a woman unopposed to assembly from Rewari constituency of the then undivided Punjab in 1957.
Four-time legislator Sumitra Devi, who was popularly known as Bai Ji, was great granddaughter of legendary Ahir personality Rao Tula Ram, the then ruler of Rewari who had fought against the British in the first war of Indian independence in 1857.
Sumitra Devi (1912-1995) was elected as a Congress candidate unopposed in 1957 and till date no one from Haryana and its adjoining states has been able to match this distinction.
“Bai Ji social initiatives were acknowledged and was honoured with Padma Shri,” recalls former dean of social sciences, Kurukshetra University, Ranbir Singh.
“Such was Bai Ji’s social stature that no political party, including the Left and socialists, fielded a candidate against her in the 1957 polls. Despite hailing from a respected royal family of the Ahirwal region, she spent her life at Bhagwad Bhakti Ashram, a spiritual and social organisation, at Rampura village in Rewari and stayed unmarried,” said Singh.
Sumitra Devi’s father Rao Balbir Singh remained a member of the Punjab legislative council and Punjab legislative assembly in the undivided Punjab from 1921 to 1941.
Rao Balbir Singh was brother of Rao Birender Singh, father of now union minister and BJP parliamentarian from Gurgaon Rao Inderjit Singh.
In the 1962 elections, Sumitra Devi defeated an Independent, Hukum Singh, by a margin 17,563 votes.
After Haryana was made a separate state, she was among the four woman legislators who won the first election of the new state in 1967. She defeated Rao Abhey Singh, another prominent Ahir leader, by 5,633 votes. Rao Abhey Singh, a Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader, was father of now Haryana minister Capt Ajay Yadav, who is MLA from Rewari.
Sumitra Devi’s brother Rao Birender Singh, who was chief minister of Haryana from March 24 to November 2, 1967, set up a regional party, Vishal Haryana Party, and fielded her as candidate from Rewari in the 1968 elections.
She again won the election and defeated Babu Dayal of the Congress by 3,283 votes. But after that Sumitra Devi quit political life and remained engaged in activities of the ashram, which had girls’ schools, a hospital, a cattle breeding centre, etc.
These institutions are still running with the help of an endowment trust created from Sumitra Devi’s share in the family estate.
Historian and director of Gurgaon-based Haryana Academy of History and Culture (HAHC) KC Yadav said Bai Ji had worked for women empowerment and uplift of Dalits, widows and underprivileged sections of societyYadav,who had taught at the ashram for five years, recalls that Bai Ji was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and followed his way of simple living.
“Unlike the modern day politicians, Bai Ji dedicated her life for the true social cause, something rarely heard of in those times. Despite having a royal lineage, she spent her entire life at the ashram with utmost austerity,” he said.