when Mehbooba Mufti assumed charge as the 12th Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and became the first woman to hold the post in the sensitive border state in the northern most tip of India, a new record of sorts was set in Indian politics. For the first time ever, in all four corners of the country – from Tamil Nadu in the south, Gujarat in the west to West Bengal in the east, women are holding fort, in states which have been noted for being administered by many stalwarts before them.
Among the contemporary lot, Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu is the senior-most, aspiring for marking her 25th year as an active politician with a repeat run of success in the forthcoming elections – she became the CM for the first time in 1991. The second in the order, Mamata Banerjee, who was mentored to a certain extent in Congress politics by the then state chief, Pranab Mukherjee, is also confident of retaining the state of West Bengal which she won in 2011, fighting an acrimonious battle with the well-entrenched Left which had held fort for a whopping 34 years at a stretch in the east.
Anandiben Patel, a first-timer, positioned at the top slot in Gujarat by the pro-Modi group of her party in 2014, has already cut her teeth in the caste politics of the state, when she handled the Patidar agitation in 2015 and grappled with a slight reduction of support for BJP during the municipal polls in Gujarat. Already, like her female contemporaries, she too has had to battle allegations against her as her daughter seems to be a parallel power centre in Gujarat, which has come handy for the embattled opposition.
A quick analysis of the scenario to understand the scene in a detailed manner reveals interesting highlights. Mehbooba is the 16th woman Chief Minister to have been elected/selected, the line-up in independent India studded with very popular political names. Beginning with Sucheta Kripalani, the first ever woman Chief Minister (October 2, 1963 – March 13, 1967) who ruled the volatile state of Uttar Pradesh, the collection boasts of both national and regional parties, some names in the list added just because of familial/nepotistic connections.
Nandini Satpathy took over the reins of Orissa in the ’70s, in two phases, and in just about the same time, her contemporary, Shashikala Kakodkar, assumed charge in Goa. Both of them had male relatives in politics and were grafted into the slots that they occupied, like their supreme leader Indira Gandhi, who inherited the legacy of her legendary father, Jawaharlal Nehru. It can even be said that the period between 1972 and 1991 saw the rise of woman power at its best, a phenomenon unmatched elsewhere in the world, where women were rightfully equipped with equal opportunities in the society.
The two decades, after this, beginning with the ascent of Jayalalithaa, after just a decade of political apprenticeship under her leader M G Ramachandran, saw the birth of more women politicians – Mayawati ( Uttar Pradesh), Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Punjab), Rabri Devi ( Bihar), Sushma Swaraj ( Delhi), Sheila Dikshit (Delhi), Uma Bharati , Vasundhara Raje Scindia ( Rajasthan) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal).
A few of the aforementioned names are not going away anywhere in Indian politics, with at least three of them – Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Mayawati – have their names tossed around as potential prime ministerial candidates in the future, which may be as early as the 2019 elections. Having been grudgingly admitted into the exclusive male club and reluctantly admired for their unique take on administration and political management, Indian politics is now getting more inclusive, however hard the glass ceiling remains difficult to break.