India gets its first woman speaker in Meira Kumar (Lead)

June 3rd, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) History was made Wednesday when diplomat-turned-politician Meira Kumar became the first woman speaker of the Indian parliament, the otherwise fractious house setting aside its differences to elect the Dalit leader unanimously.
The 64-year-old Congress leader from Bihar was chosen for the post of speaker of the Lok Sabha, a key constitutional post, after party president Sonia Gandhi proposed her name. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee seconded it.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani together led her to the podium and later paid tribunes to a woman who quit the coveted Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1985 to join the Congress, a party of which her father, the late Jagjivan Ram, was a revered leader.

“In many ways it is a historic event as it is for the first time that a Congress woman member of house has been unanimously elected as speaker,” Manmohan Singh said, evoking thunderous applause in the splintered 545-member Lok Sabha.

The prime minister said he hoped the “charm” and “grace” of the new speaker would “calm frayed tempers that sometimes happen in the house” — evoking widespread laughter from MPs.

“You have distinguished yourself in more than one way. This experience will stand you in good stead on issues that come before the august house.”

The Lok Sabha speaker’s status in the Warrant of Precedence is next only to the president, vice president and prime minister. Meira Kumar is the 16th speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Advani said he did not have any idea that Meira Kumar would be elected the speaker when she was sworn in May 22 with 18 other cabinet ministers of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“I read (in newspapers) that your voters are disappointed with your election as speaker but I feel you will be able to serve the people better in this position than as a minister,” he said.

Finance Minister Mukherjee, leader of the lower house, said: “Your experience as a diplomat, political organiser, administrator in government and long standing in parliament and association with this house will help you render your responsibility as best as possible… in the real temple of democracy.”

It was Minister of State for Railway E. Ahamed whose remark had the house roaring in laughter: “There is a saying that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. I hope you will also rule this house.”

Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta said Meira Kumar’s election marked a new chapter in India’s parliament.

Meira Kumar belongs to the Dalit - formerly untouchable - community, one reason why political parties across the spectrum in the hung house rushed to support her.

Altogether 13 sets of nominations were submitted Tuesday by Mukherjee to Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary. Those who backed Meira Kumar included Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.

A double graduate of Delhi University, Meira Kumar joined the IFS in 1973 and served in the Indian missions in Spain, Britain and Mauritius.

She took to politics in 1985 when Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. She was elected to the Lok Sabha twice from Karol Bagh constituency in the national capital. After one defeat, she shifted to Sasaram in Bihar — a constituency that her father Jagjivan Ram, a long-time confidant of Indira Gandhi, represented for years in the Lok Sabha.

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