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‘Sister’ Sumitra for Speaker

first day in parliament

New Delhi, June 4: The BJP has nominated party veteran Sumitra Mahajan for Lok Sabha Speaker, a source in the parliamentary affairs ministry said, taking a step towards fulfilling its long-held wish to put a lady in the Chair.

Ministry sources said the BJP would give the deputy Speaker’s post to the Opposition, “possibly” the Congress. The party thinks the Congress, the second largest party in the House with 44 MPs, would be recognised as the Opposition.

Sumitra, who won her eighth successive election from Indore by over 4.6 lakh votes, will be elected by Friday evening after the required formality of getting her nomination endorsed by leaders of all the parties is completed.

In keeping with convention, Sumitra is expected to be elected unopposed. So far, no other nomination has been filed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Sumitra today after the party decided to nominate the 71-year-old, who is addressed by her BJP colleagues as “Tai” (elder sister).

Sumitra, who has a degree in law and is originally from Maharashtra, was married into an Indore family of Maharashtrians closely associated with the Jana Sangh.

Her name for Speaker had figured with a host of others that included L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi who had indicated through various channels they were ready to take up the job.

Ultimately, Sumitra’s name was tossed up against that of Khunti MP Karia Munda, who was the deputy Speaker in the UPA’s second term.

But gender and age went in Sumitra’s favour. Sumitra is seven years younger than the MP from Jharkhand who is 78.

In 1998, when the BJP returned to power after a truncated 13-day tenure in 1996, the party had been taken up with the idea of making Sushma Swaraj the Speaker. Had Sushma got the job, she would have been the first woman to hold the high constitutional post.

But coalition politics compelled the party to give the job to G.M.C. Balayogi of the Telugu Desam Party.

In 1999, when the BJP was re-elected, it gave the post first to Balayogi again and, after his death, to Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena. The BJP’s dream of a woman Speaker was left unfulfilled.

If Sumitra does become the Speaker now, she will not be the first woman to hold the post. Meira Kumar of the Congress was the Speaker in the last Lok Sabha.

Sumitra won her first election in 1989, defeating Congress stalwart P.C. Sethi who was Indira Gandhi’s home minister during the Emergency. She went on to win the next seven, surpassing the record set by other women politicians like Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the CPI’s Geeta Mukherjee who won their Lok Sabha seats seven times each.

BJP sources said despite the “Modi wave”, Sumitra had left nothing to chance in Indore. She targeted every major social grouping in the city, including Muslims and Dalits.