Lok Sabha Elections 2019 gave us many bamboozling moments. One such moment that was right at the top was the switch made by Priyanka Chaturvedi from being Congress’s National Spokesperson to Shiv Sena’s Upneta in April amidst the polling. Chaturvedi had raised an issue when some of the Congress party workers misbehaved with her and walked out of the party when those very people were reinstated within the party just a few days after they were suspended. This move by a woman from a non-political background who gave 10 years to Congress then switching over to a fairly regional Maharashtra party did not go down well with many.
The criticism came from all sides including the media fraternity which questioned her motives but an undeterred Chaturvedi did not let it affect her. She told SheThePeople.TV that she had made up her mind to leave Congress much before she made it public and that even her family didn’t know about her decisions until she went public with it.
Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Priyanka Chaturvedi, now Deputy Leader of Shiv Sena:
We have the highest number of women becoming MPs this time and it has only happened because two of the state parties had fielded majority women. Where have bigger parties failed?
As far as the earlier party is concerned, they only have to pool in through their entire national network and show a commitment for at least 25%, to begin with. If you have district presidents across the country who are women then why are you not fielding them? This wasn’t really their winning chance so they could have betted on their women leaders but didn’t.
With this party, it is very clear that a lot of leadership is women-centric but it needs to be groomed at least at the national level. As far as representation at assembly-level is concerned, we have enough and more women who are in the legislative assembly—whether they are 33% I am not so sure. But since we had 23 seats to contest in the general elections we hope to groom more women leadership in the future.
One of the major highlights of the elections has been your switch from Congress to Shiv Sena. Was it purely incidental?
For me, it became a matter of my self-respect at that point in time as the political party I was part of believed that my contribution to the party was almost negligible so they could afford to side with the goons over me. Secondly, joining the Shiv Sena was a very conscious decision because I was moving back to Maharashtra (Mumbai, specifically) and I had decided that I will start working at the local level and I’ll be able to create a change. It may not be an electoral outcome but something that gives me personal satisfaction of having contributed to the society through the Shiv Sena.
With this party, it is very clear that a lot of leadership is women-centric but it needs to be groomed at least at the national level – Priyanka Chaturvedi
Additionally, it is a happy outcome that Shiv Sena has done exceedingly well and that I could contribute in terms of campaigning for them.
Did you expect such a sweeping victory for BJP in the elections that it has got?
From whatever people said and what was coming out, I could make out that there was an undercurrent for Mr Narendra Modi. This was apparent all the more because there was no coherent narrative or alliance from the other side. All the other alliances that happened for example in Uttar Pradesh, I, was certain that this would keep the BJP in the winning seat in UP. That’s because, as much as it might have sounded great arithmetically for SP-BSP but the long-standing issues that the Yadavs have with the Dalits could not be wiped away.
Honestly, I would have expected them to win close to 220-230 seats but no one would have seen such a huge undercurrent that was working in Mr Modi’s favour. And looking at it in hindsight there were some policies that directly touched rural homes to have totally changed the narrative and it went beyond the religious and caste equations that the opposition side had stitched up.
What made you shift to Shiv Sena specifically over other parties?
I have seen this party emerge as the voice of Mumbai. For all the brickbats that it faces, one cannot forget just how much people look up to it in Mumbai and it has a huge role to play in making the city much safer for its women. At the same time, not to reduce women to the misogyny of how to dress, where to go out etc. The women of the city are not just confident but also empowered in that way.
The perception built around the Shiv Sena is whether their policies have been effective or not. The policies include the plastic ban, cleaning up of the beaches, work around climate change, bringing in self-defence for women. All the municipal corporation school in Maharashtra have a very impactful commitment to introducing sports for all genders.
There has been a lot of scepticism around this move of yours in terms of the timing. Would you like to comment on this?
My parents and most of my family members also didn’t know that I was doing this because I didn’t want anybody to tell me that I shouldn’t be doing something or compromise or wait for the party to give me a chance etc. But I had given enough and more time to the party and just because I tweeted my resignation on that particular day does not mean I resigned at that moment. I only went public with that resignation. I did not want to involve too many people in this decision and despite whatever brickbats that came my way I went for it.
There is also this opinion in the public that by joining Shiv Sena, you gave up on the very ideology of women’s empowerment and safety that you stand for. Tell us your thoughts on this.
The narrative is totally ridiculous and I would ask these so-called flag-bearers of an ideology—who are they to decide what ideology I have been raised with? Ideology is part of a human being’s upbringing and when one makes a political choice, one makes it depending on what comes closest to your thought process.
If it is about women’s empowerment, these people should tell me how Shiv Sena is a misogynistic party or how is not a progressive liberal party? They have not reduced women to a particular group like how a Mahila Congress exists. Every district, assembly or booth-level have a male and female representation and it might be because of the policy of reservation for women but even the winnability of women is more than men. If this is not part of the ideology of women empowerment that these liberals espouse then I don’t know what is?
You also spoke up on women not being given enough tickets. What do you think has or hasn’t changed in the recently concluded Lok Sabha Election?
We do have the highest number of women in the parliament but where we are failing women is that most of them are women dynasts. I absolutely appreciate women being given tickets and women also breaking down the myths that they are not winning candidates. What used to happen earlier is that women would be given tickets from constituencies where parties would have given up already to make women feel content. That is why the faith among women was not coming across from political parties except Trinamool Congress and Biju Janta Dal. Till one does it from within, one cannot keep espousing it vocally. While it is great to reach this figure, I cannot get over the fact that bigger political parties consciously haven’t given tickets to women based on their ability but because they were dynasts.
Going forward, what are some of the issues you’ll be voicing and working on being part of Shiv Sena?
My entire idea is to bring more young leaders including women leaders into the party. There is a Yuva Sena and then there is a Yuvti Sena where we groom women leaders. In terms of the state, we will work on water policies. We need to ensure that since drought and water shortage is a big issue in Maharashtra so finding solutions for them and for environmental impact on the state on various other parameters like more tree plantation, retaining green land, rampant development that’s happening at the expense of the greenery. These are some of the things that I will fight for.
My parents and most of my family members also didn’t know that I was doing this because I didn’t want anybody to tell me that I shouldn’t be doing something or compromise or wait for the party to give me a chance – Priyanka Chaturvedi
Do you think when women take such drastic steps or voice strong opinions; they receive more hate than men? How have you tackled the trolling you’ve received and how does it affect you?
So when a woman takes such a strong step it will face more flak than it should. But I am very clear that I will not compromise with my respect and credibility or how will I create and change that I seek to create?
Secondly, women, from across the board including political and media space, have asked me why am I making such an issue out of it? It may not be a burning issue for some but it was for me and I stand by it. I took these trolls head on.