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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

Blazing a trail: A look at first-time women MPs

Though women still make up only 14.6% of the total strength, their voices are as diverse as their backgrounds, ranging from those with years of experience to freshers on the scene

india Updated: May 30, 2019 09:07 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Murmu is India’s youngest Lok Sabha member and the winner from Keonjhar constituency, defeating two-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ananta Nayak by a margin of 66,203 votes
Murmu is India’s youngest Lok Sabha member and the winner from Keonjhar constituency, defeating two-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ananta Nayak by a margin of 66,203 votes
         

Way to go, 31 political greenhorns, 46 first-timers in the Lok Sabha, 78 in all — the constitution of the newly-elected Lower House of the Parliament will see its highest number of women representatives yet. Though women still make up only 14.6% of the total strength, their voices are as diverse as their backgrounds, ranging from those with years of experience to freshers on the scene.

Goddeti Madhavi (YSRCP, Andhra Pradesh)

‘Healthcare for tribals a priority’

 

Goddeti Madhavi, a 26-year old physical education teacher at a tribal school in Visakhapatnam district’s Paderu, was surprised when YSR Congress party president Y S Jaganmohan Reddy called her in March.

She had met him for the first time only a few weeks earlier, when seeking to join the party. “I just couldn’t believe what he told me. I was very excited and decided that I should win the seat and gift it to the boss,” said Madhavi, who will be one of the four women MPs, all first- timers, to represent Andhra Pradesh.

In Aruku, Madhavi was pitched against three-time Congress MP Kishore Chandra Deo, who was contesting on a Telugu Desam Party ticket this time.

“My father commanded a lot of goodwill in Paderu and Araku areas and so, when I approached the people, they quickly identified me with my father. Secondly, none of the earlier MPs, including Deo, had done much for the tribals. Thirdly, the YSRC established strong roots in the constituency. That made things easy for me,” she said.

Her father, late G Demudu, was a two-time Communist Party of India legislator in 1994 and 2004.

The YSRC won 22 of the state’s 25 Lok Sabha seats, while the Telugu Desam Party won three. Madhavi won the seat by over 221,000 votes.

“I began my campaign going door to door, as I had no money to spend on public rallies. The people had tremendous faith in my party and that helped me win the seat,” she said. Now that she has won, Madhavi said that she would focus on the needs of tribal people, including drinking water and healthcare facilities in remote hamlets. “My priority is to see that the tribal areas get healthcare, institutional deliveries and nutritious food,” she said.

Queen Oja, BJP, Assam

‘Can be both queen & servant’

 

Queen Oja, the 67-year-old first-time winner from Guwahati, feels it was her four decade-long work that ensured her electoral success. In the late 1970s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winner got involved in the six-year-long Assam agitation against Bangladeshi migrants. When the agitation culminated in 1985 with signing of the Assam Accord and formation of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Oja, like many others, joined the political party.

“People in Guwahati know me and my work. I can associate myself with people from all strata of society. I can be a both a ‘maharani’ (empress) or a ‘sakoroni’ (maid-servant) when required. Therefore voters showered their love and blessings on me,” said Oja, who is the only woman MP from the state.

Oja also became a household name after she became mayor of the city in 1996. She also contested the state elections in 2011, as the AGP candidate from Guwahati East, but lost.

“After differences surfaced in AGP and two factions were formed I joined BJP with several others as I could associate myself with the saffron party’s ideology and their vision for Assam,” she said.

She defeated the Congress’ Bobeeta Sharma by a margin of over 345,000 votes.

Oja, who belongs to a prominent business family, was one of the richest candidates in the region with movable and immovable assets valued at Rs 33 crore.

Her campaign was marked by a controversy surrounding her educational qualifications.

The affidavit filed with her nomination papers mentioned that she had passed her higher secondary exam from an open university.

However, the university denied the claim and Oja’s opponents urged the Election Commission to reject her nomination papers.

Oja filed a fresh affidavit stating that “some mistakes had been made inadvertently” in the earlier one, and that she had passed her high school leaving certificate exam in 1968, and a bachelor’s preparatory programme in 2012.

“There are many things that we need to focus on in Guwahati. Better roads, controlling water logging during monsoon, drinking water issues etc. My goal would be all round development and I would raise their issues prominently in Delhi,” said Oja.

Jyotsna Mahant, INC,Chhattisgarh

‘After win, will go back to people’

Although Jyotsna Mahant, 65, has been elected as an MP for the first time from Korba, she is not an unknown face in Chhattisgarh’s politics. Wife of veteran leader Charandas Mahant, the Congress politician has worked in north Chhattisgarh and is called Didi (sister) by workers.

“I know each and every village of my constituency and everyone in my constituency knows me personally. This is because Korba was my husband’s constituency and I worked along with my husband for the last 30 years,” said Mahant, who married in 1980 after completing her post graduation from Bhopal University.

Charandas is a veteran politician who last won Korba in 2009, and in the 2018 assembly election, won from Sakti and was appointed as the speaker of the assembly. “The people of Korba demanded that a person from Mahant family should represent them. Hence, I decided to fight the Lok Sabha election,” said Mahant, who was born in a humble family in Rewa district to a family of freedom fighters.

“Through Bisaudas Sewa Sansthan, I helped people across the state. I worked extensively in my constituency on pollution, water and infrastructure related issues and that helped me in this election,” said Mahant.

Bisaudas Sewa Sansthan is a trust named after her father-in-law, Bisaudas Mahant. “Women everywhere in my constituency relate to me and they were reason behind my win. I believe that woman in politics and more sensitive and honest and they can understand the problem of people more than men,” she added.

In Chhattisgarh, even after getting a two-thirds majority in assembly elections held last year, the Congress managed to win only two seats — Korba and Bastar — while the remaining nine were bagged by the Bharatiya Janata Party. In all, three of the state’s 11 seats were won by women.

“After winning the election, I have decided to go back to our people. I believe water scarcity is biggest problem in Korba and I will work for (ending) it,” said Mahant.

Also read: Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal elect most women MPs: 11 each

Shardaben Patel, BJP,Gujarat

‘No quota for women in LS’

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections may have been her electoral debut, but 71-year-old Shardaben Patel is not new to politics.

Always by the side of her late husband Anil Patel, who was a minister for two terms in the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat between 2002 and 2012, she has witnessed politics at close quarters.

“This was my first election as candidate. But I have been part of many elections while supporting my husband. So I had an idea about the process,” she said.

Mehsana was the epicentre of the Patidar agitation of 2015 — the community has sought inclusion into the OBC category.

Shardaben had made education her priority — she is trustee and governing council member in Sakalchand Patel University, M G Patel Sainik School for Girls, and Stree Kelavni Uttejak Mandal.

“As an MP, I want to focus on education and women empowerment. I think these two are interlinked. Many of today’s socio-political problems can be addressed through education.”

Shardaben does not believe in 33% reservation for women, a bill that has been before the Parliament, for some years now. “These years we see that girls are scoring better in class X and class XII board examination. We need to carry the same momentum in the Parliament. We should try to have 50% women representatives, but not through reservation.”

Sunita Duggal, BJP,Haryana

‘Focus on women empowerment’ 

An Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer-turned-politician, Sunita Duggal, 51, made a roaring Lok Sabha debut by winning the Sirsa seat with a margin of more than 300,000 votes over her nearest rival, state Congress president Ashok Tanwar.

The only woman nominated for election by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Haryana, Duggal is now the only woman MP from the state in the 17th Lok Sabha. Her victory also gave the BJP its first win in the Sirsa seat.

Duggal is not completely new to politics. She was promised a ticket to contest from Sirsa in 2014 and had campaigned for a while in the constituency after resigning from the IRS. However, to her disappointment, the BJP allotted the Sirsa seat to its partner, the Haryana Janhit Congress.

Duggal was then promised a ticket to contest the assembly elections from the Pataudi seat in Gurugram but her name was not finalised. She was finally fielded from the Ratia constituency in Fatehabad, which she lost by a margin of 453 votes. After the BJP came to power in the state, she was appointed the chairperson of the Haryana Scheduled Caste Finance And Development Corporation in December 2015. Her focus is on women’s empowerment. “I will do my best for women empowerment for my Lok Sabha seat. Girl students who face transport problem to reach university or colleges in Sirsa city will be my top priority,” Duggal said.

Sumalatha Ambareesh, IND,Karnataka

‘This is a win for Mandya’s women’

Almost all the attention in the lead up to polling in Karnataka on April 18 had been concentrated on one constituency, Mandya. The high-stakes battle brewing there caused such a stir that it bumped up the voter turnout by over eight percentage points. At the heart of this was 55-year-old actor Sumalatha, wife of the late film star and former union minister MH Ambareesh, once known as ‘Mandya’s man’.

After the death of the Congressman, who had won Mandya thrice, a political vacuum appeared, and the Janata Dal (Secular) expected to enjoy unchallenged domination. That was till some local Congress leaders turned up at Sumalatha’s doorstep in January and asked her to demand a ticket . However, with the JD(S) winning all eight assembly segments that fall within the constituency, the Congress gave up the seat to its ruling coalition partner as part of the seat sharing formula.

Sumalatha decided to contest as an Independent and received the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The JD (S) fielded chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy, but it was Sumalatha who won by a margin of 126,000 votes.

Sumalatha made her campaign about a fight for Mandya’s pride, which struck a chord among the electorate. In her final campaign speech, Sumalatha extended her sari seeking votes from the people — an optic that remained with the electorate.

Sumalatha told reporters she would take things one at a time. “I will consult with my team and the people and work out what needs to be done keeping in mind the legacy of Ambareesh,” she said. “This is not my victory. It is the victory of Mandya’s pride, its women.”

Ramya Haridas, INC,Kerala 

‘I will sing my way to your hearts’

A singer, a dancer, and now a politician. Ramya Haridas, 32, was born to daily wage labourers Haridas and Radha Haridas in Kunnamangalam village of Kozhikkode district.

Ramya Haridas was a surprise candidate fielded by the Congress. She defeated two-time parliamentarian PK Biju of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Alathur (Palakkad) with a handsome margin of over 150,000 votes. She is the only woman candidate who has won from the state, which has 20 Lok Sabha seats, and which also voted Congress party president Rahul Gandhi to Parliament from Wayanad.

An accomplished singer and dancer, Haridas’s opponents often criticised her, saying an election was not a reality show, but serious business. But she obliged whenever voters asked her to sing a song. She often said during campaigning, “I will sing my way to your hearts.” A fan of the late Kalabhavan Mani, she would also sing folk songs.

“I am a singer from childhood. When people ask me to render a few lines I can’t resist. After all songs have a soothing effect and symbolize compassion,” she said. Her rallies often saw a mix of fiery speeches and mellifluous songs.

Haridas, who cut her teeth in the Kerala Students Union (she joined at the age of 13), and later the Mahila Congress (her mother was a Congress worker), was picked by Gandhi to represent Alathur.

During the high-decibel campaign, Haridas was the subject of a suggestive comment made by Left Democratic Front convener A Vijayaraghavan, who is also a former Rajya Sabha MP.

“There is a tendency to pull women down citing their gender. Times have changed. But many are not willing to accept it. People who make such loaded comments should realize they also belong to a family,” she said, adding she would not be intimidated by such comments.

“I will be with my people and party always. Alathur is a backward area and I will work hard to lift my constituency and improve its infrastructure. I will bring some of the best institutions to my constituency,” she said.

Also read: Lok Sabha election results 2019: At 14.6%, Lok Sabha to have most women ever

Himadri Singh, BJP,Madhya Pradesh

‘Thrilled to be in Parliament’

Himadri Singh, 32, comes from political stock. Both her parents,
Dalbir Singh and Rajesh Nandini Singh, were long-time Congress leaders. While her father, a former Union
minister, won Shahdol, a parliamentary seat reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Tribes, thrice — in 1980,
1984 and 1991 — her mother won the
seat in 2009. Both have passed away. This isn’t Himadri Singh’s first foray into electoral politics. Formerly with the Congress, she contested a Lok Sabha by-poll from Shahdol in 2016, but lost to BJP’s Gyan Singh.

A graduate, Himadri Singh won the 2019 Lok Sabha poll by more than 403,000 votes against Pramila Singh of the Congress party. All belong to the BJP. The state, which has 29 seats, voted overwhelmingly for the BJP — 28 seats went the saffron party, and one to the Congress. In all, Madhya Pradesh has elected four women to the new Lok Sabha, out of which two have never held political office.

Singh said her priority would be to bring more railway facilities and ensure better health amenities in the region.

“Entry into the Parliament as a member itself is thrilling,” she said.

Pragya Thakur, BJP,Madhya Pradesh

‘I want to fulfil my promises’  

For 49-year-old Pragya Thakur, her election to the Lok Sabha is a sort of vindication. An accused in the 2008 Malegaon serial blasts that left six people dead and more than 100 injured, Thakur’s nomination from Bhopal was one of the much debated topics in the 2019 election news cycle.

Not only did she win the seat by a margin of over 364,000 votes — her opponent was former chief minister and Congress leader Digvijaya Singh — she was also one of the four women elected to the Lok Sabha from Madhya Pradesh.

Pragya Thakur was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s choice for the seat. The RSS is the ideological fount of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Born to an Ayurvedic practitioner’s family in Bhind district, Thakur was active in student politics, and a member of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an affiliate of the RSS. She was also a keen kabaddi player. After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from Barkatullah University in Bhopal, she became a member of Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu rightwing organization. In 2002, she donned an ascetic’s robes, and is now referred to as a sadhvi.

She contested the election stating that she wanted to challenge the coinage of Saffron terror. She spoke of the torture she endured during her incarceration.

Thakur’s campaign itself was not without controversies.

At the very start of it, she spoke of Indian Police Services officer Hemant Karkare, stating that he died because she cursed him to perish. Karkare, who died a martyr in the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, was an investigating officer in the Malegaon blasts case.

Towards the end of the campaign, Thakur said that Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, was a patriot. She apologized for both statements. She was also banned from campaigning by the Election Commission for a 72 hours at a stretch.

“I want to fulfil my promises that I have made to the people in the vision document for Bhopal,” said Thakur, referring to the document which she released a few days before polling.

In it, employment for youth, pension for farmers, new trains, improvement in air connectivity and successful implementation of schemes are the main promises made.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/static/ht2019/5/3005women_mp1.jpg

Jothimani, INC,Tamil Nadu

‘Will work to save culture of TN’

When the Congress declared Jothimani as the candidate for Karur Lok Sabha seat, the AIADMK candidate Thambidurai openly claimed that it would be a cakewalk for him. “He said that I didn’t have money power. But the peoples’ mandate has come, and it’s against money power of Thambidurai,” said Jothimani, 44, who won by 420,000 votes. She hails from an agricultural family, and entered politics at 22, joining the Congress’ Youth Wing. In 1997, she was elected as the panchayat union councillor.

In 2009, she was picked by party president Rahul Gandhi to become the national Youth Congress’ general secretary. She is also a successful Tamil writer of short stories and novels. “The AIADMK candidate also thought that he could easily win because of my weak economic background. But we went on door-to-door campaigns. People welcomed me with a smile everywhere,” she said. When asked about her priorities as an MP, Jothimani said, “I will work along with my colleagues for protecting the rights of Tamil Nadu, its language and culture.”

 

Sanghmitra Maurya, BJP,UP

‘Educated people a must in politics’

Politics runs in Sanghmitra Maurya’s blood. The 34-year-old is the daughter of Uttar Pradesh minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Padrauna, Swami Prasad Maurya. In her second electoral outing, she ousted senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader and two-time MP Dharmendra Yadav from the Yadav pocket borough of Badaun, and is one of 48 women to enter Parliament for the first time in 2019.

In 2014, Maurya fought against SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav from Mainpuri on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket – her father was with the BSP at that time – but finished third. This time around, she is one of 11 women elected to the Parliament from UP, and among the three who have never held political office before.

“Badaun constituency was considered as the SP’s citadel and its MP was often referred to as the ‘Mini CM’. But you don’t see any development there. I will work in the constituency the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants, that is, to connect people to development,” she said.

A doctor by training, Maurya quit the medical profession months after getting her degree.

“I am in politics since the beginning. Within months of completing my degree in medicine, I ran for the election of zila panchayat member for ward number 7 in Patiyali assembly constituency. I won by a margin of 17,000 votes, which was the highest vote margin at that time in the state. Then I contested the 2012 UP assembly elections from Aliganj seat in Etah. I lost by 26,000 votes against SP’s Rameshwar Singh Yadav.”

Maurya did not contest the 2017 assembly polls. Her father won from Padrauna while her brother, Utkrista Maurya, contested from Unchahar and lost.

“I believe educated people should not shy away from politics. Well-educated people can bring a lot of difference to the society, country and people in politics.” She said her agenda was to ensure the development of her constituency.

In her campaign, she focused on women’s issues. “My detractors engaged in a smear campaign against me. They claimed that I asked people to engage in fake voting. They attempted to break my confidence but when PM Modi held a rally for me and four other candidates in Bareilly region, I challenged my opponents and said that if they think women are weak, I will show how powerful they can be,” she said.

Locket Chatterjee, BJP,West Bengal

‘I am indebted to Hooghly people’

From an actor frequenting film sets and festivals abroad to a slogan-shouting street-fighter in the rough and tumble of Bengal politics – Locket Chatterjee’s transformation has been fast.

She joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) barely seven months after chief minister Mamata Banerjee appointed her to the state women’s commission in July 2014. When Chatterjee switched to the BJP in February 2015, she said that felt suffocated since there was no work in the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Chatterjee is one of 11 women elected to the Lok Sabha from Bengal, and one of five who has never represented a constituency before. Of the state’s 42 seats, 22 were won by TMC, while the BJP won 18.

Chatterjee started her career as a classical dancer and in 1987-88, went abroad with the ballet troupe of Mamata Shankar, the daughter of legendary Bengali dancer Uday Shankar. In the 1990s, she began acting in TV serials. Her first film foray was in 2002, and her career spanned over a decade and more than three dozen films. After joining the BJP, Chatterjee led several protests, especially on issues of women’s security and the TMC’s alleged violence.

She was soon made one of the secretaries of the BJP Bengal unit. In the 2016 assembly elections, the party fielded her from Mayureswar in Birbhum district, a citadel of the ruling TMC. She finished third. But there was a silver lining: people came to view her as a leader and not just an actor. In 2017, she was appointed the chief of the state unit’s women’s wing.

Her victory by more than 73,000 votes was seen a big setback to the chief minister. Singur, the place where an anti-land acquisition movement marked the resurgence of the TMC chief’s political career in 2006, falls within the Hooghly Lok Sabha seat. Chatterjee got 10,000 votes more than the TMC in the Singur assembly segment.

“Mamata Banerjee did not allow industries here and promised to boost agriculture. But that didn’t happen. My priority now is to bring industry in Singur,” she said. “I shall remain indebted to people of Hooghly to give me an opportunity to represent them in Parliament,” she tweeted.

Also read: From faith to gender and profession to caste: A profile of the 17th Lok Sabha

Pratima Bhoumick, BJP,Tripura

‘My win was made possible by Modi’

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from West Tripura, Pratima Bhoumik, ended a two-decade Left stranglehold on the seat with her victory by a margin of 305,689 votes.

“This was a positive election. Despite many hindrances, people kept their faith in me and my party. This was my first Lok Sabha contest and I got a huge responsibility. This became possible due to the leadership of Modiji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi),” said Bhoumik, who is also general secretary of the party’s state unit.

Bhoumik plans to focus on employment, education, health, tourism and empowerment of women. “We want to develop our state. Our state is full of resources. Employment can be generated by engaging the youths in various skill development programmes. Women can be empowered by marketing their handmade products in the national and international market,” she said.

A graduate in science, Bhoumik has been with the BJP since 1991. Coming from an apolitical family, she said she joined the BJP because of a firm belief in nationalism. “My area witnessed large-scale violence during the Congress rule in the late 80s. But unlike that party, our party salutes patriotic sentiments,” she said.

A year after joining the BJP, Bhoumik became a member of the party’s state committee and was made the chief of the party’s Dhanpur mandal the next year. She later also served as vice-president of the party’s youth and women’s wing in the state.

In 2016, she was made the BJP state general secretary. In 1998 and 2016, she unsuccessfully contested the Dhanpur assembly seat against former chief minister Manik Sarkar. Bhoumik’s father was a school teacher and in her school days, she competed at the state-level in kabaddi. “ My father used to help meritorious students who could not pursue their education due to poverty. Even I started tutoring when I was in the ninth standard. I helped at least 30 girls to crack Class 10 board examinations,” said Bhoumik.

Ranjeeta Koli , BJP, Rajasthan

‘Unemployment in youth, an issue’

Ranjeeta Koli was a surprise entry by the BJP for the Bharatpur Lok Sabha seat and her win by over 300,000 votes in a constituency where the BJP was seen to be weak, was an even bigger surprise. But Koli won, riding on the strong Modi wave in the state.

Koli, 40, is a greenhorn in politics, but belongs to the family of three-time Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian Gangaram Koli, who is her father-in-law. Little was known about her before the election. Three women were elected from the state to the 17th Lok Sabha. The BJP won all 25 seats in Rajasthan.

During the campaign, Koli at times struggled to address rallies and local party leaders gave speeches, instead of her. She focused on door-to-door campaigns, where she would urge women to vote for her. Koli, who has studied up to class 9, would say that she was happy being a home-maker and mother to three children. A video of her dancing with women in a village in Bharatpur even did the rounds on social media.

Now that she has been elected, Koli said her priorities are tackling water scarcity and unemployment. “Water scarcity is a big issue in my area. Another problem is unemployment, especially among the youth. I will try to solve these issues,” she said.

“I belong to an ordinary family and I am comfortable in village settings. I know the culture and traditions of our society as well as our folk songs and dances,” Koli said.

Chandrani Murmu, BJD,Odisha

‘Will make voices of tribals heard’

Last month, Chandrani Murmu, a 25-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from a Bhubaneswar-based university, was desperately looking for a job. A gruelling election campaign later, Murmu is now India’s youngest Lok Sabha member and the winner from Keonjhar constituency, defeating two-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ananta Nayak by a margin of 66,203 votes

“Frankly speaking I thought I would be happy if I get a government job. But now I am an MP. May be it is some divine wish,” said Murmu.

Her entry into politics would not have been possible but for Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s announcement of reserving 33% of seats the BJD contests in the Lok Sabha polls for women candidates. The number came to seven seats.

Facing a shortage of suitable candidates from the tribal-dominated Keonjhar seat, local Biju Janata Dal leaders reached out to Murmu’s uncle Harmohan Soren, a retired government official and a social worker, urging him to convince his niece to contest the polls.

“But I was still unsure whether people would accept me. But all my apprehensions were belied during the campaign when I found that people were accepting me,” she said. During her campaign, she fought against many detractors, including a video that had morphed photos of her.

Her father Sanjiv Murmu is a government employee while her mother Urvashi retired as a bureaucrat in the women and child development department. Her maternal grandfather, Harihar Soren, was a two-time Congress MP from Keonjhar in 1980 and 1984.

After her victory rally last Saturday, Murmu said the importance of representing Keonjhar, one of the poorest districts of India, was dawning on her. “I did not have enough time to go around the entire district during campaign. My first priority will be to travel around my constituency and spend as much time as possible with the people. I will make the voices of tribals heard in Parliament,” she said.

Nusrat Jahan, TMC,West Bengal

‘I spoke of humanity, love’

Before Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee named her the Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate from the south Bengal seat of Basirhat on March 12, Nusrat Jahan had no connection with politics. The 29-year-old was best known for being a success in the Bengali film industry. But for a political green horn, her electoral performance was spectacular. Jahan won the communally sensitive constituency of Basirhat on the Bangladesh border by 350,369 votes, the highest among TMC candidates. Jahan describes herself as an accidental politician and said she never aspired to a career in politics. “I came to know of my candidature when our chief minister announced our names,” she said. But once nominated, Jahan took the plunge with gusto. She braved the blazing sun and extreme humidity of Bengal to campaign for two months, not only in her own constituency but also all over the state where Banerjee took her star face. Seen in a sari and green blouse (green is the party colour of the TMC), Jahan urged the electorate to vote for her to strengthen the hands of “Didi,” as Banerjee is known. “I have left my phone number with the party leaders of the area. Please call me whenever you need,” she would tell the audience at rallies.

“I am totally new in politics. I spoke from within. I spoke of humanity, spoke of love and of a better tomorrow,” she added.

The electoral triumph does not seem to have changed her. “I never thought of politics, though I wanted to work for the people,” she said. “The people (of Basirhat) have reposed immense faith in me and I won’t let them down.”

Bharati Pawar , BJP,Maharashtra

‘Will eliminate water shortage’

From a doctor to a Zilla Parishad (district council) member and now a parliamentarian, Bharati Pawar’s life has changed completely.

Pawar was pursuing a post graduate degree in medicine but her in-laws’ insistence saw her contest the Zila Parishad election from Umrana in Nashik district and getting elected in 2012. Pawar’s father-in-law is eight-term legislator AT Pawar.

Two years later, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) fielded her from the Dindori Lok Sabha constituency. “I continued to prepare for the Lok Sabha elections but didn’t know why party (NCP) chose someone else over me...people encouraged me to contest the Lok Sabha polls,” she said.

She joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which decided to field her in place of its sitting MP Harischandra Chavan. In a three-cornered contest, Pawar won by 198,000 votes. She is one among eight women who will represent the state in the 17th Lok Sabha, but the only one who hasn’t held political office before. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won 41 of the state’s 48 seats.

Pawar completed her education from the NDMVP College of Nashik.

“Now, it is not possible to pursue post-graduation studies as one also has to work as a resident doctor, which is a 24x7 job,” she said, adding, “I want to perform well as a Dindori MP. I want to work for farmers, health care facilities, malnutrition, employment etc. But my priority will be to eliminate water shortage from Dindori, which is a big problem here,” she said.

Pramila Bisoyi, BJD,Odisha

‘I can go to Delhi, they can too’

In March, Pramila Bisoyi, 69, was about to visit her small farmland in Chermaria village of Ganjam’s Aska block, when a vehicle arrived at her home. So, instead of harvesting green gram as planned, Bisoyi travelled to Bhubaneswar, about 170 km away, instead.

“When I reached there, [Biju Janata Dal chief] Naveen Patnaik told me I was going to be the BJD Lok Sabha candidate from Aska. It took me a lot of time to let that sink in,” said Bisoyi after attending the first meeting of party winners in Bhubaneswar.

Aska has been a BJD pocket borough since 1997, when Patnaik was elected MP in a bypoll, soon after the death of his father and former chief minister, Biju Patnaik. Bisoyi defeated Anita Subhadarshini, an associate professor at Indira Gandhi National Open University of the Bharatiya Janata Party by over 200,000 votes.

The BJD, which won 12 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha constituencies, reserved 33% seats for women. In all, women won seven seats (including Bharatiya Janata Party’s Aparajita Sarangi) — six of these are first timers in the Lok Sabha, and five have never held political office before.

Bisoyi is a grassroots activist: she has nurtured the Self Help Group movement for the past 18 years, making the local women deposit money and take loans from it as and when they need.

Having studied up to Class 3, Bisoyi was married off at the age of five. She prepared the meals at an anganwadi (crèche) for years. She also farmed her tiny patch of land. Her older son runs a tea stall and her younger son works in a garage. Two of her daughters are married. But, it was only after she started the self-help group in her village that her condition improved.

“(In the Parliament), I will speak in Odia, a language that I understand and speak. I will demand improvement in the lot of women in my village and state. If I could go to Delhi, they too can go far,” she said.

First Published: May 30, 2019 08:00 IST

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