“Why can’t a woman be the Speaker?,” Sumitra Mahajan had asked an interviewer on LSTV ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. She may have had herself in mind when she responded with this poser after a question.
Though it is quite natural for a politician to have an ambition — and Mahajan is no exception — she lacks what is called the killer’s instinct to pursue a goal like many people in electoral politics. She is too mild-mannered to push herself beyond a point. Her inability to engage anyone into a combat might have enabled her rivals to overtake her many a time, but it is precisely this hallmark of her persona which has got her the office of Lok Sabha Speaker.
Senior leaders from all parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, moved motions on Thursday proposing her name for the high office. Mahajan’s was the only name that was proposed as the time for filing nomination for the post came to a close on Thursday noon. The formal election will take place Friday.
Popularly known as “Tai” (elder sister in Marathi) in Indore, Mahajan has had her share of critics both within and outside the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. The Indore BJP is divided between the “Tai-faction” and “Bhai-faction”, led by MP minister Kailash Vijayvargiya. However, she has no detractors in Delhi. In the ruling dispensation, she has everything going for herself. An eight-term member of the LS, she is considered a complete neutral. Congress circles too describe her as a “bhali mahila” (decent woman).
Born in Chipulin, Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, in 1943, Mahajan is a law graduate. Once a homemaker, she made her entry into BJP-circles because of a high standing of her father, Purushottam Sathe, in the RSS. She was patronised and promoted by former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre. He appointed her as general secretary in 1998 when he became the BJP president. She entered the Lok Sabha by defeating Congress stalwart P C Sethi.
Mahajan served as Union minister of state in three different Cabinets between 1999 and 2003, but was unhappy over the absence of suitable delegation of powers. She was a rallying force for disgruntled junior ministers and hosted two dinner-meetings for them, but the noises which they made met with good verbal responses and little action on the ground.
Conducting business in the House does not look like much of a challenge to her. The BJP is in a commanding position. The Opposition seems defanged. Mahajan would have ample opportunity to project herself as a benign figure, modelled on her idol, 18th-century Indore queen Ahilyabai Holkar.
But just in case there is a situation which calls upon her to play the practioner of realpolitik, she can turn to her other idol, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, whose image formed the backdrop whenever she gave news bytes to TV journalists as BJP general secretary.