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Ladies’ circle, but one out
- Power Four who called the shots

New Delhi, July 25: Women were the stars in Parliament this afternoon when Pratibha Patil took oath as the country’s first woman President.

Sonia Gandhi, Mayavati and Kanimozhi attracted all the attention today, with the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj offering poor competition.

Outside Parliament, though, woman power was not on show everywhere. Kiran Bedi was passed over for the Delhi police chief’s job in favour of a man — Y.S. Dadwal.

Mayavati, in a beige salwar suit, walked up and down the Central Hall — the venue of the swearing-in — smiling and greeting every MP or politician who caught her eye as Amar Singh brooded somewhere in the back benches.

The BSP chief’s show of camaraderie with the Congress president was not lost on him or the BJP — both of whom suffered defeat at her hands in Uttar Pradesh. As she walked back to her front-row seat after the PR exercise, the chief minister gently tapped Sonia and threw an arm around her shoulder. Sonia, in a white-and-black handloom sari, responded by gesturing to Mayavati to sit beside her.

For the next few minutes, the two chatted like long-lost friends. The place was reserved for M. Karunanidhi, who hadn’t arrived yet.

His daughter was making heads turn, though. The young woman in white churidar-kurta and flowing hair shuffled distractedly in an enclosure for friends and relatives of select guests, a little away from the power hub.

Pratibha’s family members occupied some of the other chairs in the enclosure but the feminist-poet who will be sworn in as Rajya Sabha MP by Pratibha tomorrow attracted all the attention. Kanimozhi is the first serious woman politician in the DMK.

If more evidence was needed of the importance of being a woman, it came in the new President’s speech.

“One of the unique features of our national movement, of our freedom struggle, was the equal participation of men and women,” she said. “Among the many who led that battle against foreign rule were brave women like Rani Lakshmibai, Begum Hazrat Mahal and Kitturu Rani Chennamma.”

However, not all women in the House were winners. Sushma, who for weeks heaped mud on Pratibha as part of the BJP’s presidential campaign, sidled up to L.K. Advani and stayed put there, looking isolated.

Sheila Dikshit, once counted as a member of Sonia’s charmed circle, encountered a chilly stare and a namaste from her party chief before taking her place in the second row beside Vasundhara Raje to watch Pratibha take oath — the first President to do so in both Hindi and English.

In a cream-coloured khaddar silk sari with a green border and a long-sleeved blouse, the First Citizen looked very much the Congresswoman she has been most of her life.

Her first speech as President, also delivered in both English and Hindi, focused on gender, secularism and social justice and contained references to the Nehru-Gandhis. Sonia, who went through the speech written by the Prime Minister’s media adviser Sanjaya Baru, is believed to have okayed the mention of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi but said it should have nothing on Rajiv Gandhi.

“Social inclusiveness”, a favourite phrase of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia, also found its way into the address.

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