She, The Leader by Nidhi Sharma encompasses stories of valiant, inspirational women who shaped the landscape of Indian Politics and the flagbearers who continue to change the wind of the political scenario in our country. The Excerpt is drawn from the chapter called “SUPRIYA SULE: The Influencer”.
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Supriya Sule has grown up in a family where gender has never been an issue for her. She brushes aside any suggestions of facing discrimination on the basis of gender inside or outside home. 'See, I am a Mumbai girl. Maharashtrian society is a gender-equal society. In public space, my gender does not define me. I don't get trapped in a gender-specific role—I don't allow myself to enter that zone. I am not an abla naari (helpless woman),’ she says.
Though many women leaders complain of sexism and even discrimination in elected bodies, Sule says she has never felt it. My philosophy has always been to treat people the way you would like them to treat you,' she says adding that since Maharashtra has seen a lot of strong women in all walks of life, she hasn't faced discrimination on the basis of gender.
But Sule has been a champion of increasing women's representation in elected bodies. In her first term as a Lok Sabha MP, she started the Nationalist Yuvati Congress in 2012. 'I realized that while there is place and platform for young women, there was no such place for girls. In fact, families still have a problem in allowing their daughters to participate in politics. We are talking about women reservation in legislatures and parliament. Where will these future leaders come from?” says Sule. The Nationalist Yuvati Congress is a specific forum for women in the eighteen to thirty-five age group.
Aditi Nalawade, who heads the Mumbai wing of the Nationalist Yuvati Congress, remembers the unusual launch of the wing in Mumbai. ‘NCP gave the platform to young girls to express their grievances and what they thought was missing from public discourse. It was a ten-day programme and young girls gave speeches on several issues including the lack of sports infrastructure and educational facilities and health issues. But the common thread in all these speeches was that there are not enough clean and hygienic public toilets for women.
On the spot, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawarji announced that all NCP MLAs and corporators will identify spaces for public toilets for women and earmark funds to build them at the earliest,' says Nalawade. For a fledgling organization, it was quite encouraging to see its voice being heard. Sule travelled across Maharashtra from 11 June to 27 October, holding fifty public meetings exhorting young women to join the new wing. Sule elicited a good response with her meetings attracting huge crowds.
Nalawade, who has majored in business psychology, says that a majority of the young women who have joined the Yuvati Congress are professionals who want to be involved in policymaking and politics. 'I studied business psychology abroad. After I returned to India I knew I wanted to get into politics but there was no forum for young women like me. The youth wings of most political parties have about twenty to twenty-five girls to a hundred boys. So when it comes to expressing their problems or taking up women-related issues, young women do not find these youth wings a credible or sympathetic platform. At the same time, women wings of most parties predominantly raise issues relating to older women. Yuvati wing provided me the perfect forum to talk about issues pertaining to young professionals,' says Nalawade.
Yuvati Congress has targeted programmes to train young girls in public speaking and how to influence policy making. Nalawade says Yuvati Congress is a self-sufficient political venture. 'We don't outsource anything. If there is an event and we want to put together promotional material or compose a song, we will use a copywriter or an artist among ourselves to do this. It helps all of us to grow,' she says. Unlike other political wings, Yuvati Congress has got political opportunities with its members getting tickets to fight corporation and assembly elections.
Sule feels that passing the Women's Reservation Bill is the only way to increase women's representation in legislatures and the parliament. 'Women need a foot in the door. Unless we reserve constituencies for women, political parties will not give tickets. Another form could be to make it mandatory on political parties, through a change in our laws, to reserve a certain percentage of tickets in every election for women,' she says.
Terming this as a ‘big social change', the four-term MP says it could mean that initially women from political families would come forward. "We need to increase the representation of women. If we need to do this, we need to begin somewhere. It is not just a change in political representation. It is a big social change. It will take time. Initially political parties may field women from political families citing winnability but gradually it will bring forth women leaders in public spaces,' says Sule.
Being in public life comes with its share of controversies. Sule has also courted a few—some by association with the Pawar family. In 2010, when financial irregularities in the functioning of cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL) surfaced, there were allegations that her husband owned a 10 per cent share in a firm that had exclusive broadcasting rights for IPL matches. ‘In 2010, a deal between WSG and Multi Screen Media (formally known as Sony Entertainment) came under the tax authorities' scanner. The global broadcast rights for the IPL were originally bought in 2008 by WSG for ten years for more than 900 million dollars. The TV rights for India were then allotted by WSG to MSM. However, in 2009, the IPL cancelled the MSM contract, citing, among other reasons, poor-quality broadcasts.
MSM went to court, but after a tough legal battle, decided on an out-of-court settlement. The new deal saw MSM paying more than a billion dollars to hold onto the TV rights for the remaining nine years. MSM also gave WSG an 80 million dollar (₹425 crore) facilitation fee as part of its agreement.
The smallest of the chinks being probed in this deal is that WSG should pay 40 crores in tax for the facilitation fee it benefitted from." Sule's father-in-law was a part of a consortium called Atlas Equifin, which owns a third of MSM. B. R. Sule, as part of Atlas Equifin, invested in MSM. However, after he fell sick, he assigned signing rights to Sadanand.
Sule had defended her husband saying, ‘My husband's only role is that he is a cricket fan. He has no other role...please read my lips.”
Extracted with permission from She, The Leader by Nidhi Sharma; published by Aleph Book Company.