Priyanka Chaturvedi is a Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of Shiv Sena in Rajya Sabha. She is also a Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Women Empowerment.
In a two-part interview, Priyanka Chaturvedi discusses politics as a career choice for women. In this part, Priyanka speaks about her entry into politics, influences and learnings as a first-generation woman in politics and expresses the need for platforms to enable women’s voices and their confidence in becoming a political leader.
Please brief us a bit about your background and your upbringing as a girl child?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: My parents were the first to move out of Mathura and make Mumbai their home. We lived in a patriarchal society where people always yearned for a boy child, hence we are 4 sisters and a brother. Ours is a small community originally from Mathura where girls were expected to get married as soon as they turned 18 if not earlier. While growing up, I was usually a quiet child. I loved reading books. I could not live with the idea of getting married early and not complete my education or have a career, and I always told my father that I wanted to complete my education before getting married.
When I was 18, I insisted that my father let me work, and he was shocked and thought that allowing me to work would bring societal ridicule to the family. It was my grandmother and my mother who firmly stood up for me and said, ‘If this is something she wants to do, we should allow her to do it.’ Such instances helped me shape my interest in being able to take up women’s causes. At 21, I got married immediately after my graduation.
Can you take us through your initial decision of joining politics?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Thankfully, I had a husband who understood my passion for working and being an equal partner; my life was going well. I had quit my job when my first child was born, and after some time, I started my own media recruitment firm, which was running successfully. Back then, I had zero interest in politics and never thought of getting into it.
The turning point for me was the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who lost their lives, the ones who were the sole breadwinners of the house. I saw the entire city ravaged, with families losing their loved ones and that is when a group of women bloggers came together to help such families. I used to actively blog back then. It was popular, so I joined the group efforts and reached about thirteen families. The families eventually got support from Tata Trusts. I realized a lot can be done if you dedicate yourself to society, contrary to my thoughts on individual contributions. I was also an established columnist contributing my Op-Eds in various publications while having a strong social media presence.
Around that time, the Indian Youth Congress had started a campaign involving people from non-political backgrounds by giving them a platform to be part of policy and politics. I was really interested in this, but back then, I used to think that no one outside the political families could make it into politics. When the organisation approached me, I thought of giving it a shot, and that’s how I got into the Indian Youth Congress and stepped into politics. I served there for about four years and eventually became a part of the national media team. From there onwards, my political journey along with my highs and lows are very well known to the public.
In the initial years, my family was worried about me putting a significant amount of the productive years of my life into something I didn’t know where it would take me. Starting with young children was a concern. However despite apprehensions all around, both sides of my family pitched for me to be able to contribute to public life.
What were your learnings as a first-generation leader, do you think that having a political background impacts one’s entry into politics?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Like the family line continues in businesses and industries, those with a family in politics grow up in an environment that usually equips them in understanding the political space, people, and processes better. I still wouldn’t call it a comfortable space, but they are at a place of advantage where they are not starting from zero; you might start from number 5 if you are to reach number 10.
On the other hand, first-generation leaders like us start from scratch where we don’t know who will help us and who won’t. We don’t have any contacts or people, so building ourselves takes much more time.
However, I will not entirely take anything away from people with a political background. They also have to survive the entire political journey. Even if they have easier access, they are also judged constantly, based on the past performances of the family. But, it is definitely easier for a second or third-generation leader than it is for someone like me in terms of access and ability to enter the political space.
What kind of support can young women joining or aspiring to join politics expect from your party?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Shiv Sena has had a tried and tested way of engaging women. It works at the levels of Shakhas (branches), with Shakaha Pramukhs (branch coordinator) and other people who look after different regions where women jointly contribute. Women are above 50% of candidates in the local corporations, the Mayor of Mumbai is a woman. We have other women as Mayors in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). We also have a vice-chairwoman in the state assembly.
We have also started Pratham Ti, meaning women first, where we encourage women within the party to look beyond corporations and contest for the assembly and the parliament. Women can join and work with us either through Yuvati Sena Wing, Mahila wing or in the parent party.
At a personal level, I engage with many women on plenty of platforms where we talk about gender and politics and try to instill that sense of confidence in women around me, through my experiences. If young girls want to work with me in the political space to understand how it all works, I’d be happy to mentor them.
For me, Shiv Sena has been a very empowering space and gave me freedom to implement my ideas. My suggestions were taken seriously by the party. The party doesn’t reject your ideas just because you are a woman or you are inexperienced. There are other parties that speak up for women’s empowerment, but in terms of implementation have been woefully short, maybe they don’t take women as serious policymakers?
What is the scope for the solidarity of women in politics across party lines to support, mentor and stand up for each other in Indian Politics today?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: In an ideal world, women across the political spectrum should be standing up for a few causes, together as one, and the disproportionate representation of our gender has to be one of the things we stand together for. I have been hoping to create a women’s caucus, where women leaders across political parties come together. We can continue to fight amongst ourselves about our political differences till eternity. But when it comes to equality and gender inclusion, women need to speak up as a collective voice to make substantial changes on the ground.
How is politics as a career option for women today in India?
Priyanka Chaturvedi: Empowering women is not only about politics; it will help in the progress of our nation and our economy. We need more voices of women in politics. I have always told others that they should discard all the negativity associated with politics, politicians and policy-making. I have seen politicians working 24x7, whether for the organisation or the constituency. There could be a few politicians who don’t contribute much but get highlighted a lot.
I believe that politics is a space that empowers women and makes them believe that they are contributing through their ideas and help in strengthening our nation. I think we had forgotten that when the Constitution was written, women were made equal citizens, so why have we let the barriers to women’s political participation grow. And despite all the barriers, I would say that there’s no better time than now for women to enter the political system.
[All the photographs are taken from Priyanka Chaturvedi's Facebook page]
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview with Priyanka Chaturvedi.
This interview is a part of the Worth Asking Series 2021. The series aims to bring conversations with women in politics about politics as a career choice and with men politicians about their role as allies.
Read previous interviews in the Worth Asking Series, here.