Three cities in Uttar Pradesh — Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Kanpur — are all set to establish a gender equality base in political life through its civic elections slated in the state in November. All three cities will be electing, for the first time, a woman as their First Citizen — Mayor. The 75 districts of the state, which has 652 civic bodies, will be going to polls in three phases — on November 22, 26 and 29. Counting of votes will take place on December 1.
The exercise of nominating females for the top post set the parties’ political strategists in a dizzy. The search for the most suitable candidates was an uphill task. While many female party members propped themselves up as prospective candidates, the selectors moved with great care and caution in their scrutiny. These civic elections are the litmus test for all political parties and none of the parties wish to nominate a dead horse. Despite tremendous pressure within the parties, selectors left all personal and party loyalty criteria and based the decision on the candidate’s winning chances.
In the 199-member Nagar Palika Parishad of Lucknow, 25 seats are reserved for scheduled castes (SCs), eight seats for SC women, 53 seats for backward class where 18 come under BC women quota, 40 seats are reserved for general category women candidates and 81 for general category candidates.
As a fore runner in the race for Lucknow’s first female mayorship is BJP’s 70-year-old Sanyukta Bhatia. She is the widow of two time BJP MLA from Lucknow cantonment late Satish Bhatia and mother of RSS’ Prashant Bhatia. Shrouded comfortably in RSS and VHP clothing and bursting with confidence because of her association with the BJP ever since the party was formed in 1980, Bhatia seemed to emerge as a natural choice for the coveted post.
Describing herself as a social activist and total supporter of chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s saffron ideology, Bhatia claims to have worked in the party from the ward level right up to national level as a social worker. She claims to enjoy strong support of all in the party as in all these years she has worked selflessly with all sections of BJP.
“Now that the party has given me this wonderful responsibility I will work with untiring vigor and commitment for all the 110 wards,” she says, chalking out campaign plans with her team to cover maximum areas in her mass contacts.
According to Bhatia, as mayor her top priority will be the city’s sanitation, handling water logging, traffic jams, providing clean drinking water for the last man down the line and to put an end to corruption prevailing in the corporation Confident of her victory she says that no other candidate poses a challenge for her. She asserts that her comfort level with every strata of society is her plus point. Terming her team of campaigners as her biggest strength, Bhatia says that the relationship with them has been cultivated over years and she has worked with them closely and stood by them in their hour of need.
Ask her what how she will handle the cash-starved Lucknow Nagar Nigam treasury and pat comes the reply, “We have BJP governments both in the state as well as at the Centre, I am confident paucity of funds will not come in the way of development work”.
Victory in the civic polls is a matter of great importance for the Samajwadi Party as its members, after a humiliating defeat in the assembly polls, are going through low self esteem. The party has fielded Meera Talwar Vardhan, the grand daughter-in-law of Socialist leader late Acharya Narendra Dev, as its mayoral candidate in Lucknow.
In her early fifties, this convent-educated business woman radiates confidence. “I have been handling my business, social work totally independently. I am sure I will do the post proud,” says this mother of two.
Denying that there was any resentment to her nomination by other females who have been working in the party for years but were sidetracked in the selection, Meera explained that while it is true that she has not been directly involved in the party work, her family has been in touch with both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav and they have highly appreciated the work she has been doing for society.
Giving sanitation her top priority, this Lucknowite says she is all set to turn the city she loves into “heaven on earth”. On the question of there being very little funds in the Nagar Nigam treasury, Meera said that actually it is more a case of “improper utilisation of funds” and expressed confidence that judicious budget handing will change things completely.
She said she was very familiar with the way things functioned in the Nagar Nigam because she visited it often to pay her taxes. Meera said when elected, she would like to introduce a ‘women-conducive atmosphere’ on top priority, which is totally missing in the corporation.
Whether Meera wins or not only time will tell but it is true that her political mentor is heavily dependent on these polls. Party’s national president and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has gone on record to say that the party will give a befitting reply to the BJP through the results of the urban body elections. According to him, the anti- people BJP policies have hit the masses hard both at the Centre and in the state and they will not tolerate the government any longer.
Congress, like the SP, is going it alone in these polls. Prema Awasthi’s candidature is being projected as an after-thought of the party, as her name was announced by Congress after its first choice, Ex IAS Kusum Sharma, had to be pulled down. According to Congress spokesperson Virendra Madaan, the party’s legal cell found that Sharma’s papers were not complete.
Now the party nominee for mayoral post is the widow of former Congress MLA late Surendra Nath Awasthi alias Puttu Awasthi who was elected on Congress ticket in 1996 but resigned in 2000 to allow BJP chief minister Rajnath Singh to enter the state assembly from Haidergarh of Bara Banki.
BSP candidate and senior lawyer Bulbul Godiyal was one of the first names for mayorship to be announced. Like her mentor Mayawati, Godiyal has so far kept a safe distance from the media.
In less than a month these three cities in the state are poised for a change. While one cannot really expect total transformation at the hands of these female mayors because the post is chiefly a ceremonial one, one really hopes that the rise of female mayors will at least shake up some gender prejudices. Maybe there will be more focus on facilities and safety for older people, children and needs like exclusive public toilets and parkings for women. By introducing a feminist perspective maybe things will change.