Meira Kumar on Wednesday became the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 57 years, riding high on hopes into history books that parliamentarians would debate, not disrupt, to keep the accountable to the House.
The 64-year-old five-term MP vowed to be impartial and rest her hopes of fewer disruptions on the “undiluted” support extended by all political parties after her unanimous election that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders hailed as a historic event.
“In many ways it is a historic event as it is for the first time that a Congress woman member of house has been unanimously elected as Speaker,” Singh said, hoping her charm and grace would “calm frayed tempers that sometimes happen in the House.
Singh and BJP leader L.K. Advani together escorted her to the podium after the formal election and led the House in felicitating the new Speaker.
The daughter of former deputy PM and Dalit icon Babu Jagjivan Ram who chucked her job as a diplomat to join politics 24 years ago was conscious that she was at the heart of Parliament making history.
An elated Kumar said she was honoured that the choice fell on her.
In her first address to Lok Sabha, Kumar asked MPs to air dissent without disrupting proceedings, hinted at her desire to see political consensus over the Women’s Reservation Bill be enacted and reminded them about the vast majority of people — largely Dalits and tribals — to whom the political freedom was meaningless unless their standard of living was raised and had equal opportunities.
“This social task is to be accomplished in the full measure,” the Congress’ Dalit face said, listing out the challenges before the country in context of the global economic slowdown and rising aspirations, particularly among the youth.
She later told reporters that her election — or Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s election as President — was not just a “symbolic gesture” but an indicator of the genuine intention of the government to empower women. After all, the 15th Lok Sabha did have the largest proportion of women MPs in Lok Sabha (58) since Independence.