Ritu Pandey is unabashedly expansive about her dreams. “Mera politics mein ambition hai ki mujhe sabhi log jaane (My ambition in politics is that I want everyone to know me).”
But she knows these are dreams too big for Dholpur’s Ward No. 12 and her two-room house that she shares with her husband and three children, and too daunting for a woman. So she tempers them somewhat. “Par mein Dholpur se bahar koi rajniti nahin karna chahti (I don’t want to do any politics outside Dholpur). I am from Gwalior, a big city, but I came to Dholpur after marriage, and now I will remain here, work here,” says Pandey, a booth worker and a member of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Dholpur, the east Rajasthan district that is the home ground of former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, reverentially called “Dholpur ki bahu” or “maharani sa”.
Months after Rajasthan voted in a new government, the state is in election mode again. Of Dholpur’s four Assembly constituencies, three went to the Congress while the BJP’s Shobharani Kushwaha won from Dholpur, the seat that shares the same name as the district.
Vijay Tyagi, the ‘Lok Sabha media pramukh’ for the BJP in Dholpur, says the party has been carrying out a series of activities ahead of the elections. “We recently took out a candle march for the Pulwama martyrs. Then, we have been hoisting the Tricolour at the homes of all workers who, in turn, will persuade people in their booths to hoist the flag. Besides, our women workers have been told to rally women voters… they recently made a rangoli with flowers,” he says.
Pandey says she missed the rangoli programme because she had organised a puja for her child that day. The mother of three says she is anyway mostly home these days. “My children need me… Also, they have their exams coming up,” says Ritu, sitting on the double bed that fills up most of her living room in Top Tiraha area of Dholpur. Her husband owns an electrical appliances store in the area.
Pandey recently quit her job as the principal of a local “English-medium school” to spend more time with her children and, “if time permits”, work for the BJP. “Her politics is not full-time,” says her husband’s chachi (aunt), who lives in the same compound. “See, a woman can do politics only as long as her family isn’t disturbed,”says the chachi.
Pandey, however, says she will step out more often once campaigning for the elections begins. “Once that happens, I will go door to door and meet people… I don’t hang out at the party office like the men; I go only if I have work assigned to me,” she says.
The last time Pandey went to the BJP’s Dholpur office was for a training session months before the Assembly elections. “During elections, we are given a list with the names of voters in our ward. And we are told how to convince people to come to the booth. We are supposed to tell them about the work the BJP did…,” she says, stopping mid-sentence to yank her phone off her son Noddy, who ducks and continues watching a video.
As her husband is travelling for work, Pandey and the children hope to order in food. “These are special days… The children love it,” she says with an impish smile. “Until recently, when I had my job, I would wake up at 5 am, prepare breakfast for the children, get them to school, go to work, come back and cook lunch, and again make dinner.”
Somewhere between all this, Pandey says she finds time for politics and her other cause. “I am a member of the Brahman Mahasangh. I think Brahmins are the worst off. Somebody has to speak for them… I recently went to Varanasi for an international meeting of the Mahasangh and took Noddy along,” she says, adding that women have no choice but to “take everyone along”.
“Home, children, relatives… a woman can only give 25 per cent of her time for her career. And yet, we manage so much, often do better than the men. Imagine if I could give it my 100 per cent, or even 75 per cent… I keep telling my husband that: ‘Tumhare jagah mein hoti toh kya nahin kar jaati (If I were in your place, I would have done so much)’.”
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