On Women’s Day, Here Are Our Ten Most Powerful Female Politicians
Although representation of women in the Parliament remains abysmally low, these women have beaten the odds.
A stalled Women’s Bill, poor representation and a custom-made patriarchal quilt meant to asphyxiate – the Indian political system has historically endeavoured to keep women from batting.
But here are ten women who have forged their own path, standing not only as equals to their male counterparts, but as path-breakers in their own right.
Stalwarts like Sonia Gandhi and Vasundhara Raje Scindia have managed to champion a family name, famed by male predecessors, while others like Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee have become representatives of whole communities.
On International Women’s Day, let’s salute these powerful women.
Four-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati has risen through the ranks. She became the first Dalit chief minister in 1995 and has been a formidable contender in the political fray since.
She was a founding member of the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984 and has been single-handedly running the party after her mentor, Kanshi Ram, anointed her his successor in 2001.
2. Mamata Banerjee
Mamata Banerjee is West Bengal’s incumbent chief minister and is the first and only woman to hold that post. Popularly referred to as ‘didi’, she was elected again for a second term in the Assembly elections in May 2016.
She broke away from the Congress party in 1998 to form the All India Trinamool Congress, which managed to end a 34-year-old communist rule in the state.
3. Sushma Swaraj
Sushma Swaraj is the current minister of external affairs and is popularly perceived as the ‘superwoman’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, famously swooping in to rescue people tweeting to her for help.
Swaraj became the youngest ever Cabinet minister (at 25 in Devi Lal’s cabinet) and holds a key position in Modi’s cabinet and in the parliamentary board of the BJP – a parivar that is still largely male-centric.
4. Vashundhara Raje Scindia
Vasundhara Raje Scindia is the incumbent chief minister of Rajasthan and is the first woman to be elected to the post. She was first sworn-in as CM in 2003 and even though she lost the elections in 2008, her popularity did not dwindle – she was re-elected in 2013.
A member of the royal Scindia family of Gwalior, Raje married Hemant Singh of the former royal family in Dholpur, Rajasthan. Though the couple separated a year later, Raje has been a popular leader in the state, referring to it as her sasural.
5. Smriti Irani
From an aspiring model, to a television superstar to becoming a key confidante of the prime minister, Smriti Zubin Irani has had a long and noteworthy career.
She is the current minister of textiles and the vice president of the BJP. From the beginning of her career, Irani has taken on (male) political giants – Kapil Sibal in the 2004 general elections, and Rahul Gandhi in 2014.
6. Sasikala Natarajan
In the aftermath of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death, Sasikala, or ‘Chinamma’ as she is addressed, was engrossed in an intense battle for succession.
Her dreams of becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu were dashed when she was convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case. But even without being the chief minister or holding any political office, Sasikala is currently the most powerful woman in Tamil Nadu.
Sasikala was a close and cherished aide of Jayalalithaa’s and lived in her home at Poes Garden. Her relationship to Jaya has been likened to that of Jaya’s with MGR.
7. Sonia Gandhi
President of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi entered politics reluctantly. Married to Rajiv Gandhi, former prime minister of India, she protested when Rajiv entered politics and stayed strategically away when she was asked to take over, after his assassination in 1991.
She finally agreed to join politics in 1997 and has led the Congress party ever since. An Italian, married into an eminent Indian family, the adjustments Sonia has had to make are not ordinary.
In recent years, she has been seen taking a backseat in the party to make way for her son, Rahul.
8. Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti, the incumbent chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is the first woman to hold that post, and is India’s second Muslim woman to be CM (Syeda Anwara Taimur, Assam’s chief minister for six months, was the first).
She succeeded her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, after his death in 2016, but has attempted to delink herself from his legacy. In an interview before she took on the job as CM, she said:
... When I fought the 1996 election, being Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter, it has its own plus and minus, so I told my father, ‘Please don’t come for campaigning with me.’
9. Priyanka Gandhi
The daughter of Sonia and Rajiv, the Gandhi scion remains a popular figure within the Congress Party. But for her rejection of a leading role within the party, many believe Priyanka would have made a worthy successor to her grandmother Indira Gandhi.
However, her lack of interest for politics has not kept her from regularly campaigning for the Congress in her families constituencies of Rae Bareilly and Amethi, where she remains a popular figure and draws huge crowds during her poll rallies. Her work in the background in Uttar Pradesh, forms the skeleton of Congress’ political campaigns.
10. Dimple Yadav
The country's first uncontested MP, Dimple Yadav is fast becoming one of the most influential female politicians in the country. She has for long been credited for being the driving force behind the successes of Uttar Pradesh chief minister and husband, Akhilesh Yadav.
After recent troubles in the Samajwadi Party, Dimple bhabhi has stepped into the limelight to campaign for herself and her husband.
Second of three daughters of retired Indian Army Col RCS Rawat, Dimple met Akhilesh when she was a student and married him when she was only 21.
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