Kochi, Ranchi, Cuttack, Patna, Indore, Allahabad: 6 woman mayors changing cities
Lucknow created more than a buzz last week after the city, steeped in history and heritage, elected its first woman mayor. Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Sanyukta Bhatia was elected the head of Lucknow Nagar Nigam – the first woman to occupy the position in the municipal body’s 100 years of existence.
Though a largely titular post with real power vested with government officials who run the corporations, Bhatia’s election has put the spotlight on mayors – particularly women – who are considered the first citizens of their respective cities.
While Lucknow’s new mayor basks in the attention, dozens of women mayors have been silently striving to improve the civic amenities in their respective cities with varied degree of success.
HT reporters checked with some of them across India on how they have been doing.
Kochi: Soumini Jain
The mayor of Kerala’s port city since 2015, Jain has come to acquire a reputation of being modest but firm. In April, she put Malayalam film director Jude Antony Joseph in his place after he publicly abused her for denying him permission to shoot for a film in a park. Jain lodged a police complaint and Joseph was arrested.
A post-graduate in economics, Jain said women need to be treated better. “Our society is still male-dominated and many find it difficult to recognise the feat of women. We need drastic measures to change this old mindset,” Jain, who is also a singer and painter, argued. Her own achievements have been many and that included taking the plunge into politics a decade ago and becoming a councilor for the first time in 2010. “I love to take up challenges,” Jain said. Born in a Hindu Nair family, she married a Christian businessman and have kept their respective faiths. In November, vice-president Venkaiah Naidu was in town to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Kochi corporation. “We have taken up a number of programmes to uplift the port city,” Jain said. Her ambition is to transform Kochi into the “Queen of the Arabian Sea”.
Ranchi: Asha Lakra
Lakra, the mayor of Jharkhand’s state capital since 2014, has major challenges and one them is the sprawling city’s clogged traffic. Residents say traffic still crawls but Lakra insisted things are getting better. At least, the officials who run the corporation are taking her more seriously. “Initially, I was demoralised whenever I tried to give my opinion on any project. But I continued to raise my voice,” she pointed out.
A tribal, Lakra is pursuing her PhD on the dynamics of growth in the population of scheduled tribes. She claimed her achievements include building modular toilets to improve sanitation and LED streetlights. Work on a four-phased drainage and sewerage plan has also begun and efforts are underway to conserve the city’s water bodies. The improvements, if any, have only been marginal. But as Rakesh Kapoor, a resident of Purulia Road, put it, Lakra is more caring as mayor because she is a woman.
Cuttack: Meenakshee Behera
Behera, 39, has been mayor of Odisha’s oldest municipal body since her predecessor – another woman – lost her job following a scandal in December 2015. Mother of two school-going children, Behera is struggling to strike a work-life balance.”Like millions of women I too have struggled to do justice to both work and home,” Behera pointed out.
Known to work hard, Behera visits different neighbourhoods of the city spread over 192 sq km everyday morning after rushing through her family chores. “Most of the days I am not able to return home before 11pm,” she said. Her critics, however, are less than impressed and insisted she was just a proxy for an influential ruling party MLA. “She signs official papers without reading anything,” alleged Congress corporator Giribala Behera.
Patna: Sita Sahu
As the first woman mayor of Bihar’s state capital, Sahu wants to make a difference. “I am working to make Patna cleaner and greener. We are working in coordination with the forest department to plant more saplings. I have plans to improve the sewerage system to keep the Ganga riverfront and its waters clean. We are about to kick-start a door to door garbage collection system, which should roll out by February”, she said.
A widow, Sahu is also trying to live up to her late husband’s expectations. “He always wanted to do something for the society, so I willed myself to contest the polls and do something worthwhile with my life,” she explained. She is confident she will live up to her job. “It is a bit difficult for a woman to run for and hold on to such posts because the society never tires of trying to control her,” she said. She, however, believes that it is up to individuals to write their own destiny.
Indore: Malini Gaud
The mayor of India’s cleanest city since 2015, Gaud never tires of quoting what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat told her recently: “A good homemaker is uniquely placed to be a capable administrator”. A ‘bhabhi’ to most city residents, she claimed she is approachable and sensitive to the civic issues.
Gaud had joined politics following her husband and state education minister Laxman Singh Gaud’s death in a road accident in 2008. She first became a MLA and then successfully contested the mayoral elections. However, Abhay Chhajlani, the former editor of Nai Dunia, said her biggest contribution was she did not interfere in the work of corporation officials. “Of course, she has close coordination with them,” he said.
Allahabad: Abhilasha Gupta
Elected the mayor for a second time, Gupta presides over a corporation spread over 80 wards and having a staff strength of 4,500. Her major challenge is the body’s financial ill-health: against a salary and expenditure bill of Rs 14 crores, the corporation’s monthly revenue is only Rs 4 crores.
The wife of Uttar Pradesh minister Nand Gopal Gupta, the mayor insisted she was known for putting her foot down when required. “Time came when I had to stand against senior civic officials because I felt the people of my city were being harassed by them,” she said. Her re-election this month, she said, was proof of her positive contribution. Many, though, believe she is a political opportunist. In 2012, she became the mayor on a Samajwadi Party ticket, defeating a BJP candidate. This time, she won on a BJP nomination and defeated a Samajwadi candidate.
(Inputs by Ramesh Babu in Kerala, Sanjoy Kumar Dey in Jharkhand, Debabrata Mohanty in Odisha, Rajesh Srivastava in Uttar Pradesh, Punya Priya Mitra in Madhya Pradesh and Nandini Verma in Bihar)