India’s educated women represent the paradox of the country. Women are the change this society needs. Lower representation stems from the barriers female political candidates often face, which include – stereotyping, political socialisation, lack of preparation for political campaigning, and balancing work and family. In the media, women are often asked how they would balance the responsibilities of elected office with those of their families, something men are never asked.
Indira Gandhi was the first woman prime minister of India, but unfortunately, the only woman to be prime minister in the past 72 years. Indira Gandhi became the prime minister of India in the year 1966 by breaking the barriers of patriarchy and showed a way forward to women to occupy positions of power in spheres of economics, agriculture, education, and society. Indira Gandhi has set the benchmark for a strong Prime Minister. Even today, India thinks of her whenever it receives even a faint hint of a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s post.
Let’s talk about some powerful women politicians who can be nominees for the post of Prime Minister. India has witnessed many women in high posts in the past 72 years, but not many women Chief Ministers. Ever since Independence, we had 16 women serving as Chief Ministers of an Indian state. Currently, one is in office — Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal.
Of the 13 states that have been headed by a female Chief Minister, only three — Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — have had two woman Chief Ministers; five of the woman Chief Ministers belonged to the Indian National Congress, four to the Bharatiya Janata Party and two to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Sucheta Kriplani was the first woman Chief Minister to represent the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the year 1963, from Indian National Congress.
When we talk about strong women politicians, only four names come to my mind: Priyanka Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, and Mayawati.
Priyanka Gandhi, a scion of India’s most powerful party who has rebuffed calls to enter politics for years, has recently been appointed as an official in the Congress party. She is considered a more charismatic campaigner than her brother, the current Congress party chief, Rahul Gandhi, with a presence and an appearance that is often compared to that of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi: a formidable and controversial Prime Minister, who was assassinated in 1984. Priyanka Gandhi is currently serving as the general secretary of the AICC in charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
She is a popular figure in the constituency, drawing large crowds everywhere; a popular slogan in Amethi in every election has been “Amethi ka danka, bitiya Priyanka (the clarion call from Amethi is for Priyanka )“. She represents hope, promise, and the belief of the elderly and aspirations of the youth for the state which has been battered by divisive and communal politics since 2014.
The first woman CM of West Bengal and the first lady CM to win two consecutive terms, Mamata Banerjee is the founder of the All India Trinamool Congress. Popularly known as ‘didi’, Mamata Banerjee created history in the 2011 elections, uprooting the 34-year-long rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the state.
She is also the first woman Railway Minister of the country and has held this post twice. She received the 2017 UN Public Service Award on behalf of her government for the ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’ initiative aimed at reducing high child marriage rates and increasing female education rate in the state of West Bengal.
Minister of External Affairs, Swaraj held the position of the first woman CM of New Delhi in 1998. Swaraj, a woman of wit and bureaucratic proficiency, joined politics as a student leader of ABVP in 1970, organizing protests against corruption and the tyranny of Indira Gandhi’s government. She joined JP Narayan for ‘total revolution’ and gave free legal advice to those detained by police for Anti-Emergency activities. A prominent BJP member, she has been elected seven times as a Member of Parliament and 3 times as a Member of Legislative Assembly.
A leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mayawati has served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Popularly hailed as ‘Behenji’, in June 1995 she became first Dalit woman CM of India. Mayawati was introduced into politics by a prominent Dalit politician, Kanshi Ram.
Narasimha Rao, a former PM of India, had called her rise from humble beginnings as a ‘miracle of democracy‘. Her appointment to the office was always followed by implementation of policies for uplifting her voter base, primarily Dalits. These policies included job guarantees, debt waivers, land redistribution and shuffling of bureaucracy to promote Dalit officers.
No matter who it is, the coming of a woman Prime Minister will definitely give a befitting reply to the blatant social patriarchy, sexism and gender inequality in India. The suffering of Indian women may not be over anytime soon, but the silence that masked it for millennia is gone.