Worth Asking with Ms Asha Lakra
Asha Lakra is presently the Mayor of Ranchi, Jharkhand. She first contested elections in 2014 and then in 2018, and won both times. Between 1999-2010, she held several positions in the Student Wing of a National Political Party; College Secretary, National Secretary, Organisation Secretary in Ranchi University, Syndicate Member and National Executive Member.
In 2010, she became the National Secretary, Women's Wing of a National Political Party in Central minister, Smriti Irani's team and was the in-charge for Delhi and West Bengal.
Ms Asha Lakra, Mayor of Ranchi, Jharkhand (Image Source: The Telegraph)
Asha ji, please tell us about your background and growing up.
My village Chuhru is in Gumla district of Jharkhand. My father’s name is Hari Charan Bhagat, he was a CRPF soldier. My mother, late Jaimanyi Devi had four children; a daughter older than me who is a high school teacher, a son younger to me who is a farmer and the youngest daughter is still studying. So, all in all, we have a very ordinary family and none of the members have any connection to politics.
I did my schooling in Front Youth High School Lodiha, Ghaghra (Gumla district), which was about 15 kilometres away. The journey from my village (Churu), to school, was a difficult one but we never gave up. I travelled by bus and walked for almost 7 km to reach school. We were very young when my mother passed away, I was in fifth grade and all my siblings and I had to work together. We all continued our studies, none of us left our schooling. I pursued my B.A. (Education) at Kartik Oraon College (Gumla), B.Ed from Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh and my Masters from Ranchi University. I’m now pursuing my PhD in Population and Settlement Geography from Ranchi University.
I joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in my first year of B.A. In ABVP, I undertook the responsibilities of College Secretary to that of a National Executive Member. I parallelly worked towards my education and duties in the organisation. I also assumed the responsibilities of Ranchi University Organisation Secretary. I completely dedicated my time to the organisation.
How did your family and friends support your work in the political sphere?
My father instilled courage and hope in us. The kind of discipline in the police force was enforced in the house too. One should always do one’s own work and never depend on anyone – that was my father’s mantra. This is the mantra that worked for us – always do your own work, move ahead with courage and never back down from studies.
In 2010, I got married to a businessman and we lived in a Naxalite-prone area. In April 2012, my husband was murdered by the Naxalites. I got support from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (which I was connected with), ABVP and BJP. In 2014, I started working again. I was also made in charge of the Women’s Wing (in the state). In 2014, I stood for the election of Mayor and am here now.
What inspired and motivated you to build a career in politics?
See, I never thought I’d join politics. My background involved no political connections and I came from an ordinary family. And sometimes when I did think of politics, I thought I may run for MLA or MP sear but I never imagined running for Mayor.
But, I learnt a lot in BJP’s students' wing and found the motivation to have a career in politics. It is their character-building teaching – knowledge, character, unity (Gyan, Sheel, Ekta translates to Knowledge, Politeness, Unity) – which gave me a learning opportunity and allowed me to look at various issues in the society.
As women, we can understand the society at a household level and that makes women work better towards uplifting and developing society. For example, Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani and other women leaders have children and a family too, and so I see their determination much higher than that of others. Many other women feel connected with them too.
How was your experience with other colleagues in politics? How did they support and engage with you?
I remember the time when I was working BJP’s Mahila Morcha for the very first time, Smriti ji inspired me with her words about me being the source of my own determination and work. She told me just like how Gangotri is the source of the river Ganga, knowledge and empowerment flows from within.
Earlier, women were not even able to get out of homes but now they are getting out and working boldly. So from the kitchen to society, women are getting out and they understand the pain of the society much better. I salute all women who go out and work.
After gaining this knowledge and everyone’s support, I ran for Mayor in the 2014 elections. For me, everything in politics was new from an election point of view; many experiences were totally new. Helping others win elections is something I had done before but campaigning for Mayor and participating in elections in this way was completely different.
Please tell us more about your work as the Mayor of Ranchi, the challenges you face and how do you overcome them.
My day-to-day work involves some of these things; for the council meetings, I have to finalise the date, get the agenda, compile all the actions needed in the city. Once a month, we conduct a big and a small meeting, then review meetings and I continuously ensure the days and schedule for these are in place. If we work diligently, people also like it. I work along with members of Ward Councillors including women, men, youth and maintain a good relationship with everyone. Ensuring Central and State government schemes, the municipality’s schemes/yojanas’ implementation on the ground, that is one part. If I get to the topic of politics, everyone does their designated work and if the organisation decides that I have to work in a district, then I go and work there. If you are working in the organisation, the biggest thing is your relationship with others in the organisation. When you are given responsibility; it is like that proverb - 'I have only two eyes but there are thousands of eyes looking at me'. So whatever you do; if you do good, it's a plus point for you and if you do bad, it's bad for you. And in politics, the ups and downs are inevitable.
Being such a strong woman leader in your area has had an impact on your constituents and other colleagues. Were there any challenges specific to you being a woman?
Even when I campaigned for the first time, there was no such feeling of being a ‘woman’. But yes, for men, they do have someone to keep everything ready at home while they are out building rapport with the public regardless of their victory in elections. So, they have such an opportunity right from morning to evening.
Since I was trained in managing and organising my work, and maintaining a routine, I used to prepare the day’s plan and schedule. Being a woman in politics, I am usually worried about both house and outside. But in the area of politics, one should never bring the family together with politics. The three lessons I have learnt are; the party’s work in the party, work in the office and house work at home.
If you are in politics, you have to make a balance between the time you have. I have learnt to plan like this in an organisation and mostly I don’t have difficulties, but sometimes, it gets mixed up and I face challenges in balancing.
Home is a responsibility, office work is also a responsibility, and other work too - you are expected to make a balance of all three, especially as a woman and sometimes, I worry about it too.
What are some of the challenges faced by women in Ranchi today, and how have you engaged with them?
The high number of Naxalite activities in the area has made life difficult for everyone. But representatives cannot take decisions by themselves, all decisions are done collectively and for that, people’s voices are critical. The representatives are told about the needs in the constituencies by the public and it is taken up as a priority, and then the Sarpanch makes a decision on it.
We have Ward Councillors, who write to me that a road has to be made in their area, so we discuss the proposal and work on it. If at all, there is any disagreement, then there is the government and other remedies to solve.
For women, they are not behind, women are actively participating. If a woman can run the house, she can run things outside too.
Do you have a message for those women who want to do something, and perhaps want to get out of the house?
All women who want to do something, you must have clarity on what you want to do. If they want to join politics, then have faith in yourself and run a campaign, or join a party to work.
You will have to have to change your way of thinking and be determined. And when you change that, you also need to have confidence in yourself because when you might have to deal with different kinds of people; you might think of someone as a sister, but they might turn out not to be like your sister.
If you are working for a party, your growth is dependent on the person's work and capability. In my experience, I was given a responsibility in the party and I fulfilled the expectations well, so I was given another responsibility and I did that well too. In my opinion, if women work beyond their families responsibilities, then people respect her.
Women like late Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani did their jobs extremely well and laid a path for a woman like me. I see them as a guide; they are so bold, vocal and inspiring.
Despite the political ups and downs, you will have to come forward in politics. There are many people, many schemes, like Self Help Groups (SHGs) where women have been connected. If we connect 10 women, so 10 women are able to work together and earn. By bringing such women in SHG, many others also come out. I feel all women want to work and in politics too, there are women who want to work and move forward.
Thanks for such an inspiring message to women. Would you like to have a message for men as well?
Men must support, and not restrict women in their family. Listen, try to understand, and support them. Men must encourage women to participate and women must take the initiative too! I believe women are equally if not more equipped to step out and do well professionally.
[This interview was conducted by Aparna Aggarwal for Women for Politics. Additional inputs from Avery Banerjee]
Worth Asking interview series is aimed at having conversations with women and men politicians at all levels about politics as a career choice for women.
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