Sunday, April 05, 2009

Many more Mayawatis

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, April 5, 2009


Rajeshwari Nora in her beauty parlour in Narnaul, Haryana

They cannot compete with Mayawati, or Jayalalitha or Sonia Gandhi. But the new breed of women politicians springing up in India’s small towns will become a political force to reckon with in the years to come.

Take Rajeshwari Nora, the owner of a beauty parlour by that name in the town of Narnaul in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district. Her 6 ft by 10 ft beauty parlour has mirrors on two sides and large posters of a host of popular Hindi film stars ranging from Rani Mukherjee to Katrina Kaif on the back wall. Two swivel chairs and a bench for those waiting their turn completes the furniture. All the film stars are dressed in bridal finery. Rajeshwari tells me she specialises in bridal make up. Beauty parlours are a flourishing business in this small town of under one lakh people, she says.

At home in politics

But Rajeshwari is not just in the beauty business. She is also into politics as a nominated member of the local municipal council. And she takes her task seriously, worrying about the water supply and garbage clearance. She already speaks like a veteran politician. “My family was in the BJP. I was also in the BJP. Right now I’m in the Congress. But I can change,” she tells me without the slightest hint of embarrassment.

In Mirzapur in U.P., a town on the banks of the Ganga that also hosts the carpet industry, Mamta Yadav is enthusiasm personified. This 28-year-old MA in history has been elected to the Mirzapur municipal council. She got the largest number of votes and says she won because “people thought we should vote for an educated person.” Mamta also heads the standing committee on education and she loves every minute of the importance and attention she is getting. “Rajneeti bahut achchi cheez hai (politics is a very good thing)”, she tells me as we sit in her home in Mirzapur town.

Mamta lives in a middle-income colony with paved paths and unexpectedly clean drains. Her husband, a cable operator in five wards, supports his wife’s efforts. Unlike other husbands of elected women representatives, he defers to her and lets her do all the talking. “I’m a fan of politics,” says Mamta, a mother of two children, a boy aged nine and a girl aged five. Earlier, she had considered becoming a teacher. But now she has been bitten by the rajneeti (politics) bug and intends to continue.

Mamta says she draws inspiration from Mayawati, Pratibha Patil and Sonia Gandhi. “Whatever you say, women are proud that a woman and a Dalit has reached such a high position,” she says of Mayawati. An interesting comment coming from a woman who is not a Dalit and who is close to the Congress Party.

In Rajnandgaon in Chhatisgarh, a Dalit doctor is a member of the municipal council. Dr. Rekha Meshram is a Mahar. She runs her clinic and her office as a councillor from her home, located in a colony of Mahars. Her education helps her, she says, to understand her duties and her rights as a councillor. She can read the budget and discuss it unlike other councillors, many of whom are barely literate.

But Rekha has a different spin on educated women entering politics. “I understand why educated people don’t want to enter. We need to be patient, to be articulate. Being educated is the biggest handicap in politics. You can’t get ahead on your own talent. Till you have a godfather, you can’t go all out. Women get caught, entangled in this web. Party politics is very difficult for women members.” Rekha is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Although she believes that women have a difficult time, she too is convinced she will continue to be in politics.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link below.Many more Mayawatis)

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