Earlier this year, the highly-anticipated Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections brought about as much speculation as they did wonder. Despite leaving their chief ministerial candidate undisclosed prior to the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the polls with a landslide victory and hoisted the saffron flag in India’s most populous and politically-charged state. Out of the 403 legislative assembly seats, the BJP contested 384 seats and emerged victorious with an impressive 81 percentile, garnering close to 40 percent of the total votes cast. With the voter turnout on the rise, the 2017 elections in Uttar Pradesh witnessed a new record in terms of the highest number of women legislators being elected. With the first-ever entourage of 40, women MLAs in Uttar Pradesh are yet to meet the 33 percentile representational quota on the political battleground. That notwithstanding, they are sure to have made a convincing start and gradually pursued it.
Amongst the 40 victorious women candidates, Rajputana Collective is honoured to feature the story of Rani Pakshalika Singh. Married into the erstwhile princely state of Bhadawar, the daughter of Rampura emerged victorious from Uttar Pradesh’s Bah constituency in the 2017 elections. Garnering support from the Bhadawar family’s politically expedient patriarchs, Rani Pakshalika commenced her political journey through social work. After setting up the Agra chapter of the Family Planning Association of India, she spent much of her time working around issues related to sexual and reproductive health in rural parts of Uttar Pradesh. Despite contesting an unsuccessful legislative assembly election in Kheragarh (2012) and a parliamentary election from Fatehpur Sikri (2014), Rani Pakshalika’s unbridled spirit and fierce determination led her to pursue the legislative seat from Bah and the rest was history.
Humble, poised and tenacious, the present-day BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Bah shares her insights on the Indian political system as well as her experience on battling the turf of a highly complex and male-dominated political system as a Rajput woman.
Rajputana Collective (RC): What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the Indian political system in your opinion?
Rani Pakshalika Singh (RPS): Its strong grassroots connect would definitely be the most important strength. Politics has a sense of social embeddedness here that is hard to find anywhere else in the world, and thus its ability to reflect and mediate social fault-lines is unparalleled. The political system is robust, plural and carries a sense of legitimacy. On the other hand, its weaknesses are also many. Its inability to overcome more regressive social tendencies is one. Its inability to reflect and cope with the multiplicity of new age challenges such as climate change and automation would be another.
RC: What would you highlight as the key characteristics of U.P. state politics?
RPS: Its centrality to everyday life – particularly in the hinterland. It revolves around three basic pivots – the thana, the tehsil, and social identity, although there are indications that this might be changing. UP exercises huge political influence in the country, so it isn’t surprising that people are highly politicised and have strong opinions. That also implies that they have high expectations of their politicians, even if the expectations may be defined differently by those unaware of facts on the ground.
RC: How would you account for contesting the U.P. political terrain as a Rajput woman?
RPS: The love and respect that I have received from people in my constituency, and how strongly they still consider their emotional and social bonds with our family. Hence, it has been exhilarating and challenging in equal measure. It is unusual to have women politicians, even though things are changing and 2017 saw the highest ever number of women legislators being elected. It makes a large number of people unhappy, especially those with misogynistic views.There is the entrenched idea that women politicians are a front for their male relatives. But things are changing, and I hope 2022 sees a far better representation of women with them taking on more important roles in the government, the party and the bureaucracy.
RC: The twin discourses of political meritocracy and elitism are seen as polar opposites on the expediency spectrum. Taking your nuanced experience into consideration, what is your take on this?
RPS: It is difficult in real life to point out where elitism begins and meritocracy ends, since both are somewhere connected to each other. But as far as democratic politics goes, one has to be chosen by the people, win their votes and their trust. Without speculating on what motivates people to vote for a particular candidate, that is as purely meritocratic as it is possible to get in the real world.
RC: Lastly, how do you envision creating a change in your sphere of work? What are your goals/ aims for the next 5 years and what are some principle ways in which you seek to materialise them?
RPS: Politics has given me a chance to repay the people for the trust, love and faith they have bestowed on me. I will seek to help them in every way I can. Often, with grandiose plans one misses the small things which make an inordinate difference to people’s lives. And it is these hum drum everyday difficulties – with petty bureaucracy, with social conflict, with the local police, with access to healthcare and education – that frustrate the lives of ordinary people. Addressing them promptly and efficiently will be my biggest aim in the next five years.
With the ongoing pursuits of successful political entrants like Rani Pakshalika, it can be said that the Indian political system is gradually but surely ingesting nuanced silhouettes of elite meritocracy through varied representational discourse. With individual determination and collective direction towards positive change, Uttar Pradesh’s ensemble of women MLAs stand at the helm in an increasingly dynamic and determining era. Rajputana Collective wishes immense power and strength to Rani Pakshalika and her women-comrades!