New Delhi: Woman power will have a big presence in the Modi government now, with seven women leaders getting inducted as ministers in the cabinet reshuffle Wednesday. The total number of women in the Council of Ministers now stands at 11, nearly double the figure inducted when the Modi government was sworn in for the second term in 2019.
The new inductees include Shobha Karandlaje, a BJP MP from Karnataka, Meenakshi Lekhi, a Delhi MP and Supreme Court lawyer, and Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal, a party key to the BJP’s calculations for next year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Annapurna Devi, an MP from Jharkhand, Bharati Pravin Pawar, a Lok Sabha member from Maharashtra, Darshana Jardosh, an MP from Gujarat, and Pratima Bhoumik, a parliamentarian from Tripura.
The four women already in the Council of Ministers are Nirmala Sitharaman (finance), Smriti Irani (textiles and women & child development), Renuka Singh Saruta (tribal affairs), and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti (rural development, consumer affairs).
While Debasree Chaudhuri has been dropped from the Council of Ministers in the reshuffle, the sixth woman sworn in in 2019 — Harsimrat Kaur Badal of former NDA alliance partner SAD — quit the government last year in protest against the three farm laws.
A past loyalist of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, Shobha Karandlaje is the MP for Udupi Chikmagalur. She served as MLA between 2008 and 2013, when a BJP government was in office in the state, and as minister in the D.V. Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar governments.
Karandlaje, who has grown to become one of the most powerful women in the state, is known to make controversial statements. Sample this tweet from February 2020: “Kerala is turning out to be the safest den of religious extremist Jihadi elements! Mohammed Kutty of Palakkad arrested for running a parallel telephone exchange, it’s said that Jihadis used this to communicate outside India without leaving any trace! Wake up @vijayanpinarayi! pic.twitter.com/q7126MWgAb.”
However, those close to her describe as a hardworking worker. She comes from an RSS background and has worked closely with the organisation’s women’s wing.
Lekhi represents the New Delhi constituency in the Lok Sabha, is a national spokesperson of the BJP, and a Supreme Court lawyer. In 2019, she also penned a thriller about a plot to assassinate the prime minister.
Lekhi’s husband Aman Lekhi is a senior advocate who currently serves as additional solicitor general in the Supreme Court. Her father-in-law was P.N. Lekhi, a senior advocate who was the defence counsel in the Indira Gandhi assassination case, and also fought a petition raising issues over the foreign origin of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.
Lekhi contested her first Lok Sabha election in 2014, where she defeated Congress heavyweight and former minister Ajay Maken.
Known for her fiery speeches, she filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court in 2019 against the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of attributing the phrase “chowkidar chor hai” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the top court. Gandhi had to tender an unconditional apology following her petition. Another significant case which she fought pertained to permanent commission for women officers in the Army. Last year, the Supreme Court directed the government to implement permanent commission for women.
Patel, a former professor who also holds an MBA, served as minister in the first Modi government. So, when she was not accommodated in 2019, it raised many eyebrows.
Patel, an MP from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, is a member of the Kurmi community. Her party Apna Dal supported the BJP in both the 2017 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The NDA ally got two seats in the alliance in 2019 and won both.
Last month, Patel met Home Minister Amit Shah and raised a number of issues, including, reportedly, the party’s demand for more important positions.
The party enjoys the support of the Kurmis, who belong to Other Backward Classes (OBC). The party is often credited with consolidating the Kurmi vote base in the favour of the BJP.
Annapurna Devi, the MP from Jharkhand’s Koderma, currently holds the post of BJP vice-president. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, she defeated former chief minister Babulal Marandi.
Annapurna Devi contested her first election after the sudden death of her husband, former Koderma MLA Ramesh Prasad Yadav, in 1998, before the creation of Jharkhand. She won the subsequent bypoll with a landslide margin.
Her stature grew as she continued to win the seat in the 2000, 2005 and 2009 assembly elections. A former RJD member, she served as a cabinet minister in the Jharkhand government from 2012 to 2014.
She was made Jharkhand state president of the RJD despite her defeat in 2014 and is often credited with reviving the party in the state.
Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar
Dr Bharati Pawar, the MP from Dindori constituency in Nashik, was originally with the NCP but jumped to the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election after being denied a ticket. The parliamentarian is a medical professional. Prior to entering the Lok Sabha, Pawar had been a member of the Zilla Parishad for seven years. In 2019, she was awarded the ‘Best Woman Parliamentarian’, an honour instituted by the Lokmat newspaper group.
A three-time Lok Sabha MP from Surat, she has earlier served as the general secretary of the BJP’s national Mahila Morcha. She has been with the party since 1988. In 2009, she defeated Gajera Dhirubhai Haribhai of the Congress from Surat and went on to retain the seat in 2014 with a huge margin. She is currently a member of the Standing Committee on Finance and a member of the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Pratima Bhoumik is a Lok Sabha MP from Tripura West and had earlier served as state general secretary of the BJP. She has been associated with the BJP since 1991.