New Delhi: On Sunday, 13 February, Punjab Women’s Commission (PWC) chairperson Manisha Gulati posted a cryptic message on Twitter.
“Hawaaon ka rukh mat poocho mujhse/ghutan ki siyasat dikhaayi hai tumne,
Ab ho gaya naya agaaz/khul ke goonjegi Manisha ki awaaz”
(Don’t ask me the direction of the wind/you have shown the politics of suffocation/there is a new beginning, Manisha’s voice will echo freely.)
— Manisha Gulati (@ladyonrise) February 13, 2022
With over four lakh followers on Facebook and Instagram combined, Gulati is a mini-celebrity in Punjab. The PWC chairperson often posts videos of her meetings with victims and how she handles their complaints, many of which have gone viral in the past. She even has a fan page on Facebook, and stirred controversy in 2018 — and then again last year — when she sought clarification from then-cabinet minister, and present Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, in a case of alleged sexual harassment.
Another tweet from her would therefore hardly seem out of place, but the true import of her Sunday post — which included the hashtags “PunjabElections2022”, “PunjabPolls” and “PunjabPolitics”, was only revealed by the events of the next two days.
On Monday, Gulati met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Punjab and greeted him with a bouquet. She then joined the BJP Tuesday, in the presence of BJP state in-charge and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, 5 days ahead of the assembly elections scheduled for 20 February.
“I was providing justice to the victims, but I became a victim myself,” Gulati told ThePrint, adding that the government was also not happy with her popularity on social media.
Gulati also claimed that she would continue to hold the PWC post because her “office and post have nothing to do” with her political decisions.
ThePrint approached Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee working president Pawan Goel on the allegations made by Gulati, but he said he was not aware of the issue.
A social media celebrity
A qualified fashion designer with a degree from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), the 45-year-old Gulati — who did her post-graduation in political science, was appointed chairperson of the PWC in March 2018 by the Captain Amarinder Singh government.
Before this, Gulati says she had worked with several NGOs on a range of social issues and started her own started her own organisation, Women and Child Society in 2006. She also claimed to have designed clothes for late BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and Preneet Kaur, the Lok Sabha MP for Patiala and Captain Amarinder’s Singh’s wife.
Since becoming PWC chairperson, Gulati has made quite a name for herself, because of her “tough style” of handling any cases of alleged abuse of women’s rights or harassment brought to her notice.
Her ability to communicate with the masses has also helped in this. Gulati shoots videos of her handling alleged cases of dowry harassment, abuse and other gender-based issues received by the PWC and shares them on social media. She also makes recordings whenever she visits any victims and posts videos of her addressing various social issues.
Several of her videos on Facebook and Instagram have garnered millions of views.
Gulati’s confrontational style of talking in these videos and reprimanding of the accused while hearing a case often become talking points.
In comparison, she appears compassionate to women, consoling them or encouraging them as the situation demands, which makes her especially popular among younger women.
In one viral video shared in September 2021, Gulati is seen asking a victim of alleged abuse, “You got slapped? You are so highly qualified and got slapped?” She adds: “Saari qualification zero karti” (you proved your qualification to be zero).”
In yet another video, which has garnered 16 million views on Facebook, she can be seen taking to task a man for appearing on behalf of the accused. “You have come here to defend your brother? Call your brother here. Don’t we have other work?” Gulati says in Punjabi.
Run-ins with Channi
Gulati, who said she started making and sharing these videos in January last year, has now alleged that she herself has been a victim of harassment by the Channi government, since he took charge in September last year.
Differences between the two date back to when Channi was still a cabinet minister in Amarinder Singh’s cabinet. Gulati had, in her capacity as PWC chairperson, sought a clarification on harassment allegations levelled by a woman IAS officer against CM Channi in 2018. She had also taken suo motu action and sought clarification from then-chief secretary of Punjab Karan Avtar Singh.
In May last year, Gulati had even said she would go on indefinite hunger strike if the Punjab government did not respond to the clarification she sought. But asked whether she would pursue the allegations against the new CM after Channi took charge of the government, she had responded with “media should stop asking such rubbish questions”.
She also said, “There has been a lot of upheaval in the government. I do not want to comment on the sensitive issue. The only thing I can say is that the report is pending with the government.”
Speaking to ThePrint Tuesday, she alleged she was targeted, but it was no surprise. “Of course, I knew they would target me as I had questioned CM Channi for ‘Me Too’ allegations against him. I was feeling threatened. As he became the CM, these people started calling me in office asking ‘when will madam’s tenure end’,” Gulati alleged.
“Even on the day he (Channi) took oath as CM, I had been on my way to Delhi to see my son, who had tested positive for Covid. But they (the government) forced me to return from midway. They also abused my security personnel,” she further claimed.
Gulati had also tweeted and congratulated Channi when he was made CM. But claimed that the Channi government continued to harass her.
Congratulations to Shri Charanjt Singh Channi Ji, the new Chief Minister of Punjab. Our best wishes are with you! @MLACHARANJIT
ਨਵੀਂ ਜ਼ਿੰਮੇਵਾਰੀ ਲਈ ਬਹੁਤ ਬਹੁਤ ਵਧਾਈਆਂ ਤੇ ਸ਼ੁਭਕਾਮਨਾਵਾਂ। pic.twitter.com/TwEyl5kTmD
— Manisha Gulati (@ladyonrise) September 20, 2021
“They have snatched many cases from my hands and are not letting me work. I do not have any political grudges against anyone, but I took this decision (of joining the BJP) because there is no easy way out for a woman. She has to fight” she told ThePrint.
‘No prior political associations’
Originally from UP, Gulati has been living in Mohali for the past 30 years. Her husband is a businessman. The new BJP entrant counts Amarinder Singh and Preneet Kaur as her mentors.
The PWC chairperson, who claims to have no prior political associations, said that she decided to join politics to serve people and chose the BJP because of its policies towards women welfare.
“I’m holding a commission, but it is my personal preference to join the BJP. I ultimately have to serve the people. In the past 111 days, this Channi government harassed me and disrespected the dignity of a constitutional chair,” she claimed.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)