The Bharatiya Janata Party which is often perceived as bigoted and conventional, with no place for growth and flourishment for women has shown everyone what real women empowerment stands for after its cabinet reshuffle on July 7th, where the highest number of 11 women ministers were appointed at the centre.
The moment the official names were announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi garnered a lot of praise and appreciation for acknowledging the dedication and diligence of the women leaders in the party. However, this doesn’t in any way imply that in the past, the BJP government didn’t believe in empowering women. In fact, this statement is prejudiced and ignorant on its own as the biggest example of women power goes way back to 1977 when under the leadership of former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, blossomed a gem, “the iron lady of India”, late Sushma Swaraj.
- From being the youngest cabinet minister at the age of 24 to the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi in 1998, the political journey of Sushma Swaraj had only witnessed new triumphs and prodigious achievements. At the time when women were still raising their voices for equality in various realms of life, Sushma set an example of how a woman can lead from the front and contribute to the prosperity of the nation.
But to say that BJP supported and respected her to emerge as a more inclusive party doesn’t seem like a valid argument. Otherwise, back in 1998 when BJP was facing severe criticism from opposition parties for the rise in prices of onions and shortage of electricity in Delhi, why would former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani appoint Sushma Swaraj as the Chief Minister of Delhi? It was not just to uphold the representation of women in the party, but because of confidence and trust in her work that spoke for herself. Taking over as CM of Delhi during such testing times for the BJP party might have seemed like a huge gamble, but even when she held the post for just 53 days, Swaraj worked as a “firefighter” and the people who worked with her recalled how she was always working for the people of Delhi.
Not just this, in 1996 as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, during the 13-day government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sushma Swaraj changed the status of the Indian film industry.
- Another such example of women at the front is the finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman who is steering India out of the crisis that this pandemic has placed on our economy. Sitaraman began her political career in 2008 when she joined BJP and became a spokesperson by the next year and an MP in Rajya Sabha in 2014. She is known to be one of the most trusted confidants of the Modi Government, who in 2017 as a defence minister single-handedly rebuked and dismissed all the allegations of corruption that was levied by the opposition parties in the Rafale aircraft deal signed between India and France.
When Nirmala Sitaraman was awarded the Ministry of Defence, she explicitly mentioned that one of the reasons for her growth and evolution in the party was possible because of the support and respect of all the senior leaders.
- In the recent cabinet reshuffle, one of the names that were expected to take over was Meenakshi Lekhi who is serving as the Ministry of State in the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Culture. Lekhi joined hands with BJP in 2010 and was vice president of BJP Mahila Morcha. In the year 2013, she was appointed as the National spokesperson of the party.
From there, Meenakshi’s political career was on a rise, where in 2014, she won her first election from the New Delhi Lok Sabha seat and was reelected in 2019. And now with the Ministry of State, it is also believed that the BJP is grooming her for the Chief Minister face of Delhi, owing to her fearless and resolute attitude.
Even before as an advocate, she has contested several issues pertaining to women, along with family disputes and permanent commission of women in armed forces. Not to mention, it was Lekhi who filed a contempt case against MLA, Rahul Gandhi for his “Chowkidar Chor Hai” jibe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi that compelled him to issue an apology.
- Another such leader in BJP’s cabinet is Smriti Irani who has often fallen prey to derogatory and disgraceful remarks from leaders of opposition parties, mainly because of her non-political background. However, under BJP, Smriti has emerged as a fierce and strong political leader and has set her image apart from “quintessential bahu”, who even defeated the ex-president of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi and bagged the seat in Amethi in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. From serving as the Union Minister of Human Resource Development to defeating Rahul Gandhi from his bastion, Smriti Irani is probably one of the most prominent and well-acclaimed leaders that thrived under Modi’s reign.
Apart from all the women leaders in the cabinet, BJP has been at the front when it comes to empowering women, irrespective of their educational or economic background. One of the recent examples of this is the BJP candidate Chandana Bauri(an MNREGA worker) who defeated Sontosh Kumar Mondal of Trinamool Congress with the margin of approximately 4000 votes in West Bengal Assembly elections. PM Narendra Modi himself mentioned the name of Chandana in one of his rallies. This victory of Bauri was seen as a victory of every other common woman, who doesn’t necessarily have a huge political or economic support.
Along with her, Kalita Majhi who worked as a domestic help became a candidate from the Ausgram constituency in the West Bengal electoral battle. Chandana and Majhi are just two stories that show when it comes to acknowledging and appreciating the hard work and determination of its party workers, the BJP has always led with an example.
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