IN 1999, I almost joined Doordarshan after passing their newsreader’s exam. But at the time, the post of mayor in the Durg Municipal Corporation was declared as reserved for women, and I was asked to contest it by my party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Many in my own party opposed my candidature. Some even took out a death procession and burnt my effigies. But when the results came out, I had won by 8,000 votes. Thus began my political journey.
My initiation into college elections, too, was an accidental feat. Many students at the Bhilai Women’s College, where I went, had dropped out because of the high fees. We came under a political banner and asked the local MLA and chief minister to waive it. Our continuous protests worked and the college received a grant from the government. The fee was waived. My activism led to my becoming the president of the college’s student union.
I contested the university polls next, and there too, I saw opposition to my candidature. But after the nominations were filed, the university found only my form valid. In spite of the pressure to withdraw my nomination, I was elected unopposed. Thereafter, formally joined the BJP. For someone like me with no political connections, it was a big step. My father was a teacher in a school. My mother managed a dairy farm with 300 cows. I owe my liberal views and the strength to fight to them.
As mayor, my scheme to provide cycle-rickshaw pullers a pair of uniform and licences, got so popular that when I fought elections for the second term, they campaigned for me. They would keep in their rickshaws a magazine of the works done by me, and gave it to the commuters to read. I won that election by 48,000 votes, a national record.
Towards the end of my second term as Mayor in 2009, the party gave me a ticket from a nearby constituency to fight a legislative seat. I was apprehensive, but people in the new constituency knew about my work and I won from there as an MLA.
In 2009, the BJP expelled the local MP from Durg for indulging in anti-party activities. I got the nomination to contest for the seat. I won that election by a very narrow margin. But when I won, I had achieved the unique feat of being the Mayor, MLA and MP at the same time. It is recorded in the Limca Book of Records. But if you think about it, it shouldn’t be a unique position at all. Political engagement should continue at all planes.
It took me more than 20 years to become a national-level politician. There were plenty of sacrifices. When other girls went to the cinema or did things they liked, I decided to follow politics.
I wasn’t accepted easily at the local level. To move ahead in politics, among other things, it’s important to have a strong opponent. If you don’t, your own progress slows. Therefore, I have adopted my own style of functioning, which is trying to stay two steps ahead of my opponents at all times. That’s how you survive. This hasn’t earned me many active supporters, but I have become strong enough to put up a tough fight to men.
After coming to the national level, my thinking has taken on a larger canvas. Opportunities to work have increased manifold. As your responsibilities grow, your passion does too. As Mayor and MLA, I couldn’t go beyond my state. That said, I’m a national- level politician when I’m in Delhi. Otherwise, I am still the Mayor for my people. It’s a public position, everyone has a stake in it.
I don’t think of myself as a veteran. The impetus that drove me to work every day was the idea that systems and organisations need to change, bottom up. Even today, I take great pleasure in working at the local level.
Because politics is such a big part of my life, I never thought about marrying. That I wasn’t able to find a suitable candidate is perhaps closer to the truth. Even today, I encounter people who think a woman ought to ‘retire’ after getting married, that the groom’s house is where she’s destined to go to.
In politics, you constantly have to prove yourself. There is no resting on past laurels. Reservation and other such provisions are just a gentle nudge in that direction. For the real battle up ahead, you just have to thicken your hide. I do not fear attacks against me. A person requires certification from no one and nowhere except from the person within. Perhaps this is why I think more women from ordinary backgrounds should take up politics. It’s the best way to silence your detractors.