Female Game-Changers in the History of Indian Politics

By Avilasha Sarmah in Editor's Pick 25/04/2019

The elections 2019 are heavy on the gender charade. We are questioning whether ‘Her Vote’ will make a difference, alluding women’s participation in politics, while at the same time demanding more gender sensitivity in governance.  But significantly, the history of Indian Politics is incomplete without mentioning the key women leaders. These women politicians stood beyond their identities and left significant marks on the Indian Political spectrum. Or in other words, without these women, Indian Politics would’ve been a different story.



  1. Indira Gandhi

There was a time when Indira and India were synonymous. It was the 1970s and India had the first female Prime Minister. Mrs. Gandhi surpassed her titled and almost changed the course of Indian history with the Emergency of 1975. The only female Prime Minister of India till date, Mrs. Gandhi served two terms in office: 1966-1977 and 1980 -1984 till her assassination, making her the second-longest Prime Minister in office.



In 1971 Mrs. Gandhi led India on a war with Pakistan which followed the liberation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, almost ascending India’s role as a South Asian hegemon.  From nationalization of Banks, abolishing Privy Purses to an unprecedented centralization of power with the Emergency, Indira Gandhi still remains a ‘larger than life’ figure in Indian Politics.



  1. Pratibha Devisingh Patil



The 12th person to hold the office of the President of India, Pratibha Patil was the first female to do so. A lawyer, politician and a former governor, her term as President lasted from 2007 to 2012. Although the Indian President is often termed a ‘rubber-stamp role’, Patil on an interview with the Hindu expressed the extended nature of her job. Hers was a ‘mellow term’ in comparison but her efforts to establish the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women and establishing committees to survey gender equality are noteworthy.



  1. Jayalalitha



Elected six times for the post of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha was also the youngest to hold the post in the state. Her successful acting career was superseded by her career as a politician. ‘Amma’ as she was fondly called by her supporters, was an enormously influential figure as her tenure lasted for a span of 14 years from 1991 to 2016. She became the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary in 1989. She almost had a revered role amongst her supporters amassing a colossal image.



  1. Sonia Gandhi



Called by Forbes as the 9th most powerful woman in the world, and the 21st among world’s most powerful in 2013, Sonia Gandhi created a niche for herself by refusing the role of Prime Minister and serving as the chairperson of the National Advisory Council from 2004 to 2014. She was first elected the Leader of Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999 after becoming the Indian National Congress President in 1998.  Her effort in leading the Congress from back-bench is well-known. No wonder she was named among the Time 100 most influential people in the world for 2007 and 2008.



  1. Sushma Swaraj



By heading the Country’s External Affairs Ministry, a key ministry pre-dominated by male leaders, Politician Sushma Swaraj has turned more tables than expected! Sushma Swaraj began changing the rules right from joining politics while still in college as a member of the ABVP, the student wing of RSS. At 25 she became the Janata Party’s youngest Cabinet Minister (1977) and finally became the first female Chief Minister of Delhi in 1998. In 2009, she became the Leader of Opposition. Currently, she is the first female Foreign Minister of India with the BJP Government of 2014!



  1. Meira Kumar



Popular known for being the first female Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Politician Meira Kumar is a five-time Member of Parliament. In her election as the Speaker, she stood unopposed serving from 2009 to 2014.  Ms. Kumar also served as the Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of 2004 to 2009.  A former diplomat, Meira Kumar began her political career in 1985. She was the UPA candidate for the Presidential Elections of 2017.



  1. Mamata Banerjee



The current Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is known for recreating the political history of West Bengal. Upon her getting elected as the first female Chief Minister in Bengal, she also ended the 34-year-old rule of the CPI (M).  In 1984 General Elections, she became the youngest member of the Lok  Sabha. But in 1997, she established her own party, the All India Trinamool Congress. From 1999 to 2001, Mamta Bannerjee became the first female Union Cabinet Minister of Railways with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Her ‘Kanyashree Initiative’ that was aimed at educating girls in the state received recognition from the United Nations.



  1. Vasundhara Raje



The first female chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje started her political career in 1984 at the age of 31, when she became a member of the National Executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party. From 1989 she won four consecutive Lok Sabha Elections. In 2003, she became the 13th Chief Minister of Rajasthan with two terms from 2003 to 2008 and 2013 to December 2018. Currently, the National Vice President of the BJP (2019), her tenure as a politician holds stronger with a more national image. Her one of kind state scheme – Bhamashah Yojana – which transferred financial and non-financial benefits to women recipients won her accolades.



  1. Mayawati



The first female Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a Dalit Leader from a minority party (BSP) Mayawati deserves accolades for her groundbreaking success over her controversies. It was her public speaking skills that impressed Kanshi Ram the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), to persuade her to join politics, which ultimately was the case of her rise. In 1989, she won the 9th Lok Sabha General Elections and in 1994 became a member of the Rajya Sabha. Since 1995, she got elected four times as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh till 2012. In 2003, Mayawati made news all over again by being chosen as the National President of BSP.



  1. Sheila Dikshit



As the longest serving Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit had quite the illustrious term. In 15 years, 1998 to 2003, Dikshit led the Congress to three consecutive electoral victories. She served a brief tenure as the Governor of Kerala and is currently the President of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee in 2019. She represented India for 5 years at the United Nations Commission on Status of Women (1984-1989).


Currently curating a creative team for Feministaa! Apart from that I am a wanderer who loves to write. Places call out to me and I enjoy making poetry out of moments. Do check out my book – “When the Cuckoo Called”.


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