Despite being a male dominant country, India has been home to some genuinely powerful female politicians. Whether it was the legendary Indira Gandhi, who was regarded as the strongest Prime Minister of independent India, or Jayaram Jayalalitha, whose withdrawal of support from BJP alliance caused another general elections, Indian women have dominated the political scene since the inception of democracy in India. Despite having, as usually described by Political Pandits, abysmally low participation by women in the electoral process, woman politicians have always had a certain dictate over the flow of power.
In the year 2009, there was no party which was officially led by a woman, but the majority of the campaign of the Indian National Congress was commanded by their party president, Sonia Gandhi. The party managed to rack up a total of 206 seats and almost 119 million popularity votes. Manmohan Singh took over the position of the Prime Minister, but it was Sonia Gandhi’s political acumen and campaigning which resulted in the win.
In the year 2014, AIADMK and Trinamool Congress, two women-led parties, managed to rack up 37 and 34 seats respectively. A total of 71 seats out of . The two together also managed to get in close to 38 million popularity votes. The 2014 general elections also saw BJP come out as the undisputed power in India when they racked up 282 (51.9%) seats in the Lok Sabha. The credit for this victory is majorly given to the Narendra Modi’s hyper-aggressive campaign. However, people fail to acknowledge the efforts of the likes of Uma Bharti, who rejuvenated the party in central India and campaigned there round the year to bring in the vote flow.
In the year 2019, women will play an even bigger role in the elections. This time around, it is expected that Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress will align itself with independent parties to take on the Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party. Here are 3 women who are expected to script the results of 2019 general elections.
Mayawati’s political career started way back in the year 1984 under the shadow of Dalit leader Kanshi Ram. Born in a Dalit family, Kumari came from the most humble sector of the society. She, being a girl-child, was never really someone whom the family invested money on. Despite that, she didn’t give up on her education. She studied in a government school and proceeded to get a B.A and LLB degree in the year 1975. After completing her B.Ed. she started working as a teacher in the Inderpuri JJ colony while simultaneously preparing for IAS exam. That is when she was spotted by the legendary Kanshi Ram. Impressed by her oratory abilities and thinking, he convinced Mayawati to join politics.
In the year 1984, Kanshi Ram founded the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP). He, in the same year, he added Mayawati to the party. After two unsuccessful attempts in 1985 and 1987, she finally won a seat in the Lok Sabha in the 1989 general elections. She was later elected to the Rajya Sabha in the year 1994.
Mayawati’s political break came in the year 1995, when she, at the age of 39, became the Chief Minister of UP. By doing so, she also created the record of becoming the first female Dalit chief minister of India. Her reign was very short-lived but her being given the post bought national attention towards her. This was followed by another short reign in the year 1997.
Mayawati’s second political break came in the year 2002. She formed the government with support from the BJP. She led the government for over a year before BJP withdrew support from the government. The withdrawal of support from the party by BJP earned Behenji the unquestioned support of Dalits across Uttar Pradesh.
2007 turned out to be the year when she established herself as a national level force. She led the BSP campaign in the 2007 UP state elections and managed to rack up a total of 206 seats, which brought her party in power. She was sworn in as the chief minister and became the first person to complete a full term as chief minister in the history of Uttar Pradesh. Her reign was credited for bringing in a lot of development. She is particularly praised for the building of multiple highways. These roadways managed to connect various parts of Uttar Pradesh to developed regions like Delhi. Her reign is also credited for bringing in transparency in government recruitments. The most important contribution she made during her reign was the building of statues. She, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, built multiple statues of important Dalit leaders of Indian history. She played a very important role in the social upliftment of Dalits in India’s largest state. This work made her an important national level force.
BSP in 2009 general elections managed to win a total of 21 seats in the Lok Sabha. In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh state elections, BSP lost, thus putting an end to the reign of Behenji.
The lady who was once called “the miracle of democracy” by the Father of Indian Economic Reforms, P.V. Narasimha Rao, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections suffered a thrashing defeat as her party lost all the seats in Lok Sabha. The Mayawati led BSP gave an all-time low performance in the 2014 general elections where they won ZERO seats. The party was stunned with the results as they were pretty sure they will be able to stuff down the Modi wave in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The entire blame of the party’s failure came down on one person, Mayawati.
2017 again turned out to be a very disappointing year for the party as they again lost in the Uttar Pradesh state elections. This was despite the fact that they had an insane amount of support from the backward classes as BJP was being dubbed as an anti-minority government. The result clearly proved that behenji had lost all of the ground connect she once had in the largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh. However, the party was suddenly revived in the by-elections of 2018.
BSP aligned with long-time rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) to take on the BJP. Surprisingly, the move worked. The BSP-SP alliance managed to rock down the entire BJP structure in the by-elections as they won the Gorakhpur constituency. The blow was huge as Gorakhpur was the seat of current UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This meant that this was a strong seat for the party. The by-election results clearly proved that the BSP was reviving.
How does Mayawati affect the elections?
Northern-Central India (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar) holds a total of 160 seats in the Lok Sabha, 29% of the total seats. This has resulted in making it a very politically active area. Which means a party cannot win the general elections without a strong presence in these parts, particularly UP and Bihar.
Dalits and Other Backward Classes make up a significant amount of voters in these parts of India. This is where Mayawati harnesses her power from. Mayawati is a cultural Dalit icon. When she took the lead by going on stage and using phrases like “main Dalit ki beti hun” in her speeches, all of the backward classes started sharing a personal bond with her. They realized that they finally had a leader who was from amongst them and wasn’t ashamed of her identity. Her emotionally provoking speeches managed to create a strong bond with the weaker sections, and this earned her the title of “behenji”, Hindi for sister. This bond is one of the strongest vote drawers for her.
Mayawati has a great political understanding and knows whom she should align herself with. BSP, under her leadership, has managed to create a strong alliance with longtime rivals, Samajwadi Party. It was under her carefully planned execution and political understanding that SP-BSP alliance could topple the BJP in their trusted seat Gorakhpur during the 2018 by-elections. In the 2018 Karnataka elections, it was Mayawati who played the role of middle-woman in uniting Janta Dal (Secular) and Indian National Congress to create their government in the state. Her understanding of the political scene and rational behavior in forging alliances makes her a strong force.
In 2019 general elections, she will play a pivotal role in the revival of UPA. Yes in 2014 the party failed to secure any seats in the house by itself, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t vote for them. The party was the third most voted party. This clearly meant that BSP loyalist never doubted the Kanshi Ram-prodigy. However, it also showed that BSP loyalists were scattered in clusters. They on their own couldn’t create a difference, but if they provided support to any party, they could become a legit threat. In the upcoming general elections, it is expected that Indian National Congress will go for a grand alliance. This is where BSP will play a major role.
When Mayawati openly associates herself with INC, all of her loyal voters will immediately join hands with Congress, thus bringing in a lot of support for them. It must be noted that Mayawati’s political influence isn’t limited to U.P and M.P. Under the BSP banner, she has managed to create a significant loyal section of voters for herself in the states of Punjab, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana. She, with the move of this grand alliance, has established herself as the strongest rival to the Modi led BJP.
Mayawati is someone who cannot be trusted during alliances. Yes, Mayawati can forge alliances and has the understanding to know whom she needs to associate with. However, she is also known for backing out of alliances when things don’t go exactly the way she wants them to. She is also a very aggressive leader. Being a self-made politician, it isn’t surprising that she is a bit cut-throat. However, the former UP CM in her political career is known for crossing the limit time and again and failing to maintain the proper alliance. It was particularly seen in her first and third term as chief minister, where she and her allied party failed to keep up terms. Her aggressive campaigning has always been praised among the public, but most of the time, it is her hostility which causes her to break out of alliances. Plus she really doesn’t have great relations with S.P. She has time and again had bitter spats with party head Mulayam Singh Yadav. The alliances did manage to survive the early Rajya Sabha defeat in 2018, but will the bond survive?
Mayawati has also been accused of corruption. The meteoric rise in her personal wealth has always been something which the opposition capitalizes on. She is severely criticized by people from her own community and is also one of the major reasons why upper caste distances from the BSP. Mayawati, unlike fellow self-made female leaders like Mamata Banerjee or Uma Bharti, has changed her public image completely since becoming a powerful figure. She has been publicly seen with expensive bags, dresses, and other accessories. All of this does result in a lot of negative PR.
That being said, Mayawati is literally the only person the INC can rely on when it comes to central-Northern India for the 2019 general elections. They do not have a leader of their own whom they can project, and neither do they have the time to build one. Mayawati, if she plays her cards perfectly, can for sure play a decisive role in this hyper-active political sphere.
Currently serving as the chief minister of West Bengal, Banerjee started her career way back in 1970 at the age of 15. Born in a lower-middle-class Bengali Brahmin family, Banerjee established the youth wing of INC (I), Chhatra Parishad Unions while studying in the Jogamaya Devi College. She proceeded to defeat Democratic Students’ Union of the Socialist Unity Centre of India. She quickly rose through ranks in the West Bengal unit of Congress and established herself as a force.
She got her first major moment in the year 1984 when she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jadavpur constituency by defeating Communist leader Somnath Chatterjee. In an anti-Congress wave in 1989, she lost the seat. She changed her seat from Jadavpur to Calcutta South, and from there, she won in the years 1991 and 1996. In the year 1997, she left Congress and created her own party, Trinamool Congress.
Trinamool Congress quickly gained popularity across West Bengal and established itself as the strongest opposition party. The party continued to grow under Didi’s watchful eye and started creating a strong on-ground presence via protests and marches. In the TMC banner, Mamata was elected to the Lok Sabha again in 1998 and 1999 general elections.
Banerjee gained her first national-level break in the year 1999 in her first tenure as the Railway Minister of India in the second ministry of Atal Bihari Vajpayee during her alliance with NDA. She, as the Railway Minister, focused on improving the railway facilities in West Bengal. She resigned from the post in 2001. This was followed by another short stint as Minister of Coal and Mines. She, soon after that, left NDA.
After a great performance in 2009 general elections in an alliance with UPA, Mamata led her party to a clean sweep victory in the state elections of West Bengal. She was sworn in as the first-ever female chief minister of W.B in the year 2009. As the chief minister of West Bengal, Banerjee took on various on-ground issues. She returned the unfairly occupied Singur land to the farmers. She was also praised by Bill Gates, for completing a year without any Polio complains. Banerjee further strengthened her roots in West Bengal via speeches, slogans, and rallies.
In 2014 general elections, Trinamool Congress under the guidance of Mamata Didi, managed to rack up a total of 34 seats in the Lok Sabha. This result clearly explained that Banerjee’s Trinamool was the strongest party in West Bengal. In 2016, assembly elections of W.B., TMC went in without any alliance.
The party won by a clean sweep. They won a total of 211 seats of 294 seats, thus becoming the first party since 1962 to win elections without any alliance. Banerjee’s reign saw the number of crime against women go down from over 38,000 in 2014 to almost 32,000 in 2016 as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics. However, that very same year, the number of domestic violence incidents reached an all-time high in Kolkata. Banerjee’s reign is also credited for reviving the history of Kolkata by renaming important public places after the names of freedom fighters. She as a personality will for sure affect the upcoming general elections.
How does Banerjee affect the elections?
Banerjee enters the election with the might of Bengal behind her. She is a powerful vote and seat drawer in the Eastern parts of India. She, unlike fellow mass leaders Mayawati or Bharti, even as an independent leader can bring in a huge shake-up in terms of seats. She draws her strength from the poor and underprivileged.
Banerjee has always portrayed herself as someone who works for the poor and has maintained her projection as a leader of the underprivileged by leading a simple life. The success of the last two state elections and 2014 general elections clearly proves that the device so far has worked. Entering 2019, Didi will go for a major push in the stunt as she has to know the realistic ground connect she has maintained in the state ahead of 2021 state elections. When she pushes herself, she will get in a large number of seats across W.B. for her party.
The main role she plays in the elections is if she agrees to be a part of the grand alliance. Mamata is a strong, level headed politician. She knows that because of her 10-year reign she will have a strong anti-incumbency factor against her. If she wants to continue her rule, she will have to use external forces. Thus, when she aligns herself with Congress and other parties, she becomes a national level threat to the ruling Modi Government.
She, by far, is the strongest independent leader in the east. If she agrees to become a part of the grand alliance, she automatically gets the alliance a significant number of seats in W.B. Plus if she gets support from Congress, she can create a strong movement for the alliance in the North-eastern parts of the nation, which as of now is dominated by the BJP.
On top of that, Banerjee has shown keen interest in taking up the role of a national leader. TMC speaker, Derick O’Brien, is constantly seen in various Delhi public gatherings and Mamata too has made many trips to Delhi. As described by most, she has also managed to create “good relations” with DMK. The proof was DMK leader MK Stalin’s tweet “DMK has always stood for the unity of regional parties and stronger federal co-operation. I endorse the efforts of @MamataOfficial to bring together various political parties to oppose the autocratic and anti-democratic rule of the BJP.”
Banerjee hopes to capitalize on the general elections by creating an Anti-Modi wave. Though the task sounds impossible to pull off but given Didi’s past it is stupid to consider her out. She may not be able to defeat the Modi wave but she can certainly play a card or two which does significant damage in terms of votes for BJP. If at all, Modi led BJP losses the 2019 general elections, Mamata will play a very significant role in it.
Mamata Banerjee will enter the 9th year of governance in West Bengal. A period this long bounds to create an anti-incumbency sentiment in the voters. This may result in stopping Didi’s dreams of becoming a national force in her own fortress. She has to first secure her own home-ground before she takes the challenge of becoming a national level force. That will be a very tough job. If Banerjee shows any sign of splitting her campaign in hopes for the national level success, she might end up losing her own base.
Mamata’s west Bengal empire is under siege of the BJP. BJP is expected to lose seats in the central parts of India. The way their campaign is proceeding, it looks as if they plan on to recover that loss by racking up seats in West Bengal. Didi, who herself plans on to capitalize on Anti-Modi wave, might end up being crushed in the Modi wave if she doesn’t play her cards carefully. This heavy movement by the BJP, under the RSS banner, in the state of W.B. further makes it difficult for Banerjee to grow beyond East.
Mamata has also been accused of being a pseudo-secular. She’s currently painted as a pro-Islamic figure. At national level, if any party openly associates themselves with TMC, the chances of backfire from Hindu voters is real. Plus Mamata herself is facing trouble in maintaining ground connect because of an anti-Hindu image. Will the white-saree clad woman be able to change her Anti-Hindu image?
Plus Didi doesn’t have what you call great relations with NDA. She has publicly said she won’t join an alliance where Rahul Gandhi steers the decisions. Plus her past runs with Congress too haven’t been good. Will Mamata be able to survive in the grand alliance? Will she actually align herself with them?
Sonia Gandhi is not only one of the most influential and powerful woman in India, she is one of the most powerful people in the world. Her initial political career started after her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, joined politics in wake of his brother Sanjay Gandhi’s death. After Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister of India in 1984, Sonia took a step back from politics. Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 elections and proceeded to become the leader of the opposition. In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.
This is when the Indian National Congress turned towards Sonia. They invited her to take an active part in politics and lead the party. Gandhi initially turned down the offer, but after the failure of Congress party in the 1996 elections and to curb the open rebellion of important party leaders like Arun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot, Narayan Dutt Tiwari and others, she agreed to step in the world of Indian politics. She officially became a direct part of the party in the year 1997. She, by 1998, was crowned as the party president. In 1999 general elections Gandhi contested from Amethi and Bellary seats, she won from both constituencies, though the party lost. That was when Gandhi understood that INC individually couldn’t take on all the opposition parties and took the revolutionary decision of forming alliances.
Congress, since independence, had always contested in the general elections by itself. As a party, it had never needed external support to form the government. However, as the country progressed, new leaders emerged and created their own stand. Had Congress not aligned itself with other parties, the party would have slowly faded into the void of politics. It was Gandhi’s understanding and foresightedness that stopped this decay. She shifted the political stand of the party to center-left position and created the United Progressive Alliance.
It was these moves that started the revival of Congress. She took the lead of the party and established herself as a force. When the 2004 elections came, Gandhi was ready. She led the campaign and created a direct link of people to the Congress party by using terms like “Aam Admi” (common man) in her party campaign. She further pushed people to the thought of unity in people. This move yielded better dividends than expected as UPA managed to topple the Vajpayee led NDA. They, in their term from 2004-09, were credited for passing the Right To Information bill, Food Security bill and bringing in reforms in other similar sections of the society.
In the 2009 general elections, the party again won. Gandhi was again credited for the win as she was one of the leaders of the campaign. She was particularly praised for maintaining a strong and level headed stance in countering criticism and involving the youth by picking up the Academy Award winning song “Jai Ho” as their party anthem for the elections. The party further played its cards well when it beautifully exploited the division between the BJP and NDA. Gandhi’s strong campaign convinced the public that social reform bills like RTI were passed by the party, whereas the reality was that the struggle to pass RTI had been going on for years.
By 2014, Gandhi had lost major ground connect. The major reason for this was the failure of the UPA government. Congress ended up being caught in multiple scams. It was again brutally criticized for its failed economic policies and the devaluation of the Indian rupee against the United States Dollar. The party was further criticized for their failure in organizing 2010 Commonwealth games. All the major commentators in some or the other way pointed towards Gandhi. She was never part of the legal proceedings surrounding the scams, but she was at the receiving end of widespread criticism. Congress party gave an all-time low performance in the 2014 general elections, where they only won 44 seats. Since then, Gandhi has not been an active part of politics. However, as per early reports, Gandhi is expected to be an active part of the 2018-19 national level campaign for upcoming general elections.
How does Sonia Gandhi affect the general elections?
An anti-Modi wave in some way or other has been created in our nation. However, if that wave has to be controlled to create a movement which can make a difference, Sonia Gandhi will be needed. Gandhi understands what chaos is like. When she took charge of the INC, the party was falling apart. Major top leaders were in open rebellion, the party had no ground connect, the performance was below expectations and it looked as if it was the end of Congress. Sonia took the center stage when it looked as if it was the end. She controlled all the resources carefully and used her diplomatic skills to form a historic alliance with the left front which eventually got the party a win in the year 2004. She is even credited for the success of INC in the 2009 general elections.
In fact, Congress’s fall began after Gandhi withdrew from major-mainstream politics. When she, in 2014 took a step back from the UPA, it became very clear that she was the secret X-factor that led the alliance to victory in the past two elections. When Gandhi returns in the 2019 general elections, she would bring an insane amount of credibility and respect with her name. She is one of the few people in the history of India who are capable of actually making an alliance work. CPI (M) Sitaram Yechury even publicly stated that she is “the glue that binds the opposition”.
Most importantly, Sonia Gandhi is a name everyone in the Indian political fraternity respects. She is a leader everyone will listen to. Her experience, presence, and stature is something even powerful allies like Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav will bow down to.
Lastly, if there is a powerful mass leader after Narendra Modi, it is Sonia Gandhi. She has a strong presence in almost every part of the country and is respected as the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. She, as a person, is very graceful and capable of influencing a mass number of seats.
Sonia Gandhi has failed to grow the brand Congress beyond the “Nehru-Gandhi Parivar”. She knew that Rahul Gandhi wasn’t groomed enough to take the lead of the party, yet she didn’t pick any other experienced leader to take the center stage. She, despite being dubbed ‘foresighted’ by the left-winged commentators, couldn’t realize that her party will need a leader in the future. This, to a certain extent, also exposes her dynastic ideology, which is something people have rejected in a brutal fashion.
Gandhi, post-2014, has also managed to lose a significant amount of ground connect. This was clearly reflected in Karnataka elections, where despite Gandhi’s strong campaign, the BJP managed to get more seats than them. Though they managed to form the government after an alliance, but the election results proved that she was no more the larger than life figure who could single-handedly win major elections. Another example of the lack of Congress’s ground connect was seen in the Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya elections where Congress and their allies the left-front lost all the three states. These major pre-general elections results have clearly proven that Congress as a whole had lost their connection with people.
Sonia Gandhi has also ended up being labeled as a major corrupt leader. Under the UPA government from 2009-14, there were several major mainstream scams. These scams were the pivotal points around which 2014 BJP campaigned. The insane rise in the wealth of “Nehru-Gandhi Parivar” too has been something the media has scrutinized. All of this has resulted in Gandhi losing a lot of faith in the public eye.
Lastly, will Gandhi actually be able to control the grand-alliance? Back in 2004, Congress was the strongest power when it allied with other parties. However, today it has almost the same number of seats as TMC. Back then it held the larger fraction of the number of seats in the parliament; hence, it was them who controlled the house. Today, their allies hold an equal say. Will Congress leaders adjust to the changed situation? Will Gandhi actually manage to control the alliance now that she doesn’t have the power?
This Article is published on behalf of Paarth Pande
Paarth Pande is a die hard women’s combat sports fan. He first took up writing about MMA as he was looking for a platform to express his opinions. After working as a freelance sports writer for over 2 years he decided to take up political writing.