Jaipur, Sep 23

T

he Women's Reservation Bill has been approved in both Houses of Parliament. If proof was needed that reservation works for the better of both, the women and their constituents, while creating a new leadership culture, Rajasthan provides many laudable examples.

Quota for women in panchayat and civic elections gave a new platform to candidates with no political background. It enabled them to take their first step in politics and establish themselves.

One such woman is Kavita Joshi who left her profession as a hardware engineer and became a Sarpanch.

In 2015, the Shobhagpura Panchayat seat was reserved for women and it became a rule that in order to contest elections the candidate had to have cleared eighth standard at least. Because of this rule, no one in the families already active in politics in the village could contest the elections.

In such a situation, the people of the village approached Kavita's family and demanded that Kavita, who was pursuing her PhD after finishing her M.Tech, contest the elections, despite the fact that neither her in-laws nor anyone at her maternal home had anything to do with politics.

As per Kavita, "I was working as a hardware engineer and had no connection whatsoever with politics. But I decided to contest for the sake of the villagers. At the time of campaigning for the election I was nine months pregnant and I delivered just a day before voting day. However, I voted the next day."

Kavita won and became the first woman Sarpanch of Shobhagpura village. The impact of Kavita's work and her capabilities led the BJP to give her a senior leadership position. Today she is the district president of the Mahila Morcha of BJP Udaipur.

Another woman of note is Chhavi Rajawat from Jaipur, who is the country's first MBA Sarpanch. Chhavi left her job in a multinational company and was recently invited by Amitabh Bachchan to participate in the game show KBC.

Chhavi, who is originally from Tonk, is one of the most popular women Sarpanches of the country today. Chhavi does not have a political background. Her grandfather retired from the Army and her family was involved in social service. She is an inspiration for women today but it was reservation that played the most important role in Chhavi reaching this position.

Chhavi says, "When the seat of Soda village of Tonk became reserved for women, the elders of the village decided that I should contest the elections as our family was involved in the development of the village from the beginning."

"My grandfather Brigadier Raghuveer Singh retired from the Army in 1975. After retirement, he always remained associated with the development of the village. During holidays, I often went to the village with my family and became attached to the village and the people there. When the seat was reserved the villagers came to Jaipur and requested me to contest the elections. After this, when I met the people of the village, I felt that I was needed there. I also felt that a lot could be done there."

Chhavi contested and won the Sarpanch election from Soda in 2010. The impact of Chhavi's work in five years was such that despite getting the general seat in 2015, the people of the village expressed their desire for her to contest for the Sarpanch's post again.

Chhavi contested the elections again in 2015 and won and remained the Sarpanch till 2020.

At the time when the elections took place, she was working in Airtel and was also running her own horse riding academy.

Chhavi says that she often tells the village elders that if the seat had not been reserved for women they would never have thought about her and they agree with that.

"In such a situation, it is clear that only because of reservation was I able to become Sarpanch and work for the village," she says.

Another woman leader Sarita Gaina, a resident of Ajmer, too, belonged to a family with no political links before 2005. There was not even a ward councilor in the family. However, she came from a well-educated family. Today she is the state spokesperson of the BJP. Women's reservation has played a big role in Sarita's political journey.

Another leader, Vandana Nogia was doing M.Sc in Forensic Science when she decided to contest elections. She was only 23-years-old when the matter of contesting the election of Ward No. 32 came up. The family put Vandana forward and contested the elections. Vandana won and later went on to become a state Minister in the BJP government.

Uganta Sukaria, 26, is one of those women who want to achieve something by coming into politics. A resident of Dudu, she was preparing for the Constable Recruitment exam, while also helping her father in his Rajputi dress enterprise. Many girls and women of the village were associated with the family. Then suddenly, in the 2021 Panchayat elections, the seat of the head of her ward and village Mauzamabad became a reserved seat for women in the SC category.

Uganta says that at that time her BA finals were going on but the villagers asked her to contest the elections. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not only did she contest and win the ward elections she also fought on the reserved seat for the Pradhan's post and became Pradhan at the age of 24.

Uganta says that she always wanted to enter politics but if the seat had not been reserved, she probably would not have been able to enter politics.

Public administration expert Professor SK Kataria says that in December 1992, the Center made a provision for women's reservation in Panchayats in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment and for Municipalities in the 74th Amendment. As there was a constitutional amendment, half of the states approved it in 1993.

After this, the Panchayati Raj Act was enacted in Rajasthan in 1994. Whereas in November 1994, the Act made for municipalities was amended and implemented. For the first time in January 1995, reservation of 33 per cent was given to women in Panchayats.

Meanwhile, the tagline of 'Sarpanch pati' has also become famous, with the husbands of the elected representatives working behind the scene and enjoying immense clout.

One such sarpanch is Neeru Yadav whose husband Ashok Yadav, a government officer, is working behind the scene to cash in on the situation. He has been designing the marketing and PR services for Neeru and reportedly taking all decisions on her behalf, spending lakhs and crores on her PR with the aim to get her a BJP ticket.

Earlier, Ashok Yadav was suspended for many months allegedly on charges of corruption. "He has been spending crores on PR, marketing and the social media of his wife and is the key decision-maker for all her activities," said a PR person adding, "All her campaigns and projects are being designed by Yadav."

Neeru recently made news when she shared a photo and video with the 'Ashok Stambh'placed on the back of her chair and 'Sarpanch' written below it. The national symbol can only be used by people holding constitutional posts.

Neeru was criticised on social media for this act and District Collector Dr. Khushal started an investigation into the matter. Later the Sarpanch removed the symbol.

Such "rubber stamp" Sarpanches defeat the very idea of reservation for women in Panchayats as their husbands rule from behind the scene", said the PR manager who made Neeru famous as 'hockey wale sarpanch' and gave her the idea of bringing a 'bartan bank' in her village.

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Rajasthan panchayat system leads from the front in creating women leaders

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