Renuka Devi Borkataki, a former union minister of state in the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai, passed away in a government hospital on Monday following a major injury she suffered two days ago. The first woman from Assam and the Northeast to have found a berth in the central government, she was 85.
Born in 1932, Borkataki was active as a student leader since her high school days and was twice elected general secretary of the students’ union of the TC Choudhury Girls HS School, Guwahati. In 1946, when Mahatma Gandhi visited Assam for the last time, she was Captain of the Congress Seva Dal women’s wing.
First elected to Lok Sabha on a Congress ticket from Barpeta constituency in Assam in 1962, she sided with Kamaraj and Morarji Desai when the Congress suffered a major split in 1967. In 1972, she was elected as an MLA from the Hajo assembly constituency near Guwahati on a Congress (O) ticket and remained deputy leader of the Opposition till 1978. She was among the several prominent opposition leaders who were arrested in Assam when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in June 1975.
On release from prison when the Emergency was lifted after 19 months in 1977, Borkataki was elected on a Janata Party ticket to Lok Sabha from the Guwahati constituency. She was appointed a minister of state for education and culture in the Morarji Desai government with PC Chunder as her senior minister and became the first woman from the Northeastern region to find a berth in the union government.
Borkataki had also served as president of the Assam chapter of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the Assam chapter of the Red Cross, apart from being a member of the Mahatma Gandhi & Martyrs’ Memorial Trust. Her husband Munin Borkataki, an eminent Assamese author, playwright, journalist and literary critic, had predeceased her in 1993. She is survived by her only daughter Minaxi Borkataki, an eminent scholar and writer who lives in Germany. (ends)