It is often said Politics is a man’s world. It is a “dirty profession” and there is no place for “honourable women” in this world of politics. Initially, perhaps public perception changed slightly with the only woman in politics then. Indira Gandhi. The ‘iron woman’ of India. Or the only ‘man’ in the Indian Government. The one who had the ‘courage’ to take on Pakistan. Barring the difference in core political ideology, Indira Gandhi certainly was a woman of steel who changed how the country viewed women’s place in modern politics.
However, it is tragic that many other women, who in their own way stood toe to toe with men in politics, were sidelined by the pages of history.
Growing up, I knew Anandiben Patel, former Chief Minister of Gujarat and also the Education Minister of Gujarat. She was the only woman I had heard of in politics back then. I started observing Indian politics 2004 onwards.
It was the same year when ironically, as Anandiben Patel surged ahead in a man’s world, Sonia Gandhi did the “janana thing” by paying heed to her ‘antaratma ki awaaz‘. She became the quintessential “balidan ki murti” and passed on the baton of leading India to Dr Manmohan Singh, a man who could do it better. But it wasn’t until many years later, when I joined mainstream media as a journalist, that I started noticing nuances of Indian politics. And then in 2014, after the BJP swept the nation in a saffron wave, my curiosity increased multifold. I noticed how the power play works.
It took 70 years after independence in India for a woman fighter pilot to soar the skies solo. Hence when we are breaking the glass ceiling for women in India every other day, it is heartening to know that in the Indian government, three of the major ministries in the cabinet are headed by women. The work they do will be judged by history. What we can admire today, is what they signify. What their position in the Government means for women in India.
Sushma Swaraj, Union Minister of External Affairs
A personal favourite. If there is one thing I wish to do, is to work under her someday. When she is not strengthening diplomatic relations with foreign countries, she is busy rescuing distressed Indians stranded abroad. In 1973, at the age of 21, she was an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. During the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Swaraj, along with her husband Swaraj Kaushal was part of the team defending George Fernandes. Strangely, it is still Indira Gandhi who became the “iron lady” without so much as a whisper about Sushma Swaraj or many like her. She was also the first female Chief Minister of Delhi. I, of course, enjoy her witty quips on Twitter where she shows that politicians have a sense of humour, too. Credit here must also be given to her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, who can very well match up to his wife’s wit.
Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister of Defence
Being first full-time woman Defence Minister of India says something about her grit. Prior to her, only Indira Gandhi held the portfolio, which she had allocated to herself when she was the Prime Minister of India. A Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) graduate, Sitharaman holds an MA in Economics and served as an assistant to Economist in the Agricultural Engineers Association in the UK. She also worked Price Waterhouse during her stay in the UK. As Raksha Mantri, she has led from the front, whether it is interacting with the MiG 29k pilots and sailors or greeting the Chinese soldiers at the India-China border at Nathu La. Makes one feel we are in safe hands.
Smriti Irani, Union Minister of Textiles and Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting
From an actor to a politician, Irani has transitioned so well that she is an inspiration. As Minister of Textiles, she heads an industry which is one of the highest providers of employment, direct and indirect. As someone who faces sexist and offensive abuses on a regular basis, she gives it back as good as she gets.
Today, as we celebrate Women’s Day, here’s raising a toast to the women on top in Indian politics. The women who stand toe to toe with the most powerful men in the world and say “I AM”. To the women who bring hope to all the little girls who would have never thought of joining, and excelling, in the “dirty field of politics”. The women who rule. The women who make it look so effortless. So elegant. The ones who make power look so humble. The women who do it all with such elan.