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Bihar’s woman power, from proxies to politicians

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Picture credit: oneindia.com

New Delhi: Thirty-five-years-ago, Bhagirathi Devi was a sweeper in the block development office in Narkatiyaganj, a town in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

Picture credit: economictimes.com
Picture credit: economictimes.com

Today, she is a third-term member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), representing the Ramnagar (formerly Shikarpur) constituency in northwestern Bihar, one of 34 female MLAs in the 243-member house.

A Mahadalit – as the Bihar government started calling the poorest of low-caste Dalits in 2007 – Bhagirathi Devi joined politics as a reaction to what she saw around her.

“I was angry at the injustice and cruelty meted out to the poor, especially poor women, who came to the block development officer’s office,” said Bhagirathi Devi, 65.

Us din hum soch liye ki rajneeti mein jayenge aur babu logon ko sabak sikhayenge (That was the day I decided to enter politics and teach the officers a lesson),” she said.

Since 1980, when she quit her job as sweeper, Bhagirathi Devi spent the next several years creating mahila sangathans (women’s groups) in Narkatiyaganj block, organizing women and stirring awareness around issues that included domestic violence, violence against dalits and fair wages.

Gradually, she expanded her political activism to other blocks in the district, going to jail in 1991 for organizing demonstrations.

Bhagirathi Devi’s decision to enter politics was not easy for a poor Mahadalit family with six children (her husband is a railway employee). It was particularly challenging to organize her household before she set off every day, traveling to nearby villages.

Such was the strength of her conviction that Bhagirathi Devi separated from her husband for the next five years, taking him back only when he realized that there was no turning back for her.

It took a decade to consolidate her grounds at the grass root level before she entered party politics, and 10 more years before she got a BJP election ticket.

Today, she is seen in the assembly as an MLA who will not be easily silenced.

Bhagirathi Devi’s political journey, while being one of grit and determination, is also a reminder of the difficult choices that women politicians, especially from marginalized groups, have to make and yet be consigned to the margins of political landscape, always spoken of as “proxies” of a male relative.

It is also a reminder of the restricted spaces for women in Bihar’s – and India’s -political parties, unless they are backed by political lineage.

Why Bihar’s women MLAs are not proxies?

Bhagirathi Devi represents, as IndiaSpend reported, a remarkable surge in female MLAs that otherwise backward Bihar has witnessed over the last decade.

Yet, the question that is often asked is: “Are these women MLAs really empowered or are they proxies for powerful male relatives?”

The term ‘proxy’ was largely used for women in panchayats (village councils), put forward by male relatives to contest seats they had to vacate following the 33 percent reservation for women announced in 1992 under the 73rd amendment of the constitution, or when the men became ineligible after criminal convictions.

The term was further made infamous by Lalu Yadav, who installed his wife Rabri Devi as Bihar’s chief minister after his imprisonment in a fodder scam.

If proxies were defined as women put forward to contest elections because their male relatives had to step down, mostly due to criminal convictions, Bihar data now dispels this widely held myth.

Of Bihar’s 34 female MLAs, only six have contested seats vacated by male relatives, usually husbands, according to data published on Myneta.in, a public-interest website run by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy that tracks political candidates nationwide.

The majority, 82 percent of women MLAs, have won elections of their own merit.

Yet, the term ‘proxy’ is used for women MLAs with its undertones of gender and class bias. Media stories on female political candidates have often furthered this narrative.

The female proxies who shook off their proximity to their men

Leshi Singh,an MLA from Dhamdaha in eastern Bihar and widow of Butan Singh (against whom many criminal cases have been filed), was called his proxy long after his death, while the well-educated, male politicians who stepped in after the death of their fathers are seen as carrying forth their legacy.

Critics also assume that women with poor educational qualifications are almost always akin to puppets, with the real power lying with male relatives.

Like Bhagirathi Devi, a fifth-class pass, Jyothi Devi, the MLA representing Barachatti constituency in Gaya district of Southern Bihar, disproved that assumption.

A battle that has only just been joined

Hum toh zabardasti bolte hain. Hum na Lalu se darte hain na (Chief Minister) Nitish (Kumar) se. Vote janta deta hai. Bus hum sirf usi se darte hain (I insist on speaking. I am neither afraid of Lalu Yadav nor Nitish Kumar. I am only accountable to the electorate that elects me)” said Bhagirathi Devi, when asked about the space for women to speak and intervene in the assembly.

While some female MLAs are indeed fronts for male relatives, they are – as we noted – a minority. Dismissing the rest as “proxies” will not serve the cause of governance.

(By Bhanupriya Rao, IANS)

Next Story

What Exactly is Happening Behind The Corridors of Power? Analyzing Elections 2019

Is this what a love-hate relationship is all about? Is there bad news in the mahagathbandhan again?

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democracy
These are small anecdotes, small pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle and stitching them together allows one to take a glimpse at the larger picture. This time, I thought I would present a bouquet of different stories, which will perhaps allow a reader to get a glimpse of the full picture. Pixabay

Separate, seemingly unconnected pieces, combine to make up an inseparable home.

This is true of our lives, as it is of our political system. Now, as India is consumed by electoral frenzy, and the biggest democratic exercise of the world has begun, the question needs to be asked: What exactly is happening behind the corridors of power? What is happening inside North Block, or South Block? What is happening inside the party offices?

These are small anecdotes, small pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle and stitching them together allows one to take a glimpse at the larger picture. This time, I thought I would present a bouquet of different stories, which will perhaps allow a reader to get a glimpse of the full picture.

The Narendra Modi government is very upset with Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal. Now 88-years-old, the Centre doesn’t want to change the AG, especially so close to the elections. But the reason for the anger is this: That he told the apex court that the Rafale files had been stolen. This was neither the government’s view, nor the official defence ministry version. His claim was an attempt to counter Prashant Bhushan’s query on the leaked Rafale story. Later, the government clarified through affidavits presented by the defence secretary in the court that the file hadn’t been stolen, but that “one page had been photocopied and leaked”.

If one tells the court that the file had been stolen, then the actual security in place at the defence ministry — the custodians of India’s national security — comes under the scanner. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told in closed circles that if the files were stolen, then she was responsible and would be in trouble. For now the situation is under control, but the murmurs remain: who leaked the file? Another foreign fighter company? An Indian mole? Inside South Block – a spy vs spy drama ensues.

Rahul Gandhi
A few days back, Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi sat together at Sharad Pawar’s house in Delhi. This was only to give the message that they were together. But recently, Rahul Gandhi went to West Bengal and at rally in north Bengal, he once against launched an attack on Didi, claiming that Modi and Banerjee were the same.. wekimediacommons

Dimple Yadav has a new best friend. Of late, she has developed a very comfortable relationship with none other than Priyanka Gandhi. The two meet frequently and are talking to each other daily. The communications on elections continue, whether it has to do with selecting candidates for the campaigns or criticism of the BJP government. While Rahul-Akhilesh remains the primary channel for communication between the two parties, this is a valuable track two for the ‘mahagathbandhan’.

There is no doubt that Modi is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) star campaigner ahead of their 2019 campaign. Amit Shah and BJP leaders, including Arun Jaitley, have finalised the Prime Minister’s campaign strategy. It is clear that from the end of March, all through April and till May, he will hold a number of rallies – expected to cross 200. Every state unit wants him. Modi is fit, possibly healthier than all else in his cabinet. The Prime Minister’s massive medical team has admitted, gladly, that for the past five years they’ve been rendered jobless – he does yoga, exercises daily, eats less and has a diet primarily of salad and soup, wakes up early, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, is a vegetarian.

There is only one problem: He has to maintain the health of his vocal chords. The Prime Minister’s voice, the pitch and tenor might well dictate the future of the BJP. It is not easy, especially with 3-4 rallies, a break in the voice is normal. Gossip in the Prime Minister’s Office is that Modi’s solution comes from an old saint from Varanasi, who has prepared an ayurvedic solution. The prescription: A very simple concoction of tulsi, kali mirch and mishri boiled in water. This concentrated juice will help him, while another solution is mulethi.

The venue: Pakistan High Commission in Delhi. The event was Pakistan Day celebrations on March 23. But, the celebrations were taking place a day earlier. There was major controversy. A massive cordon of the Delhi Police was present. The Hurriyat Conference was a major factor, although no Indian representatives was there. Both American and Chinese diplomats were present.

The Chinese First Secretary (Political), Liu Ziuqin came, dressed gracefully in a salwar suit, while American Deputy Chief of Mission MaryKay L. Carlson was wearing an Indian saree, of which she has a massive collection. But irrespective of the controversy, it was clear that they were all fond of the rich, spicy and delicious Pakistani cuisine. On most occasions, diplomats tend to steer clear of such dishes, sticking to the safety of soups and salads. But during the celebrations, they gorged on biryanis, kormas and kebabs.

The Prime Minister’s mammoth campaign began in earnest after March 25. In the coming election, Modi is the star and only Shah and Jaitley were present, when his campaign strategy was discussed. A plan, spanning approximately 40 days from March 25 to the first week of May.

On an average, the Prime Minister will hold three to four rallies daily in different states. A central rally in a state capital, followed by three more. So, 40 multiplied by four, at least 160 rallies. Potentially, 200 rallies and each state, going to the polls in the seven phases, are desperate to have Modi campaign in their state.

Now it fell on Jaitley to deal with the Herculean task of delving into the demands and deciding the area where the rallies will take place. The main theme of the campaign is Sashakt Bharat — strong nation, with good governance. Most wanted slogans: ‘Namumkin abhi mumkin hain’, ‘Hum sab chowkidar hain’, ‘Modi keu pachta nahi’, ‘Mahamilwat ka halt’, among others.

The Prime Minister might end up going to Bengal, north east and Odisha more often since he is trying to get more seats in the area. Jaitley’s role will be one that he has played during many elections — holding the war room in Delhi and each morning he has been training the spokespersons’ panel. In this, Ravi Shankar Prasad has been aiding.

The combination of the rallies each day is also very important and in order to ensure that all of this is planned to perfection, Jaitley has been coming to the party office every day in the morning. The new party office, as a result, is abuzz with activity — and all the gossip about the vastu not being ideal there has also been proven wrong.

narendra modi

The Prime Minister’s mammoth campaign began in earnest after March 25. In the coming election, Modi is the star and only Shah and Jaitley were present, when his campaign strategy was discussed. A plan, spanning approximately 40 days from March 25 to the first week of May. Pixabay

Is this what a love-hate relationship is all about? Is there bad news in the mahagathbandhan again?

A few days back, Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi sat together at Sharad Pawar’s house in Delhi. This was only to give the message that they were together. But recently, Rahul Gandhi went to West Bengal and at rally in north Bengal, he once against launched an attack on Didi, claiming that Modi and Banerjee were the same.

It is no surprise that Didi was upset and unhappy with Rahul Gandhi’s reaction. She didn’t go for an alliance with the Congress before the election, but with the Congress president’s personal attack on her and naming her, what will she do? Will she also attack Rahul in north Bengal?

To be or not to be? Didi’s question is simple: Senior people in the party and Rahul Gandhi should figure out who is their target in 2019, Modi or Mamata?

Also Read: Regular Intake of Sleeping Pills Can Adversely Effect Blood Pressure

At a time when the BJP headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg in Delhi is abuzz with activity, workers are with teeming all around, meetings are taking place, plans for the campaign are being chalked out, thali after thali is being consumed at the canteen, there is one constant: Jagdish Bhai Bhatiya.

A real estate businessman from Malviya Nagar, he isn’t a politician. But he is much in demand for many who want him to canvass for the party in their areas. The reason: because of how similar he looks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many senior BJP leaders have already made the mistake, as has the SPG on a few occasions. An ardent fan of Modi, Bhatiya is often found in the party office, eating thalis at the canteen. He has also made an effort to work on his Modi look. He dresses like the Prime Minister and has even got a similar haircut. Every one, as a result, wants him in their constituency. In spite of not taking a single penny, Bhatiya is more than happy is his role.  (IANS)