15 Women In Politics Who Made Milestones In India

Karthika S Nair | Apr 15 2019
Image credits: BP creatives

Women were involved in the nation's politics since Independence. The constitution in itself was drafted with the involvement of women. Father of the Indian Constitution Dr. B.R Ambedkar identified himself as a feminist (read as the one who believes in equality of genders) and ensured codes for equal rights for women. Women got the right to vote in the year 1947 and this was influenced by the suffrage fight by Annie Besant and Sarojini Naidu. Women were a strong part of the political and social fight for Independence prior to the building of the Indian constitution. Unfortunately, India has not seen a substantial number of women taking part in mainstream politics, especially in any responsible roles. As we talk much about the women empowerment today, a lot more is to happen to get more women into active politics.

Having said that, let's not forget those women who made the milestones for other women to follow. Here are 15 women who made the milestone in the field of politics:

Also Read: 9 Empowering Quotes By Successful Women 

1. Sarojini Naidu: First woman governor

Image credits: Wikipedia

Sarojini Naidu became the President of Indian National Congress and was later appointed as Governor of the United Provinces soon after Independence, (now Uttar Pradesh) becoming the first woman governor of the Republic of India. She was the governor from August 15, 1947, till 2nd March 1949.

Sarojini Naidu was a prominent figure in the Independence movement. She was a poet, women's rights activist and a politician. She took part in the independent movement in the wake of partition of Bengal in 1905, following Mahatma Gandhi and fought for Swaraj.

She worked with prominent freedom fighters such as  Gopal Krishna Gokhale, C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, Rabindranath Tagore, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru. Sarojini Naidu also established Women's Indian Association (WIA) in 1917 and fought for women's right to vote with activist Annie Besant. Indian National Congress accepted women's right to vote after coming to power which was an important facet in the constitution.

Also Read: 11 Women In Military Who Broke The Glass Ceiling 

2. Indira Gandhi: First woman prime minister

Image credits: YouTube

Indira Gandhi is the first and as of now, the only woman to become the Prime Minister of India. Daughter of Indian freedom fighter Jawaharlal Nehru, she served as his personal assistant and hostess during his tenure as Prime Minister between 1947 and 1964. She was elected as the president of the Indian National Congress in 1959.

She was elected as the MP of Rajya Sabha and served under Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In 1966, she was elected as Prime Minister of India by the Congress party.

Gandhi was not spared of sexism. Her abilities were underestimated by critiques and she was termed as a weak 'puppet'. However, she changed the perspective of her critics and emerged as a strong leader, true to the Congress president’s coining the phrase, 'India is Indira and Indira is India'.

She is known for making daring decisions like going to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement which resulted in India's victory and the creation of Bangladesh. Her anti-poverty programs 'Garibi-hatao' won many hearts.

She faced scrutiny for declaring a state of emergency in the country between 1975 to 1977 and was later assassinated by her bodyguards. In a poll organized by BBC 1999, she was named "Woman of the Millennium".

Indira Gandhi made several milestones such as first woman Minister of Finance (1970), Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of External Affairs (1967), Minister of Defence (1975) and Minister of Information and Broadcasting (1964).

3. Pratibha Patil: First woman president of India

Image credits: Youtube

Pratibha Patil broke the highest glass ceiling when she was elected as the 12th president of India in 2007. Prior to that, she served as the governor of Rajasthan, the first woman to do so. She has a Bachelor of Law degree by Government Law College, after which she began to practice law at the Jalgaon District Court while taking interest in activities such as improving the conditions faced by Indian women. At the age of 27, she was elected as an MLA at  Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for the Jalgaon constituency.

Her being elected as the president though it was historical at the time, met with criticisms as it was deemed as a result of 'mudslinging' between the ruling party and the opposition. Patil herself had told that she didn't want to be a rubber stamp president. However, she won the election after garnering two-thirds of the votes.

Pratibha Patel set up Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, an educational institute which runs a chain of schools and colleges in Amravati, Jalgaon, Pune, and Mumbai and is also the co-founder of  Sant Muktabai Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana at Muktainagar.

She faced several controversies including her trips abroad and giving clemency to several criminals who were given capital punishment.

4. Dr. Shwetha Shetty: Founder of all woman political party


4. Dr-Shwetha-Shetty.jpg
Image credits: Wikipedia

Hyderabad based doctor, Shwetha Shetty founded India's first all-women political party with a sole aim for improving the conditions of women in India. She launched the National Women's Party in December 2018,  in Delhi and eventually in Mumbai.

When asked about the 'segregation' of women in the political space, Shetty replied by saying that it is not about segregation but a safety net. She said that policymakers don't think about women while making laws and policies which is one of the reasons why women are less in the education and employment sector. She accentuated that having more women from a diverse background in policy making will help in presenting women's issues in parliament. With the current 1.45 lakh members, she hopes that more women will join politics and at her party.

She believes that other parties have women wing but are just for the sake of publicity, where she calls hers a women-friendly party. The party is looking to contest for 50 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Also Read: Meet The 15 Top Women Bloggers In India  

5. Annie Besant: First woman leader of a major party


Image credits: Wikimedia

During the freedom fight, India had support from several foreign nationals including Annie Besant. She is a socialist, theosophist, women's rights activist, writer, orator, and supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. She was the first woman president of Indian National Congress, thus becoming the first woman to lead a major party in India. All her life she resorted to liberal thinking and fought for the same, such as freedom of thought, women's rights, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism, and workers' rights.

Annie Besant was very active in political matters of India and encouraged Indian national consciousness and attacked the caste system & child marriage. She also launched the All India Home Rule League along with Lokmanya Tilak to spread national consciousness. She had support from both Congress and Muslim league.

6. Mamata Banerjee: First woman minister of railways


Image credits: Instagram

Mamata Banerjee has several achievements to her name. She was the first woman to be elected as the chief minister of West Bengal and the first woman Railway minister and minister of Coal for India. She also founded All India Trinamool Congress after separating from the Indian National Congress. She became victorious after defeating 34-year-old Communist government to finally become the chief minister of West Bengal.  Time magazine named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, in the year 2012.

As the railway minister, she made several achievements such as introducing a new biweekly New Delhi-Sealdah Rajdhani Express train and four express trains connecting various parts of West Bengal, namely the Howrah-Purulia Rupasi Bangla Express, Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri Padatik Express, Shalimar-Adra Aranyak Express, and the Sealdah-Amritsar Superfast Express. She focussed on developing tourism at the time.

Also Read: 10 Must Read And Inspiring Feminist Books Of Fiction 

7. V.S Ramadevi: First woman election commission


Image credits: YouTube

In 1990, V.S Ramadevi first woman to become Chief Election Commissioner of India. She is also the first and till date the only woman to serve as Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha, from 1 July 1993 to 25 September 1997. She was succeeded by T. N Seshan as the Election Commission.

Ramadevi served as the Governor of Himachal Pradesh from July 26, 1997, to December 1, 1999, and as the Governor of Karnataka from December 2, 1999, to May 20, 2002.

8. Sonia Gandhi: First Woman leader of the opposition of Lok Sabha


Image credits: Youtube

Sonia Gandhi was not elected in any powerful positions in the Indian government but she was listed as one of the most powerful women in the world. She was elected as the Leader of the Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999 when BJP formed the ruling government under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee where she has filed 'No-confidence' motion against the Vajpayee government.

Married to former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indian’s first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sonia often cited her mother-in-law Indira as the course of inspiration and motivation which she has said on multiple occasions. She was ranked 21st among the world's most powerful leaders in 2013. In the same year, Forbes magazine listed her as the 9th most powerful woman in the world. She was also in the list of  Time 100 most influential people in 2007 and 2008.

Sonia Gandhi played an important role in making the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act into law. She supported the LGBTQIA community and opposed Sec 377 when it was upheld by the supreme court in 2013.  Sonia was the former president of Indian National Congress, the position later was succeeded by her son Rahul Gandhi.

9. Sucheta Kriplani: First woman chief minister of a state, UP.


Image credits: wikipedia

Sucheta Kriplani made history by becoming the first woman leader of a state. She was a former freedom fighter and a politician who founded all Mahila Congress in 1940. Served as the CM of Uttar Pradesh from 1963 to 1967, she handled the state employees' strike firmly, one of the highlights of her career.

During the struggle for Independence, she came to the forefront of the Quit India movement along with her contemporaries Aruna Asaf Ali and Usha Mehta and was one of the women elected into the constituent assembly to help to draft the Indian constitution. Sucheta was the one who sang Vande Mataram in the Independence Session of the Constituent Assembly before Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his speech on 14th August 1947.

10. Mayawati: First woman Dalit Chief minister

Image credits: Twitter

Mayawati broke the glass ceiling for the marginalized women of India by becoming the first female Scheduled caste (SC) Chief Minister of India. She spent four terms as the CM of Uttar Pradesh and is the president of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which focuses on the political involvement, social change, and empowerment of the marginalized Bahujan community.

She is lauded as an icon by Dalits and Bahujans across India. Currently, a Rajya Sabha MP, one of her career highlights is ensuring proper representation of the backward community in the government and private sector. She also took a daring decision like suspending police and other government officials for failing to do their jobs and for not serving the citizens. Mayawati launched a scheme for building low-cost housing colonies for urban poor with 90,000 low-cost homes.  Other efforts include setting up solar power plants and 'Dr. Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University' for the Physically challenged students.

11. Sheila Dixit: Longest-serving Chief Minister of India


Image credits: Twitter

Serving for a period of 15 years from 1998 to 2013, Sheila Dixit has a record no one else has in India. She is the longest-serving chief minister of India by achieving three consecutive victories. She is currently the president of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee. She has served as the Union Minister for parliamentary affairs (1986–1989) and Minister of State in the PM's office.

She led a movement against atrocities on women and also helped in setting up hostels for women. Sheila Dixit has served as a Member of Indian delegation for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The awards and accolades she had received include the Best Chief Minister of India by Journalist Association of India and Politician of the year award by NDTV.

Her government has focused on strengthening public transport systems, worked in improving roads and pedestrian bridges brought in Delhi Metro and emphasized on academic excellence.

She came under scrutiny for handling the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. She said only 'one gangrape' case prompted them to launch a helpline faced flak. She resorted to victim-blaming comments which met with a wave of criticisms saying that she is being insensitive to women issues being a woman herself.

12. Vijaylakshmi Pandit: First woman to hold a cabinet position


Image credits: wikipedia

A pioneer in India's fight for independence and validation, she stood by her brother Jawaharlal Nehru for taking India forward. She went to London as an Indian diplomat, after serving as Nehru’s envoy to the Soviet Union, the USA and the United Nations.

In the pre-independent era, Vijayalakshmi Pandit served a cabinet position, being the first woman to do the job.  She was elected to the provincial legislature of the United Provinces and was designated minister of local self-government and public health in 1937. She was elected to the constituent assembly in 1946, a year before achieving the Independence.

She entered the diplomatic services after Independence and became India's ambassador to the Soviet Union for two years from 1947 to 1949. She has a list of achievements to her credits that include being the first woman President of the United Nations General Assembly. She also served as the Governor of Maharashtra.

She also had to face stern criticisms about her niece and former PM Indira's Gandhi's National Emergency move. Award-winning writer Nayanthara Sehgal is her daughter.

13. Meira Kumar: First woman speaker of the Lok Sabha


Image credits: Twitter

Meira Kumar is an India politician who was elected unopposed as the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha who served from 2009 to 2014. Prior to this, Kumar's resume included her role as Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of Manmohan Singh's Congress-led Government. She was elected to the Lok Sabha, five times. She was also a presidential candidate for the 2017 elections. Even though she lost to Ramnath Kovind, Meira had the highest number of votes achieved by a losing candidate. She had quit Indian Foreign Service (IFS) to take part in electoral politics.

14. Dr. Muthulaksmi Reddy: Member of Provincial Legislative Assembly  


Image credits: Wikipedia

She had to fight gender stereotypes to reach great heights in her career. Her father wanted her to be a teacher but Muthulakshmi Reddy was more ambitious. She applied for admission to Maharaja's College (a men's college) but faced objections because the faculty feared that she might 'demoralize' male students. However, Maharaja of Pudukottai was impressed with her and gave her the admission.

The first female legislator of India, she was a medical practitioner, women's rights activist and a social reformer. In 1927, she was appointed to the Madras Legislative Council.

Muthulaksmi stood for the cause of liberating India from British rule. As an icon for women, she has many firsts to her list such as  first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital, the first woman legislator in India, Deputy President of the Legislative Council, Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board, and the first Alderwoman of the Madras Corporation Avvai Home.

She worked for the orphan girls’ education and lodging and has also passed a resolution for a special hospital for women and children. Muthulaksmi played a role in passing the bill for the suppression of brothels and trafficking of women and children and set up a home to provide shelter to those rescued from brothels and their rehabilitation. She also started a cancer relief fund.

15. Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz: Member of National Defence Council


Image credits: wikimedia

Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz led a political career of a rebel. She was vociferous about India's independence as well as Muslim women's rights and was an active member of the Muslim league as the daughter of Sir Muhammad Shafi. Married to Mian Shah Nawaz, who was also a politician, she was the first woman to be a member of the National Defense Council. Muslim League at the time opposed to it as they didn't want league members. She was removed from the league after she refused to give up her in the council. 

She moved All India Muslim Women’s Conference to pass a resolution against polygamy, in 1918 and founded the Punjab Provincial Women’s Muslim League in 1937. She became a member of Women’s Central Subcommittee of the All India Muslim League in 1938 and eventually rejoined the Muslim League. She was the first woman in Asia to preside over a legislative session and also joined a round table conference with Radhabai Subbarayan.

Also Read: Brilliant Indian Women Movie Makers- A Quick Glance