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Joshi not known for loose talk

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
July 19, 2009 16:46 IST
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Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who has been in the eye of storm over the on-going war between her party and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, is not known for indulging in any kind of loose talk for which she has been charged by Mayawati.

A well-educated and accomplished woman, Joshi was always seen as a simple, cultured, yet dynamic lady who was as polite to those working under her as she was to her superiors.

As such, except for her few critics within the party, the larger chunk of Congressmen were strongly of the view that her remarks were being misconstrued for obvious political reasons.

At the same time, she was equally resolute and determined when it comes to pursuing her objectives with a missionary zeal. No wonder, therefore, even after spending two days in jail as a consequence of being charged by Mayawati under the stringent Dalit Act, Joshi remains undaunted.

"Even if Mayawati sends me to jail ten times, it would not deter me from my mission to fight for the cause of the poor and downtrodden dalits and of course women," she told mediapersons no sooner than she was bailed out by a Moradabad court on Saturday.

A doctorate in History, Joshi was currently holding the position of professor in the department of Mediaeval and Modern Indian History at the prestigious Allahabad University that was for years referred as 'Oxford of the East.' She also has two books to her credit.

As daughter of Congress MP mother Kamla Bahuguna and one time leading UP politician Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, who not only rose to become the state's chief minister but also India's Communications minister, before he met his untimely end on account of a heart attack, Joshi had a natural inkling and urge to join public life.

While she took off into the women's movement right from her student days at the Allahabad University where she remained involved in seminars, demonstrations and even in court petitions on issues related to crime against women, she first came into limelight for spearheading the movement for reservation for women in the local bodies of UP in 1991-92.

Sure enough, it was ironical that she was charged by Mayawati of making derogatory remarks against a 'dalit woman', who happened to be the chief minister of India's most populous state.

All that Joshi did was express her anguish and criticism of Mayawati's policy for doling out Rs.25,000 to a dalit rape victim. "Her idea was to tell people that she was spending lakhs by sending the state director general of police on a helicopter to hand over a paltry Rs. 25,000 to a battered dalit rape victim," argued party spokesman Subodh Srivastava.

"What had naturally angered the UPCC chief even more was the government's loud public announcement of its so-called benevolence, that was bound to be even more harrowing for any rape victim," he pointed out.

However, Mayawati, took offence to what was her subsequent remark, "If Mayawati thinks that a dalit rape victim could be compensated with Rs 25,000, then I would be willing to give her 1 crore rupees in case she were to be in similar circumstances."

It was another matter that Mayawati had herself used such language against her bete noire and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav when, as chief minister, he had paid a sum of Rs 2 lakhs to each of the three young Muslim rape victims at a madarsa in Allahabad.

"Mulayam may not have his own daughters, but surely his brothers or sisters do; therefore, I wish to tell Mulayam that if they were to be at the receiving end, I will ask Muslims to collect 4 lakh rupees and slap it on his face."

Interestingly, Mayawati's alibi on that was plain and simple – "I was repeating what that rape victims had told me."

Congress leader Akhilesh Pratap Singh however wants to know, "In that case, why Mayawati should not be facing the same legal consequences as Joshi ?"

While Mayawati grew into politics because of her mentor and BSP founder Kanshi Ram, who, seeing her potential, propelled her straight on to the CM's chair, Joshi had to struggle her way up the ladder.

Joshi saw the first position of prominence only as late as in 1995, when she was elected Mayor of Allahabad. And in the full term that she did, she availed every opportunity to acquire more.

After participating in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Women's conference at New Delhi in 1995, she went to Bangkok to attend the United Nations  Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific meet on urban development in 1996. In the same year, she was also at the Asia Mayor's conference in Kathmandu, followed by the HABITAT - II World conference at Istanbul.

In December 1996, she also hosted at Allahabad, the UN ESCAP conference on 'Women in Local Governments in South Asia' - that was the first ever UN meet to be held in UP since independence.

Widely travelled, Joshi attended a series of other important international meets, both on women's issues as well civic affairs in United States, Japan, Mauritius, Philippines, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Kenya.

She was also elevated to the position of member of UN International Advisory Board of Mayors between 1997 and 2000. Thereafter followed the honour of 'Most Distinguished Women Mayor in South Asia' that was conferred on her at another meet in Thailand.

Back home, she remained vice-president of the National Council of Women in India. And in the Congress hierarchy too, she got a fillip in 1999, when she was fielded as the party nominee against sitting Bhartiya Janata Party MP and strongman Murli Manohar Joshi in Allahabad.

Even as she lost to her formidable BJP opponent, her potential led the party leadership to give her the position of All India Mahila Congress vice president in 2001. In 2002, she got additional charge as vice president of UP Congress committee and within a year she was elevated as head of All India Mahila Congress.

When crisis after crisis -- largely owing to infighting -- was taking the Congress down in the dumps in UP, where it had ruled undisputedly for four decades, Joshi was asked to don the mantle of the party chief in the state in 2007. This was shortly after Congress suffered yet another debacle at the state assembly elections that hoisted Mayawati to power entirely on the strength of her own party.

Undeniably, other than the larger role of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Joshi too cannot be denied credit for her contribution in putting the party back on the rails in this state, where it bagged as many as 21 seats at the Lok Sabha poll in May last.

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow