Lok Sabha elections 2019: Out of poll race, Sumitra Mahajan still in Indore limelight
Mahajan is the second woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha after Meira Kumar and her tenure saw significant disruptions in parliament as well as the passage of landmark legislations. She says she looks back at her term as an example of what a common Indian woman can achieve.
She might not contest any more Lok Sabha elections, but Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, 76, remains the biggest draw at the BJP city office in Indore’s Jaora Compound.
Hundreds of people, mostly men, jostle to meet her and click selfies even as other senior BJP leaders hardly have any visitors in their rooms. Mahajan greets all her fans warmly but also reminds most of them about their duty in the ongoing elections.
“Don’t think I am sitting idle just because I decided not to contest the poll. I meet many people, hold daily meetings with smaller units of the party and spend hours in this office. If I spot anyone without any work, I promptly assign him or her some task,” said Mahajan, laughing.
Last month, the eight-term parliamentarian wrote an open letter questioning the BJP’s hesitation in announcing its Indore candidate and declared that she would not contest the Lok Sabha polls. On Friday, there was no ring of frustration in her tone as she credited the BJP for her success -- “they recognized my work and gave me a chance” – and said that after she became Speaker, she had almost made up her mind not to fight any more elections.
“I told the party brass that I don’t want to contest. But they always used to say ‘accha dekhenge’ or ‘baad mein dekhenge’,” she said. With Mahajan stepping out of the poll fray, the BJP has given the Indore ticket to her trusted aide, Shankar Lalwani. Lalwani is the BJP’s only Sindhi candidate in the 2019 general election. Mahajan is the second woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha after Meira Kumar and her tenure saw significant disruptions in parliament as well as the passage of landmark legislations. She says she looks back at her term as an example of what a common Indian woman can achieve.
“I, too, was a housewife like many common Indian women. I had no special talent in politics. I was working in some mahila mandal (BJP’s women cell). My husband was an advocate and in-laws were in hosiery business. Without any political background, someone like me has reached such a height in public life. This shows if a common woman stands firm, she can do miracles,” Mahajan said.
And how did she maintain her cool in parliament amid acrimony between the ruling party and the Opposition? “Oh,” she said, with a smile. “See, I am also a mother. A woman has to manage her in-laws in her sasural and also raise her children. If she has two children, it doesn’t mean both will have the same taste or temperament. But a mother can handle them without beating them. By nature, I am cool. I also used to think that their (opposition’s) protests are not against me but against the ruling side.”
But Mahajan, who was unanimously elected to the top post in the House, admitted, “If an opposition party sits quietly, it can’t be an opposition party. They also have to raise their issues.”
Her problem in running the House, however, lay elsewhere. In her own words, Mahajan found it difficult to negotiate with opposition parties as the non-National NDA space was full of diverse parties with no natural leader. “Someone had 44 MPs (Congress), someone else had 37 (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) while another had 34 MPs. So, each party felt as if it is the main party in the Opposition space. My biggest dilemma was: who should I talk to? Thankfully, I had known most of these leaders. When we were in the Opposition, we maintained a good rapport with leaders of the ruling side,” she said. Her aides narrate a story of her grand-daughter, an ardent fan of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, asking Mahajan to introduce her to Priyanka Gandhi. As Priyanka Gandhi was not in active politics at that time, Mahajan tried to find a way to fulfil her grand-daughter’s wish. So, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, along with her family members, were invited for tea to the Speaker’s House and the little one got her chance to interact with Priyanka Gandhi.
The decision of Mahajan – “Tai” to her admirers — to withdraw from electoral politics has drawn mixed responses. Kishore Singh, an Indore-based entrepreneur, said, “Tai is an integral part of Indore. It’s sad that she is not contesting the poll but it in no way diminishes her image.” But Akshay, a cab driver, had a different take. “Everyone must gracefully retire after a certain age and allow newcomers to take over. I think it is a good decision for both Tai and the party,” he said.
Despite her decision, the election heat has not escaped Indore’s favourite woman. Yet, she is hesitant to evaluate Congress president Rahul Gandhi. “I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I think Rahul needs more gravitas as the leader of the oldest Indian party. He is learning, I think.”
As she swings between Hindi and chaste Marathi to greet visitors, Sumitra Mahajan shows that while she may have withdrawn from electoral politics, she isn’t done with public life yet.