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Daughter steps into Pramod Mahajan’s shoes

Pallavi Singh

Posted: Oct 23, 2006 at 0351 hrs IST

Rahul Mahajan may have tried to get into political limelight by staging a demonstration demanding death for Afzal Guru last week, but away from the cameras, his 26-year-old sister Poonam has already taken first steps into her father’s political territory.

When the BJP-Sena alliance threatened to fall apart early this month, she let it be known that she was involved in the peace process by talking to the key players, something her father would have done.

“A big vacuum has been created in the party after my father’s demise. But we have to look beyond it,’’ she says. The “emotional’’ involvement with the party, she says, puts her in the “qualifying round’’ of politics. “BJP is as old as me. I’ve grown up with it.’’

Poonam Mahajan joins a list of daughters in Maharashtra who have inherited the political legacy of their fathers. Just last month, Maratha leader and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule entered the Rajya Sabha; Sunil Dutt’s daughter Priya is already in the Lok Sabha; Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s daughter Pranati is her father’s poll manager; and Congress MP Eknath Gaikwad’s daughter Varsha is now an MLA.

“It works both ways. There are so many things I do that get accepted because I’m my father’s daughter. But you are constantly being compared too,’’ says Sule, 38. From managing tribal schools in western Maharashtra to coordinating women self-help groups, she says she has been connecting with grassroots and that would mark her ascent as a politician.

Varsha Gaikwad is a PhD in Maths and quit her job at Mumbai University to follow in her father’s footsteps. Her constituency is Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum where she’s rooting for free public schools for the poor and open spaces. “Unless they are educated and healthy, nothing will change,’’ she insists. There is no time for anything else but politics now. “Maybe next year, I’ll have time to marry when I touch 30,’’ she says.

How does her father sees the rise of political daughters? “Society has changed. These days, there’s love for women at home as well as in society,’’ he says. Both son Tushar and Varsha applied for his assembly seat, but it was the daughter who was chosen. “She got more votes than me. Voters look at the candidate first, then the lineage,’’ Gaikwad Sr explains.

Sushil Kumar Shinde’s 25-year-old daughter Pranati is the youngest of the crop. She manages poll campaigns for her father in Solapur and, with her fund-raising campaigns for cancer, is perhaps hoping to wipe off mother Ujjwala Shinde’s loss in the 2005 assembly polls with a thumping political debut.

All of them realise that while there’s no escape from the big shadow, the immediate aim is to find their own niche. “Being my father’s daughter helps because of the work he’s done for people. Beyond that, one has to keep going ahead with good work,’’ says Priya Dutt, 37, daughter of late Congress leader Sunil Dutt who won the North West Parliamentary Constituency two decades after she joined her father on a peace march in 1987. She’s embarrassed to find her hoardings across Mumbai, calls her entry into politics just “a quirk of fate’’ and is too idealistic to think principled politics cannot live long.

However, perhaps the one son who made it from Maharashtra doesn’t see the arrival of daughters as an example of women empowerment. Milind Deora, son of Petroleum Minister Murali Deora and South Mumbai MP, says: “The real role women should play in politics should not be in Parliament but in the villages. I’m saying it openly and it applies to me too: political heirs are not examples in empowerment. Unless people from villages rise to the top without any political background, I’ll not call it a change.’’

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