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Woman Speaker of India
|by Rajesh Talwar|
The Hari Putar Dialogues - 60
(The Times of India ; 3 June ; NEW DELHI: With every side deciding to endorse her candidature, Congress candidate Meira Kumar's election as Speaker of the 15th Lok Sabha on Wednesday is set to a unanimous affair. Altogether 13 sets of nominations were submitted on Tuesday by Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee to Lok Sabha secretary general P D T Achary. Among those who backed her bid for the constitutional post were UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition L K Advani, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Mukherjee led a group of UPA leaders to the secretary general's office in a formal show of solidarity behind Kumar. Among them were Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Lalu Prasad and E Ahmed.
Kumar, who was part of the delegation visiting the secretary general, later termed her ascent to the Speaker's chair as a historic moment. "It is both historic and overwhelming," she told reporters. A five-time MP, she resigned as minister for water resources after Congress backed her for Speaker.
When the Lok Sabha meets on Wednesday, Sonia, according to the agenda, will propose Kumar as the Speaker of the new House. With the Opposition deciding not to oppose her, no election is called for. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Advani will then accompany her to the Speaker's chair completing the formality.
Not originally her party's choice, Kumar found strong support from the Congress leadership on two counts - a woman, she carries a rich dalit legacy. )
Putar: There is a report in The Times of India today that the way is clear for Meira Kumar to be elected the first woman Speaker in the Indian Parliament. In other words it's a foregone conclusion.
Hari: Wasn't she a Minister?
Putar: Well, yes, but she resigned as Minister for Water Resources after the Congress backed her for Speaker.
Hari: Why did they back her?
PUTAR; She is a Dalit. That's one reason.
Hari: So this will go down well with the lower castes.
Putar: Exactly. And secondly she is a woman.
Hari: Those are two good reasons for the Congress to back her. The Party has calculated well.
Putar: It seems to be a time for women to become Speakers.
Hari: Why do you say that?
Putar: In the US too Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker in the US House of Representatives. Speakers are important everywhere but in the US the Speaker has a special importance because she is second in the line of presidential succession. In other words if something were to happen to Obama and Joe Biden, she would become President.
Hari: Really? That's more important than any cabinet post.
Putar: Exactly. Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking female politician in US history. There are some similarities between the US Speaker and ours. They are both senior citizens for one. Meira Kumar is 64 and Nancy Pelosi is 69.
Hari: Good for them but does Meira otherwise deserve this position?
Putar: I would say so. She is a fairly accomplished lady.
Hari: How do you mean? She is the late Jagjivan Ram's daughter, isn't she? Does she have any other claim to fame ' apart from being a politician?
Putar: Oh, yes. She was in the Indian Foreign Service and served at embassies at Spain, Mauritius and the United Kingdom. And she has been in national politics since 1985.
Hari: But does she have any qualifications that would suit the role of Speaker?
Putar: She is a keen sportswoman and holds medals for rifle shooting.
Hari: That's impressive ' but I'm not sure it's directly relevant to the job. Anything else.
Putar: She is a woman.
Hari: And I guess all women, or most of them, speak a lot. Fair enough. But the position is not really about speaking. Anything else?
Putar: She is a Poetess.
Hari: I don't suppose she will have any chance to recite her verses in Parliament, but I guess that means she has a way with words. That could be useful for the Speaker's job.
Putar: Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Have you ever heard Meira Kumar speak?
Hari: I have actually. She is extremely soft spoken.
Putar: Exactly. Some papers have wondered if she will be able to control politicians fighting on the floor of the house, with her soft sibilant whispers.
Hari: Sound technicians can always increase the microphone volume, can't they?
Putar: Yes, but it's not only the volume of her speech. It's the quality. It's too cultured and refined. As a Speaker you have to handle quarrelsome, combative politicians and you need to sometimes have the style of an animal trainer or a football coach. If you are to be a successful football coach you need to be have a more aggressive, assertive style of speech.
Hari: That's true.
Putar: So should we recommend that Speaker Meira Kumar bring her rifle with her to Parliament, and if quarreling politicians don't stop fighting or listen to her admonitions, she should just train the sights of the rifle on them? This may help restore parliamentary decorum whenever things are getting out of hand.
Hari: I don't know, Putar.
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