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Meira Kumar set to script history
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 31
Meira Kumar knows how to keep her silence as she did today as the news spread of her near-confirmed appointment as new Speaker of the 15th Lok Sabha. Emerging from 10 Janpath, where she reportedly had a positive meeting on the subject with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi today, the former Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer appeared little in awe of the history she was about to write. She will be the first woman and the first Dalit Speaker of the House of People.

That’s the way Meira has always been-least voluble, most guarded, and largely reserved. Those who know her know that she can digest secrets and successes well, is incredibly soft-spoken, and can smile at her detractors even in the face of the most stiff opposition.

In the Social Justice Ministry, which she just vacated to take over the water resources portfolio in the UPA government, Meira is remembered as a businesslike minister, who never obliged the media with bytes, leave alone comments on controversial issues. There were times when she called a press conference and did not part with the news.

She did that when the National Commission for Backward Classes submitted their report recommending upping of income ceiling for OBC creamy layer from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 4.5 lakh. She didn’t give away the figure, though her men in the NCBC did. “She is a closed person, who likes to concentrate on her work,” says an officer who has worked with her.

However, in political and personal life the impression of Meira being reserved seems more of a perception. Someone who has been returned to the Lok Sabha five times can not be closed. She retained the Sasaram seat in Bihar despite a strong JDU wave. As her son Anshul Avijeet says,“She has a great capacity to beat the odds.”

As a politician and diplomat, Meira’s credentials speak aloud. A law graduate, she later on joined the IFS and served in the Embassy of India in Madrid, followed by stints in London and MEA. When she quit the service for politics in 1985, she defeated two Dalit heavyweights in Bijnour-her friend and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and BSP chief Mayawati, whose inroads into the Dalit vote bank are a bother for the Congress. The party is keen to recover the lost base.

By installing Meira as LS Speaker, the party wants to counter Mayawati by raising an alternative Dalit force in former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram’s daughter; it also seeks to consolidate Bihar, where assembly elections will be held in some time. Further, Meira will strengthen the party’s case as a champion of women’s issues since the party was instrumental in getting India’s first woman President, and is now appointing India’s first woman Speaker. Incidentally, Meira would not be the first Dalit Speaker; GMC Balayogi in the 12th and 13th Lok Sabhas was one.

“The move is strategic and important. It also firms up the case for Women’s quota bill, which former Speakers did not push hard, apprehending unruliness in a divided House. But with a woman President and woman Speaker in charge, things would look up,” says Ranjana Kumari of Women’s Power Connect.

But being Speaker of a problematic House may not be easy for a soft-spoken Meira. Although the 15th LS, with its good composition and clear mandate for one party, would not be unruly as the last House, it would have its share of trouble, posing the challenge of maintaining decorum for Meira, who would have to find ways of connecting with the House and parliamentary party leaders the way her predecessor Somnath Chatterjee did.

That Meira is to succeed Chatterjee, who raised the standards of the lower house considerably, is by itself a challenge, though observers say the minister, with her IFS background, would contribute well to parliamentary diplomacy through groupings like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

“Her soft speech could be an asset. She is temperamentally well-disposed and would be welcomed across party lines. Also, with a woman in the chair, the House would be naturally restrained,” said an LS source, adding, however, that containing opposition stalwarts would be an issue, considering Meira doesn’t have the advantage of being a very active parliamentarian like Chatterjee, who was also leader of the CPM in the LS.

The minister’s friends and family have no doubts she would manage the House well, as she does her posh New Friends Colony residence. While the lady of the House was tight-lipped today about her appointment, she ensured that the contingent of media waiting upon her was treated well. Sofas were laid out for them to rest, water and sweets were regularly served so no one returned sulking from Meira’s house.

“She is very affable, disciplined but non-interfering, one who is not ruffled easily,” says Anshul, her son, a journalist, who filled in for his mother all day. He spoke of how Meira is such a fine pistol shooter and horse rider, a lover of Indian classical music, textiles, monuments and history. The latter she is about to write.

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Meira Kumar meets Sonia

New Delhi, May 31
Union Minister Meira Kumar met Congress President Sonia Gandhi here today amid indications from the party that she was the front-runner for the post of Lok Sabha Speaker.

The Minister for Water Resources, who is considered as Congress’s Dalit face met Gandhi at 10 Janpath, a day after she emerged as the top contender for the post at a meeting of senior party leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Kumar, 64, daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, is an MP from Bihar’s Sasaram constituency and would be the first woman to hold the office of Lok Sabha Speaker, if selected.

Details of what transpired in the meeting between Kumar and Sonia were yet to be known.

Kumar, a five-time MP, came as a surprise choice as the name of veteran Congressman from Andhra Pradesh Kishore Chandra Deo was doing the rounds in the media for the last fortnight as the party’s choice for the Speaker’s post.

At the meeting yesterday, the race appeared to have narrowed down to Kumar and former Union Minister Girija Vyas, sources said.

The post of Deputy Leader has been offered to the BJP with the Prime Minister himself calling up senior BJP leader LK Advani to make the proposal, a convention that has been followed for a couple of decades. — PTI

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