“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.” – Mahatma Gandhi [1]

As Gandhi rightly pointed out that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion or any other status.

However, it is most unfortunate that women have suffered inferior position to men in almost all societies of world.

In ancient India, the woman enjoyed equal status with men in all spheres of the life. Women of later periods spanning between the middle and modern ages have been denied their rightful place of honour and a vortex of innumerable caste and communal combinations, has paid scant regards for the education and welfare of women culminating in child marriage, sati, ban on widow marriage, and divorce, to name a few atrocities on them. [2]

The ability to challenge the subordination was seriously affected by the omission of women from positions of power in all its manifestations. The leaders of both pre and post independent India paid nothing but lip service to the upliftment of women in various walks of life including rightful representation in the legislatures, both at the centre and in the states, with the result that even now women do not enjoy place of pride in the power centers of legislation, administration and party leadership.

At the international level also, on women’s issues, women’s political empowerment was at the center stage of all the discourses, but still, in any political system, participation of women is very low as compared to men right from the developed to developing countries.

No doubt, the principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India guarantees adult franchise and provides full opportunities and framework for women to participate actively in politics. But it is pity that the decades following independence witnessed a decline in the participation of women in the politics. The state and society seem to be lagging behind in offering them political reservations that were long overdue.

Of late, the Women’s Reservation Bill has been a political ball for nearly a decade and half. It has always triggered heated debates within Parliament and outside. The proposed legislation to reserve 1/3rd seats in the Parliament and State Legislatures for women was drafted first by the H. D. Deve Gowda led United Front government. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. Although it has been introduced in Parliament several times, the Bill could not be passed because of lack of political consensus. [2]

Though our Constitution and various other legislative enactments and different Commissions established for women from time to time have made a number of efforts for the achievement of the objective of gender equality, yet in actual practice, the planned efforts to emancipate women educationally, economically and particularly politically did not yield the desired results over the decades after independence.


The roots of the present always lie in the past. In order to shed some light on the women’s right to political participation, one can look into the past history of the nation.

In India, women have a long history of suffering and exploitation. The women remained victims of violent actions and had to suffer various types of discrimination, exploitation and torture – both physical and mental not only in the men’s society but also within the four walls of the family thereby disturbing the equilibrium in the society.

In ancient India, the woman enjoyed equal status with men in all spheres of the life. Hymn XXI of the Rig-Veda extols the virtues of woman even greater than that of man. The description of the God’s head as half of man and half of woman in the concept of Ardhanari-Swara itself depicts the story of the equality of woman in the Vedic period. [2]

The Shakticult is also centered on destructive strength and superiority of the woman. But the status of women began to decline with the Smritis especially Manusmriti. There was a tendency to curtail religious rights and privileges of women. Women came to be regarded in the same lines as the Shudras. Their position continued to deteriorate apart from property rights to them. Sati became common among the warrior classes. Women were strictly confined to the four walls of their home.

The Smriti period clamped down the freedom of woman which could be found out in his famous dictum such as; “The woman does not deserve independence.” Since women were started to be considered as ‘abala’ (dependant), she was to be protected by either father or husband or son throughout her life. According to Manu “A women must be her father’s shadow in childhood, her husband’s in her youth and her son’s in her old age.” [3]

Therefore, the historical analysis of the position of women in the ancient India showed that women did not share an equal position with men and that their position was subordinate to men.

When Muslims invaded India, the situation changed for the worst during the 11th century. During that period, the woman folk was forcibly taken away and sold like chattels in the markets outside India. Therefore, the 11thcentury could be termed as the darkest age, where after the woman never acquired freedom and equality of the Vedic-age.

In India, in the politics, the root for the participation of women can be traced back to 19th century reform movement. The condition of the woman was also in the sorry state of affairs at the dawn of the Colonial Era. The British believed in the policy of least interference in the religious sentiments of the natives. However, only during British era i.e., in early 20th century, the crusade for the political participation of women became a significant part of the movement of the Indian women.

The women leaders were of the belief that only through the means of political participation of Indian women, they could achieve additional support for social reform legislations because achieving social reform was their main target.

Certain efforts were made to improve the status of women by the later movements like Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavaism, Veerashaivism and Sikhism. The Bhakti movement permitted women to undertake spiritual activities independently. Various social reformers thought that the social reform can be initiated by educating women and bringing progressive legislation. By raising consciousness and by making people sensitive to injustice done to women, social evils can be eradicated.

Indian women participation in the political field started with the freedom movement. The membership was open to women with the establishment of the Indian National Congress.

The Swadeshi Movement in 1905 observed the entry of women into the independence movement. Annie Besant, who accelerated the process of women’s association in 1914 with her entry into Indian politics, was the first woman to be elected as president of the Indian National Congress. Sarojini Naidu too became active in Indian National Movement.

Mahatma Gandhi made serious efforts to arouse political consciousness in the poor, illiterate women in order to make them take part in the freedom movement from 1917 onwards. Large number of women plunged into national movement in response to Gandhi’s call. His message, “when the call abala will become sabala, all those who are helpless will become powerful,” [1] revealed the importance he gave for the strength of women.

Gandhi was able to mobilizing large mass of women, cutting across caste and class lines, for playing an active role in the freedom struggle movement. Gandhi’s own position on women evolved over time and he finally urged women for fighting exploitation whether within the home or in the Congress Party. [1]

According to Gandhi, the freedom struggle was an economic and social reform but not merely political. He urged men and women are equal but not identical. Women are equivalent to the male intellectually, mentally and spiritually and they can participate in every activity. Thus, women were brought to the centre stage by the national movement.

No doubt women actively participated equally with men in the Indian national freedom movement both in the moderate and extremist factions but the number of them who acquired positions of power or membership in the representative bodies were less compared to men.

In the 1937 election, 42 women were elected from the reserved constituencies and eight from the general constituencies and when the provisional cabinet was formed, they became ministers. [6]

In Uttar Pradesh, Vijayalaxmi Pandit became minister for local self-government and later in Madhya Pradesh and Sindh, Absuyabai Kale and J.T. Sipahimalchi were appointed Deputy Speakers respectively. [4]

In Bombay and Punjab, offices as Parliamentary Secretary were taken by Hansa Mehta and Begum Shah Nawoy respectively. There were 14 women members in the Constituent Assembly which met in December 1946. However, as representatives or in power positions, there was no proportionate increase in women. For example, out of 350 delegates, only 16 were women in 1922 the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting, 13 in 1937, 5 members were women in 1940 and only 14 members were women in the Constituent Assembly. [5]

Additionally, women who were active in the politics and politically successful, majority of them were from wealthy and progressive families and were supported by husbands or family members who were active in Congress. The practice is still being followed even years after independence.

The transfer of power from British to Indian hand provided Indian women an opportunity for participating in the democratic process. The campaign for equal political participation in favor of women was divided into two phases. The first phase was regarding achieving female enfranchisement and being eligible for entering into the legislature during the period of 1917 to 1928.

From 1928 to 1937, there was second phase in which the issues were the liberalization of the terms of equality rights of voting for women and also the enlargement of their representation in the legislature.

In India, the context of colonial situation created two sets of political authorities before whom the women had to make an appeal – the British Government and the nationalist leaders in order to achieve their electoral demands.

The right to vote was granted by the Government of India Act, 1935 for all women above 21 years of age by whom the conditions of property and education were fulfilled. In the year 1950, the Constitution of India granted adult franchise to all its citizens.


Founded in 1885 under the guidance of British civil servant Alan Octavian Hume, the Indian National Congress (INC), popularly known as the Congress, is the country’s oldest political party. Today it is one of the two major national political parties in the country. The Congress party operates on the ideology of Gandhian Socialism and Social Democracy. Its political position is centre-left in contrast to Bharatiya Janata Party which is the right-wing nationalist party. [6]

With the independence of India in 1947 and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru became the sole undisputed head of the INC in independent India. His daughter Indira Gandhi became his political successor. But she gradually became autocratic and dictatorial in her approach, as the Congress President as well as the PM of India, leading to factionalism within the Congress party. In the face of severe opposition, she proclaimed National Emergency in 1975. She lifted the emergency in 1977 when fresh elections were held. Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule led to the first electoral defeat of the Congress at the hands of the Janata Party in 1977. [7]

Indira Gandhi and the Indian National Congress however made a comeback to the Indian political scenario in 1980 when the masses chose the INC to again rule their country. Indira Gandhi with her Sanjay Gandhi made some rather objectionable regulations when in power and had to pay the price for it, as she was shot dead by her bodyguard outside her residence in 1984. [7] The country had lost a powerful leader in the form of Mrs. Gandhi and the Congress party was in disarray as her younger son, Rajiv Gandhi was still not a seasoned politician.

The Congress party went through tumultuous times during the late eighties and early nineties when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991. Lack of leadership hit the Congress party really hard as they kept on losing the national as well as a number of state elections during that time.

In 1996, Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the Indian National Congress and aimed to take the party to the position where Indira and Nehru had taken it. The Congress party formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and came to power in 2004 General Elections and Sonia side stepped from the main frame and allowed Dr. Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister of India. Under the leadership of leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, the UPA government successfully ruled the country for 10 years. [8]

The Congress party had to face a drubbing in the 2014 Indian General Elections, winning only 44 seats out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP registered a landslide victory in the elections, accounting for 282 seats on its own. [9]

The present President of the Indian National Congress is Rajiv Gandhi’s wife, Sonia Gandhi, and her son Rahul Gandhi is the current Vice President of INC. The Nehru – Gandhi legacy has percolated to the party’s top leadership even today.

The Indian National Congress has always been open to female politicians. Right from the time of Annie Besant, who was the first female President of the Indian National Congress to modern day politicians like Ambika Soni.

The Indian National Congress party has a female wing which is called the ‘All India Mahila Congress’. All the prominent members of the INC have at some point of time during their careers, held important posts in the ‘Mahila Congress’.

The present President of the Mahila Congress is Shobha Oza, who is from Indore and is also the spokesperson of the INC. Former actress, Nagma Morarji is the General Secretary of the Mahila Congress. [10]

Meira Kumar is a five time Member of Parliament representing the Congress party. She was elected unopposed as the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha and served it with utmost ease from 2009 to 2014.

She is a lawyer and a former diplomat. Prior to being a member of the 15th Lok Sabha, she was elected earlier to the 8th, 11th, 12th and 14th Lok Sabha. She has also served as a Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of Manmohan Singh’s first UPA government from 2004 – 2009. [11]

Ambika Soni is an Indian politician for the Indian National Congress. She represented the state of Punjab and served as Minister of Information and Broadcasting during the second UPA government. Soni began her political career in 1969 when she was co-opted into the Congress Party by Indira Gandhi at the time of the Party split in 1969. [12]

In 1975 she was elected president of the Indian Youth Congress and worked closely with Sanjay Gandhi. In March 1976 she was elected to Rajya Sabha. In 1998 she became the president of All India Mahila Congress. From 1999- 2006 she was General Secretary of All India Congress Committee.

What is to be seen in the majority of cases here is the ‘Dynasty Politics’ that the Congress Party still practices. Majority of female leaders, who go up the rank in the parliament, usually have their husband or father who have been members of the political party. Whether this will change in the near future, is to be seen but for now the Congress Party needs stable hands to lead the party. Sonia Gandhi is still very much capable of handling the mantle, but needs able support, maybe from her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who still hasn’t ventured into full time politics.


The Bharatiya Janata Party, translated into English as the ‘Indian People’s Party’, is one of the most prominent parties in the country today. This major political party has a right-wing political stance and strongly adheres to cultural nationalism through social conservatism and integral humanism. [13]

It is the most significant member of the family of active organisations known as the ‘Sangh Parivar’. The BJP was officially formed in 1980, under the political guidance and leadership of two of its most significant leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani.

Both of them were members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), nationalist cultural organisation of independent India. The BJS was founded by Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookherjee in 1951, to combat the increasing political power of the Indian National Congress (INC), which was said to have initiated a number of compromises in the questions of political and cultural integrity and unity of India, such as appeasement policy for Muslims.

The BJS, under the umbrella of RSS, began to grow in strength. But soon after, with Mookherjee’s death, the organisation started to decline in political importance. It was in this period that leaders like Vajpayee and Advani were groomed, who were able to take charge of the future political affairs of India. [13]

The Bharatiya Janata Party was formally announced in 1980, comprising members of the nucleus of Janata Party. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first President of the BJP.

The BJP came to power at the Centre, by forming a coalition of parties called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from 1998 to 2004. The present President of the BJP is Amit Shah. At present, it is the largest political party in the Parliament having won 282 seats in the 2014 General Elections and the NDA got a total of 336 seats and Narendra Modi became the 14th Prime Minister of India. [13]

BJP Mahila Morcha is the Women’s Wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Most of the prominent female leaders of BJP have been associated with one way or the other with the BJP Mahila Morcha. Vijaya Rahatkar, former Mayor of Aurangabad is the National President of the wing.  On 3 July 2015, Daggubati Purandeswari was appointed as General Secretary of the BJP Mahila Morcha.

Sushma Swaraj is an Indian politician, former lawyer and the current Minister of External Affairs of India, in office since 26 May 2014. A leader of Bharatiya Janata Party, Swaraj is the second woman to be India’s Minister of External Affairs, after Indira Gandhi. Having been elected to the Parliament three times, Swaraj is a veteran leader and the female face of the Bharatiya Janata Party for years. [8]

She became an MP at a young age of 25, and was seen as a prodigy of the former Deputy Prime Minister of India, Lal Krishna Advani. Sushma Swaraj was the first female spokesperson of a national political party in India. She has many firsts to her credit as the BJP’s first female Chief Minister, Union Cabinet Minister, General Secretary, Spokesperson and Leader of Opposition. She has contested 10 direct elections from four states. She has been elected seven times as a Member of Parliament and three times as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. Sushma Swaraj has also served the role of Chief Minister of Delhi for a brief period in 1998.

Sanjay Gandhi’s wife, Maneka Gandhi separated from the Indian National Congress after the death of her husband, and formed a party in her late husband’s name. She however later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and became a Member of Parliament from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. [14]

Maneka is also an animal right activist, environmentalist and an author of a number of books in the areas of etymology, law and animal welfare. Even though Maneka is a member of the Nehru – Gandhi family, she is vociferous in her protests against the dynasty politics of the Congress party.

The present Speaker of the Lok Sabha is Sumitra Mahajan. Sumitra is a politician representing the Bharatiya Janata Party and has been an eight time MP from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. [11]

Sumitra was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Lower House and is the second female speaker of the Lok Sabha after Meira Kumar. Sumitra is the senior-most female member in the present Parliament. She has also held various portfolio’s under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government including the Human Resource Development Ministry and the Information Technology Ministry. [15]

Very much like Sushma Swaraj was L.K. Advani’s prodigy Smriti Zubin Irani is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s prodigy. Smriti Irani is a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha and holds the important portfolio of Human Resource Development Ministry. [16]

Smriti Irani was a television actress and later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. She lost to Kapil Sibal in the 2004 General Elections, and to Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 General Elections.

Smriti is said to be a close confidante of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. She had given a tough time to her opponent, INC Vice-President Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 general elections in Amethi and reduced the victory margin for him to a mere one lakh votes.

At the age of 74, Najma Heptullah is the oldest minister and the only Muslim face in the Narendra Modi Cabinet. She has been five time member of Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, between 1986 and 2012, and is best known for her role as Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha for 16 years. [17]

She started her political career by leading the All India Congress Committee and the National Students’ Union of India and eventually climbed up the ladder at Indian National Congress.  In 2004, she left the Indian National Congress party due to the problems with the party leadership and joined Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2007, BJP led NDA fielded her as a candidate in the elections for the Vice President of India, which was won by Hamid Ansari.

She was nominated by the BJP for the upper house, Rajya Sabha in 2012 from Madhya Pradesh, and assumed her office on 24 April 2012. Heptullah presently is a Cabinet Minister holding the Minority Affairs Ministry.

The six-time Member of Parliament and an ex-Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharati is one of the most controversial leaders of BJP. She rose to national prominence when she became one of the major faces of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement alongside L. K. Advani. [17]

Uma Bharti contested her first election at the age of 25 years (in 1984) but lost it in the Congress wave that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi. However, in 1989, she was elected for the first time as Member of Parliament of India from the Khajuraho Lok Sabha seat and retained it for the next three elections. It was only in 1999 that she switched the seats and contested from Bhopal constituency.

She was a part of Cabinet of the Vajpayee Administration, and held various state-level and Cabinet level portfolios of Human Resource Development, Tourism, Youth Affairs & Sports, and finally Coal & Mines.

In the 2003 Assembly polls, she led the BJP to a three-fourths majority in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly and was appointed as the Chief Minister of the state, only to resign in 2004. She has won from Jhansi Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 General Elections and presently holds the Cabinet Ministry for Water Resources.

The 54-year-old Nirmala Sitharaman is the official spokesperson of the party since 2010 and well known for her soft and unruffled demeanour.

Nirmala Sitharaman is the only woman representative among the ministers from southern part of the country. In 2003, she was nominated to the National Commission for Women in Delhi. When the BJP adopted a 33 per cent reservation for women, Nirmala came in touch with Sushma Swaraj and decided to join the BJP despite her family’s links with the Congress. [17]

The major difference between the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party is that the former preferably includes female leaders into their ranks, on the basis of their family links with the party whereas the BJP usually selects female politicians who have had no past links with politics in their family, basically dynasty politics. Leaders like Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman had no links with politics in their families but were elected into high ranks in the present government. The Bharatiya Janata Party for sure prefers unknown female politicians, but it is to be seen whether this trend will carry on once the party remains in power for the next few terms. Whether Narendra Modi will find another Smriti Irani as his prodigal daughter is to be seen in the future!


Indira Gandhi

The charismatic and epoch-making personality of Indira Gandhi left her imprint not only in the affairs of her own country but also in international affairs. She belonged to that noble galaxy of great leaders who wielded extraordinary power. Indira Gandhi was an Indian to the core but at the same time her vision went far beyond her own nation and embraced the entire human race. By virtue of being the Prime Minister of India, the largest democracy in the world, she was able to make a significant contribution to the practice of inter-national relations. She enjoyed well-deserved prestige and profound respect on the international scene. [7]

Indira Gandhi was introduced to international affairs at an early age. As the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru she was born and brought up in a family and environment where national and international politics were discussed all the time. Her illustrious father had taken care to educate her daughter about all aspects national and international politics. This was amply demonstrated in Nehru’s letters to her daughter from prison which were later on published in a book form. In all these letters world history and politics have been discussed extensively. Besides, during the Prime Ministership of Nehru, Indira Gandhi served as the official hostess to heads of states and governments at the Teen Murti Bhavan.

She also accompanied her father in most of his foreign tours. As a result of all this she became quite familiar with international affairs. So after becoming the Prime Minister of India she hardly faced any problem in understanding foreign policy and was able to achieve success in this sphere within no time.

When Indira Gandhi came to the helm of affairs, it was a bi-polar world. One bloc was led by the US and other headed by the Soviet Union. The Cold War was at its height. The nuclear race was on. Some relics of colonialism and imperialism were still there. Racialism was prevalent in some parts. World peace was under a grave threat. In the circumstances Indira Gandhi followed the policy of non-alignment as laid down by Nehru. Very soon the international community recognised her as a leader who was committed to freedom and peace.

Indira Gandhi not only influenced history but also made history. With her extraordinary skills she balanced the superpowers against one another. 1971 was Indira Gandhi’s finest hour in foreign and security affairs. Her skill lay in her intuitive grasp of the opportunity which the Pakistani rulers provided to change the geopolitics of East Pakistan. [14]

The Bangladesh situation gave her the opportunity to emerge as a military strategist and a diplomat par excellence on the regional and the world stage. With the clear and decisive victory India and Indira were established as a major power and force in the world. Indira Gandhi became the international leader. Her decisions and timings were applauded and hailed as perfect. As Henry Kissinger admits in his memoirs, Indira Gandhi outclassed and outmaneuvered Nixon and Kissinger. It was a giant leap in international stature. The year 1971 represented the peak of her political career. She tackled Nixon on equal terms. [7]

Even her bitter critics were forced to admire her guts. For instance, Leader of the Opposition in Indian Parliament Atal Bihari Vajpayee called her Durga. Another Opposition leader declared in Parliament: “Madam, you have created not only history but a new geography as well.” [7]

After the war Indira Gandhi acted with great magnanimity at the ‘Shimla Conference’. She put India on the international scientific map by exploding the country’s first underground nuclear device at Pokhran in 1974. This signalled India’s nuclear potential and its unwillingness to abide by the nuclear rules of the superpowers.

Indira Gandhi was definitely successful in the international arena. She stood head and shoulders above the leaders of Third World countries in international forums and conferences. She was always in the limelight. Hers was the foremost voice for world peace in a tense and troubled world. She was successful in protecting India’s interests without succumbing to the pressure of superpowers.

An increase in India’s economic and military strength during her regime made India an important regional power which none of the superpowers could afford to ignore. She made India strong and a leading country in the comity of nations, gave a clarion call to the world to save humanity from the nuclear holocaust, raised her voice against all kinds of exploitation. She displayed rare statesmanship in tackling international disputes.

Indira Gandhi’s role in guiding the developing nations of the world and her personal contribution towards disarmament and global peace were duly acknowledged by the international community. The image of India as a country which had to be taken seriously was definitely her biggest contribution.

To sum up, Indira Gandhi was truly an international leader. As the Prime Minister of India and Chairperson of the Non Aligned Movement, she exercised a profound influence on international affairs and made tremendous efforts for world peace, justice and equity among nation.

Sonia Gandhi

What is the mystique surrounding Congress President Sonia Gandhi? Despite being in public life for more than 16 years no one knows her. What are her likes and dislikes, her vision for India, her views on various issues? Is she a rightist, leftist or a left of the centre? There is no clear picture. Some call her an enigma, although her daughter Priyanka Gandhi is not comfortable with this description. “Enigmas are really built around people who are sometimes very simple. People don’t understand that there can be simplicity in her,” she explained in an interview with Indo Asian News Service. [8]

Sonia Gandhi was named the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine in the year 2004 and sixth in 2007. She featured 12th on the list in 2012.

From her modest origins in Italy, to becoming one of the most powerful politicians in India, Sonia Gandhi has overcome the chauvinism and xenophobia of Indian politics and emerged as a charismatic global leader in her own right. Her rise to power is like the Cinderella story.

The political face of the Nehru – Gandhi family in the present era is definitely Sonia Gandhi. Born as Edvige Antonia Albina Maino at Lusiana, Italy in a Roman Catholic family she attended English classes at the “Bell Educational Trust” language school in the city of Cambridge where she meet Rajiv Gandhi in a Greek restaurant in 1965, where she was working and they fall in love at first sight. [10]

Rajiv Gandhi was enrolled as an engineering student at Trinity College at university of Cambridge. Sonia, against her father’s objection, went to India and got married in 1968 and move to her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi’s house in India.

Rajiv was sucked into politics when his brother was accidently killed in a plane crash in 1980, and after the assassination of Indira in 1984, Sonia’s husband, Rajiv assumed the highest office in the country, much against her wish. [14]

The reason Sonia opposed Rajiv to join politics was because she feared he might end up in the same way as her mother-in-law had been killed. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Sonia decided to stay away from politics, in spite of many requests from the congress party members.

Sonia Gandhi joined congress party in 1998 because the unity of the Congress party was under threat and the resignation from many of the senior congress leaders from the past years. She started her political career in 1998 from the same place where her husband was killed in Sriperumbudur near Chennai. Her first election in 1999 was disastrous for the Congress party not because of the lackluster new leader but because of the worn out image of the Congress party.

During the 2004 General Elections, her tireless campaigning and her due belief in her party attracted crowds toward herself. She campaigned on the basic issue of water, electricity and sanitary and made herself popular. The Indian National Congress party won the 2004 General Election and formed the United Progressive Alliance which formed the government. In spite of the requests by her party member to be the Prime Minister of the country, Sonia stepped aside and chose Dr. Manmohan Singh as the 13th Prime Minister of India. [18]

Sonia Gandhi joined the Indian National Congress when there was a lack of leadership in the party. She learnt from her mistakes made in the 1999 General Elections and rectified them in the 2004 and the 2009 Elections.

Sonia Gandhi is a more courageous torch bearer in the Nehru dynasty. She rebuilt the party’s image from scratch and delivered two famous victories.

Sonia has good communication skills; she molded herself from Italian origin to Indian land and spoke in Hindi when she met with villagers. She also has good negotiating skills, after the General Elections of 2004; she negotiated with the secular parties in order to conciliate the secular front to successfully form the government. [18]

She is very hard working person, her tireless campaign in the sweltering heat for her party, and the wining in the election proves that she is not a handicap in spite of others believe in her Italian heritage.

The selection of Dr. Manmohan Singh for the second time in 2009 as a Prime Minister candidate without any internal debates indicate her strength for power and control over the government. [18]

The above evidence of Sonia Gandhi’s leadership style concludes that sometimes the vortex can throw into the politics and you have to control it effectively. Italian born Sonia started as a leader in a country which is dominated by the Hindu’s displaying the complexities of India’s democracy.

As researcher, D. Goleman correctly pointed out, Sonia Gandhi has a high degree of self awareness, self regulation and motivation lacks in empathy and social skills which is a very crucial for her as an effective leader. [19]


Both Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are good leaders but their leadership styles are different. Indira Gandhi believed in hard leadership style which is all about believing more on performance than on people while running her government. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi believed in soft leadership that is all about emphasizing more on the concern for people than on performance. Indira Gandhi believed in transactional leadership style while Sonia Gandhi in transformational style. Although Sonia appears soft externally she is a strong woman who makes hard decisions with more concern for people. Above all, the times that prevailed during Indira Gandhi forced her to act like a hard leader while the current times demand more of a soft approach for resolving various issues.

Sonia is a cool thinker. She is against corruption and quick in making decisions especially against corrupt people irrespective of party affiliations. On the other hand, her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi is a hard leader. Probably Sonia is a soft leader as she runs a coalition government which needs lot of balancing act.

Sonia entered politics reluctantly like her husband late Rajiv Gandhi. She stood like a rock when her husband was assassinated. She brought her two children through right values and ethics. She did not get everything on platter in politics. She entered into the Congress party when it was getting disintegrated that too when the party was in opposition. She took the reins and rejuvenated the Congress party.

Sonia surprised her critics by bringing Congress government back at the Centre through her soft and effective leadership skills and abilities. She flatly refused to become the Prime Minister of India when everything was easy for her. She surprised her critics and opponents by sacrificing power and installing a minority Sikh and a clean personality – Dr. Manmohan Singh.


Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj was always considered as a ‘Prime Minister in waiting’. What she needs though is a streak of good luck. A lot depended on whether the Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and her rivals within the party, would let her reach the top. In a male dominated BJP, she has made it as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha – the first woman to do so in the history of the party. She has fashioned herself as the quintessential traditional Hindu nari (woman), with the large bindi on her forehead and sindoor in the parting of her hair. [8]

Sushma is a veteran of many electoral battles and has contested ten direct elections. She has been an MP six times and MLA thrice. She has fought elections from Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. She was the youngest MLA and the youngest minister at the age of 25 in the 1970s. Her defining moment came when the BJP chose her to contest against Congress President Sonia Gandhi in 1999. In those elections, she projected the image of a swadeshi beti (home-grown daughter) as a contrast against the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi.

Her shrill debates and diatribes alike in the Lok Sabha and the irrepressible ‘behenji main’ are perhaps why one never really perceives her as anything more than a made-to-order politician.

Sushma has the record of being the second woman to be India’s External Affairs Minister, second only to the late Indira Gandhi. Or that at the age of 25, she became the country’s youngest cabinet minister of a state. Swaraj also has the distinction of being the first-ever woman spokesperson of a national party, and Delhi’s first woman chief minister, if at all for a fleeting period in October 1998, since her party lost in the assembly polls held soon after. As a leader of the Opposition, Sushma has many firsts including being the first female general secretary and spokesperson in the BJP. [8]

After Sushma Swaraj replaced Lal Krishna Advani as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2009, there were many who thought that being decreed as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general election would be the next logical step. But the blockbuster victory scripted by Narendra Modi led BJP in Gujarat in the 2012 assembly polls altered the situation dramatically. [18]

The RSS, desperate to dislodge the Congress led UPA from the Centre, forced the BJP to rally behind Mr. Modi. In September 2012, the Gujarat Chief Minister was declared the party’s presumptive Prime Ministerial candidate, brushing aside objections from Mr. Advani and Mrs. Swaraj.

A powerful and articulate orator, Sushma Swaraj at 64, has had a brilliant political career so far. In October, 1998, she became Delhi’s first woman chief minister, even though her party lost in the assembly polls held soon after.

Her maiden effort to enter the Lok Sabha in 1980 too had ended in defeat at the hands of the Congress’s Chiranji Lal Sharma in Karnal. He snubbed her challenge again in 1984, and also in 1989. A year later, she was elected to the Rajya Sabha.

It was during Lal Krishna Advani’s Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra in 1990 that Sushma Swaraj, along with other younger leaders such as KN Govindacharya, Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, first showed their spark. Mr. Modi, too, came into prominence around the same time. [20]

The BJP decided to field Sushma Swaraj from South Delhi in 1996 in an attempt to facilitate her passage to the Lok Sabha for the first time. She won comfortably. She was re-elected from the constituency in 1998, and was appointed as the information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

In 1999, she faced off with Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, a constituency in Karnataka from where the Congress had never lost till then. The BJP leader impressed the electorate with a smattering of Kannada in her speeches. Mrs. Gandhi had to work really hard to ensure her victory. She won by a margin of just 56,100 votes. [21]

After the NDA suffered a surprise defeat in 2004, Sushma Swaraj courted controversy by vowing to shave off her head if Sonia Gandhi was elected as the country’s Prime Minister. [18] The Congress president eventually installed Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, leaving Swaraj, and her party, red-faced.

After Narendra Modi was declared as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Sushma Swaraj openly identified herself with the dissident camp led by L.K. Advani. [9]

Sushma Swaraj, who earned a degree in law from Punjab University, Chandigarh, was a practicing lawyer in Supreme Court before she formally joined politics. She is married to former Mizoram Governor Swaraj Kaushal, and the couple has a daughter who too has completed law from Oxford University.

Considered as the leader of the next generation, the inception of Sushma Swaraj in Indian politics was as a student leader in the year 1970. Many protests against the government of Indira Gandhi were organized by Sushma Swaraj.

Sushma is an exceptional speaker and campaigner, who, after joining the Janata Party, got actively involved in campaigning against the Emergency. Her quest in Indian politics saw her as the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi. She became the State President of the Janata Party in Haryana at an early age of 27 years.

Sushma has many hurdles to overcome before she can reach the highest rank in the country’s politics. The first is the glass ceiling, which she has already reached at the BJP. The second is the uncertainty on the RSS backing her, a woman, in a male dominated party. The third is a woman named, Smriti Zubin Irani who has out powered Swaraj in the recent years to become the female face of the Bharatiya Janata Party. So, even as the Swadeshi beti tackles the many ifs and buts that lie strewn on her path to political glory, she will have to contend with the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.

Smriti Irani

Smriti Zubin Irani is the new age Bharatiya Janata Party politician. The female face of the present Modi government, Irani has successfully come of age from being a former model, television actress and a producer to holding the cabinet of the high profile portfolio of Human Resource Development ministry.

Irani represents the state of Gujarat as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. [23]

Irani was born in Delhi into a family which has its roots with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Irani’s grandfather was an RSS Pracharak and her mother a member of Jana Sangh. [15]

Irani was one of the finalists of the beauty pageant Miss India 1998. She became famous with the role of Tulsi Virani on the soap opera, ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ on Star Plus.

Irani joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2003 and became the Vice President of the Maharashtra Youth Wing of BJP in 2004. In the 2004 General Elections for the 14th Lok Sabha, she contested unsuccessfully against Kapil Sibal from the Chandni Chowk constituency in Delhi. She was nominated as executive member of the central committee of the BJP. [16]

Interesting to note that Irani threatened to ‘fast unto death’ demanding the resignation of the then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, blaming him for BJP’s loss in the 2004 Elections.

Smriti Irani was appointed the National Secretary of BJP in 2010, she also became the All India President of the BJP’s women’s wing, BJP Mahila Morcha clearly indicating that she was no pawn and rose up the ladders in the party’s hierarchy quickly.

Smriti Irani is said to be close to Narendra Modi, the same way Sushma Swaraj was close to the former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani. Critics call Irani as Modi’s prodigy. [15]

In the 2014 General Elections, Irani contested against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi constituency of Uttar Pradesh and lost by 1,07,923 votes, a margin of only 12.32 per cent. She was appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Minister of Human Resource Development in his cabinet.

Her appointment was criticised by many people owing to her lack of formal higher education. Irani has been accused of misrepresenting her educational qualifications. Conflicting affidavits were allegedly submitted by her while filing for different elections.

Throughout her political career, Irani has been mired in controversy, one way or another. She was accused of favouritism towards Vishram Jamdar, a self-proclaimed ‘RSS person’ and a regional Sangh Parivar leader, for appointment as the Chairman of Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur. [16]

Recently, Irani made a controversial speech in Parliament where she discussed the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition controversy and the suicide of Rohith Vemula.

Smriti is known for her leadership skills, her debating mind and her vociferous speeches in the Parliament. This modern day politician clearly signifies she has a long way to go and is going to be face of the party for the years to come. Whether or not, she has the Prime Minister’s hand over her head, she has the capabilities of a fine leader who never bows down. From her ‘Kyunki’ days till now, Irani has proved time and again, that she has the mettle to be the female leader India had looked for after Indira Gandhi!


Both Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani have one thing in common, and that is, a ‘Godfather’. For Sushma, it came in the shape of Lal Krishna Advani, and for Smriti, it has been Narendra Modi.

Sushma and Smriti have both stood out for themselves in a male dominated Bharatiya Janata Party and have made a name for them. The one thing common between them is the debating skills and the vociferous way both have answered their critics in the Parliament.

Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani have both had their tenures in the Parliament mired with controversies. From saying that she would shave her hair, if Sonia became the Prime Minister, Sushma has come a long way and is now respected well within the house because of her seniority.

Smriti Irani in her short tenure has flirted with controversies with her bold remarks, very recently in the Rohith Vemula and the JNU case.

But with Sushma now in the ousted Lal Krishna Advani faction, Smriti Irani is the female face of the party as going by the tide, she is in the Modi group with her mentor always looking over her. Bharatiya Janata Party has come a long way from the female representation, but need to have more female presence in the house to woo a certain section of the country. It surely is going the right way, after appointing a female speaker!


Women’s Reservation Bill or the The 108th Amendment of the Indian Constitution, is a pending bill in India which proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats to be reserved in rotation will be determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat shall be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections. [24]

The Upper House Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 Mar 2010. As of February 2014, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill. If the Lok Sabha were to approve the bill, it would then have to be passed by half of India’s state legislatures and signed by the President.

The Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in the Parliament in 1996 by the H.D. Deve Gowda government, but no government has successfully passed it yet. The current version of the bill, the 108th Amendment, seeks to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in governing bodies at the Center, State and Local level.

For reservation in the Lok Sabha, one-third of all constituencies will be reserved for women on a rotation basis, such that a constituency will be reserved for one general election and not reserved for the following two elections. That the bill is indispensable cannot be denied.

In the present Lok Sabha, out of 545 members, only 60 are women – a shameful 1.1 per cent. Out of these, 69.7 per cent have relatives who are already in politics. Thus, it would a gross understatement to say that the average woman is not duly represented in the Parliament. [24]

We also have an example of extremely successful women’s reservation in the Panchayat. The 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts reserved 33 per cent seats in all Panchayats for women and as a result, nearly a million women are elected to Panchayats each year, a feat that cannot be matched by any other country.

The opponents of the bill (mostly men) propound that reservation would only perpetuate the gender inequality and not solve it. In a country where in most households women are not even allowed to take domestic decisions on their own, would the people allow women to take national decisions for them?

The Women’s Reservation Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation that has the capacity to change the structure of Indian politics. It is essential that the bill doesn’t get lost in transition between the two houses, or women in India will never be able to realize the dream of true gender equality.


Admittedly, there is need to remove the dearth of constitutional provisions and policies guaranteeing a place of honour and equality to women because they are not enough to combat the menace of inequality. For the emancipation of women and conversion of their de-jure equality into de-facto equality, the educational, economic and political independence of the women is of paramount importance.

This can lead to total development of the women. This goal of economic independence and empowerment of the women can be achieved only through gainful employment opportunities. Women’s gainful employment especially in more rewarding occupations clearly will play a role in improving the lot of the women especially in increasing their status and standing in the society.

The economic empowerment automatically follows political empowerment so it is quite clear that the socio-economic condition of women will improve only if they are also a part of the governing process is a fact that is widely accepted the world over.

Therefore, it becomes obligatory for the women’s organizations as well as the Government of India to search for remedial measures to improve the political status of women.

The bill proposing quota for women is a step forward in mainstreaming women in politics by giving them representation in the highest elected bodies both at national and regional levels where they can discuss all the problems in order to seek their redressal and thereby to get an opportunity to highlight them on a national as well as regional platform. Without proper representation of women in the legislative bodies and political participation at all levels, issues concerning women would remain neglected.

In order to achieve this objective, Reservation Law for providing political participation to women is the need of the hour. Therefore, the individuals who oppose the Bill tooth and nail should be made to arrive at a consensus in the interest of the nation. The Government must be gutsy enough to ensure the Bill is passed even if it is at the cost of losing its allies because only a nation which has empowered its women to be a part of all forms of governance, can achieve true liberation and economic success. In India, this can come about only by enacting the Women’s Political Reservation Bill.

One can finally conclude by quoting Robert Ingersoll that, “There will never be generation of great men until there has been a generation of free women of free mothers!”


The completion of this dissertation has been possible due to the help and support provided by many people.

I am grateful to my mentor, Mr. Mohan Ramamoorthy for his immense support and help with identifying sources and reference materials.

I would like to thank Mr. A. S. Panneerselvan, Readers’ Editor, The Hindu and my ‘Making Sense of Politics’ elective teacher at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

Mohammad Affanul Haque



[1] The Official Mahatma Gandhi eArchive & Reference Library


[2] Political Participation of Women: A Case Study in India by Anuradha Chadha. Dept. of Law,
Guru Nanak Dev University, Jalandhar.


[3] Can Political Reservations Empower Women and Affect Economic Outcomes? Case Study by Klaus Deininger and Sohini Paul.


[4] Women’s Political Participation in India – Research Paper by R.Vijayakumari, Dept. of Computer Science, Krishna University, Machilipatnam, India

Volume-3, Issue-8, August Special Issue-2014 • ISSN No 2277 – 8160

[5] All India Congress Committee Meeting – 1937


[6] Book – The History of the Indian National Congress (1885-1935) by Pattabhi Sita Ramaiah

Publisher: S. Chand & Co. (1988) • ISBN-13: 978-8121903479

[7] Book – The Dramatic Decade: the Indira Gandhi Years by Pranab Mukherjee

Publisher: Rupa Publishing House • ISBN-13: 978-8129135742

[8] Book – Pandora’s Daughter by Kalyani Shankar

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing India Private Limited • ISBN-13: 978-9382951049

[9] Book – The Election That Changed India 2014 by Rajdeep Sardesai

Publisher: Viking India Ltd. • ISBN-10: 0670087904

[10] Indian Nation Congress Official Website


[11] Lok Sabha Official Website


[12] Indian National Congress Office Bearers


[13] Bharatiya Janata Party Official Website


[14] Book – The Turbulent Years: 1980 – 1996 by Pranab Mukherjee

Publisher: Rupa Publishing House • ISBN-10: 8129137690

 [15] Smriti Irani: From model to Tulsi Virani to HRD minister – First Post


[16] Smriti Irani’s transition from an aspiring model to a successful politician


[17] Parliament of India – Lok Sabha House of People Website


[18] Book – The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh

Publisher: Penguin Books Limited • ISBN-13: 978-0670086740

[19] University of California Press – Women and Movement Politics in India by Leslie J. Calman


[20] Ram ke Naam / In the name of God (1991, 75 mins., Hindi) by Anand Patwardhan


[21] Women and Politics: Beyond Quotas by Madhu Kishwar


[22] Empowerment of Women in India by Jugal Kishore Misra

The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 2006)

[23] Rajya Sabha Official Website


[24] Legislative Brief: The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008

PRS Legislative Research – Link:

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the post-graduate diploma course in Journalism at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

For the Academic Year 2015 – 2016

Name: Mohammad Affanul Haque

Roll No.: PGDJ15092

Stream: Print

Mentor: Mohan Ramamoorthy


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