New Delhi – A new chapter was written in the annals of India’s political history as country’s parliament unanimously elected a former diplomat from the lowest rung of Hinduism’s rigid caste ladder, the Dalits or untouchables, as the first woman Speaker of the male-dominated legislature.
Though her election on Wednesday was unchallenged and evoked promises of cooperation from all sections of the House, parliamentarians made it clear that there would be no deferential treatment on account of her gender and soon enough Kumar found herself having to expunge remarks even before her maiden address to the House as Speaker.
In her first speech as the Speaker of the House, Kumar, a former diplomat and daughter of the Dalit leader (late) Babu Jagjivan Ram, spoke on a range of issues, like poverty, exploitation and generational change, but stressed on consensual politics as she promised to rise above ideological and partisan interests to uphold the spirit of the Constitution.
Reminding the members that the verdict of the 2009 elections favored constructive politics and people expected better from their representatives, Kumar said good governance in a country like India was not possible without constructive co-operation of every member. “The meaning of democracy lies in being compassionate and respectful towards those who don’t agree with you,” she said, quoting Nehru.
While conceding the space for dissent in a democracy, she said disruptions only allowed the government to get away without scrutiny.
The members may represent their constituencies with varying interests, but the bottom line is that the Constitution remained the sheet anchor for all, she said.
While admitting that there would be times when the interests of one set of members clashed with another, she stressed that all should remember that they entered the House swearing by the Constitution and everyone should rise above partisan considerations when decisions need to be taken on important national issues.
Assuring the members of her full cooperation, Kumar urged them to get down to the task of nation-building together.
In particular, she mentioned the aspirations of the youth and pointed out that the younger generation was justifiably impatient.
Kumar also said the assumption of the office of Speaker by a woman was a historic occasion in the 57 years of Parliament, especially as it comes two years after the election of India’s first woman President, and maintained it had come at a time when the Lok Sabha had elected a record number of women members – 58.