It was in December, 1985 — in one of the keenest battles for future Dalit leadership in a by-election from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh — that Meira Kumar of the Congress trounced Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati in a triangular fight. The victory was by a narrow margin but it did provide an indication of which way Dalit politics would move from then on.
Meira’s father Babu Jagjiwan Ram, one of India’s greatest political leaders, wanted his daughter to inherit his legacy by joining politics. The then PM Rajiv Gandhi fulfilled it by inviting Meira to join the Congress. She was a serving Indian Foreign Service Officer at that time.
Meira’s elevation as Lok Sabha Speaker reflects the continuation of a journey she started as a political novice. But after being elected to the Lok Sabha five times, she will now preside over the House where her father was a member eight times in
Meira was elected from Sasaram (Bihar), which she has represented since 2004.
Ch. Prem Singh, former Delhi Assembly Speaker and an associate of Jagjiwan Ram, said it was a great challenge for Meira. “Normally, the Speaker’s position is given to a very experienced person. But Meira has Babuji’s genes, so she is bound to be successful. In fact, she will need all the virtues of her late father to come out on top.”
Meira was hand-picked by Sonia Gandhi. The Congress has been battling to regain lost ground in both UP and Bihar and needs a credible face to lead the charge. Meira won against the tide in Bihar and was immediately made Union minister. She put in her papers on being named Speaker’s candidate. And though Bihar, like UP, is without a cabinet minister, the state will have its second Lok Sabha Speaker since Indpendence. Baliram Bhagat was the first.
Meira has shaped herself on her father — an iconic figure for Dalits who differed ideologically from B.R. Ambedkar. It may be coincidence but Ambedkar gained more prominence in the post-Jagjiwan Ram era. Once the Congress was on the decline, Ambedkar’s influence grew. Meira’s selection may be to counter this and bring back Dalits to the Congress fold.
Prof Bidyut Chakravarty of Delhi University’s political science department does not agree though and feels Ambedkar’s iconic status will remain unchanged. “But Meira’s appointment is a clever bit of political engineering to make up for the political deprivation of Biharis. The Congress wants to make a comeback in the state... Meira, being Jagjiwan Ram’s daughter, was the most acceptable name since even the BJP could not have opposed her for fear of political repercussions.”
Meira, a shooter and keen sports enthusiast, is married to Supreme Court lawyer Munjal Kumar and has a son and two daughters.