At the start of the year, veteran Congress politician Margaret Alva, 80, wrote a letter to PM Narendra Modi, expressing her angst over a move by the BJP government in Karnataka to bring in a law on religious conversions.
“We Christians are a disciplined, non-violent, service-oriented community. If we were involved in mass conversions, why is our number under three per cent? 200 years of rule by Christian colonial powers and work by so-called ‘missionaries involved in forced conversions’ should have shown in our numbers, which have been declining. Why this false propaganda and violence against us?” she wrote.
The letter to the PM and participation in protests against The Karnataka Protection of Right of Freedom of Religion Bill in the latter half of 2021 saw Alva, once a political force to be reckoned with in Karnataka, returning to the political stage in the state after a long hiatus. Now the Opposition’s ‘consensus’ candidate for the vice-president’s post, Alva finds herself in the spotlight once again.
Despite hailing from coastal Karnataka and representing the current Uttara Kannada (then known as Kanara) Lok Sabha constituency in Parliament in 1999, Margaret Alva has largely been identified as a national politician.
A lawyer, Alva entered Rajya Sabha at age 32 and was a member of the Upper House for four terms, and 24 years at a stretch, from 1974.
She has been a minister in several Congress governments at the Centre –under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and P V Narasimha Rao. She was minister for women and child development during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure.
Around two decades ago, her connection with the Congress high command was formidable enough for speculation in the Karnataka unit of the party of Alva being a contender for the CM post.
Alva has a strong political lineage — much before she got into politics, her late husband Niranjan Thomas Alva’s parents were the first couple to be in Parliament.
“My parents-in-law, the late Joachim and Violet Alva, were freedom fighters who went to jail and became the first couple in Parliament. My mother-in-law also became Parliament’s first woman presiding officer,” Alva wrote in her letter to the PM.
Alva’s father-in-law Joachim Alva represented Kanara constituency in Lok Sabha as a Congress MP for three terms and 15 years from 1952 to 1967. Her husband Niranjan, a lawyer and businessman, died in 2018.
Alva had a brief spell of frosty ties with the Congress leadership in Delhi after she stated, in 2008, that the Karnataka unit of the party was selling election tickets to the highest bidders rather than picking candidates on merit. She was removed from party roles for a period of around six months before being appointed as Governor of Uttarakhand.
She later took on gubernatorial assignments in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Goa, taking her further away from electoral politics in Karnataka. Her son Nivedith Alva has been an aspirant for representing the Uttara Kannada region in the state legislature for many years. One of her sons Niret Alva is a renowned television producer.