Public Reception for Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal
THE air of excitement outside the constitution club on June 26 was palpable. The entrance to the hall and the portico was jam-packed and as soon as Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal arrived, slogans of "Capt. Lakshmi Zindabad!", "Rashtrapati pad ke liye pehli mahila ummidwar Capt. Lakshmi Zindabad!" rent the air. The time was 11.30 a m and the occasion was the women’s reception for the first woman presidential candidate, Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal, jointly-organised by the NFIW and AIDWA. Capt. Lakshmi was escorted into the packed hall, which soon started over-flowing. Many participants had to sit on the floor, in between the rows of chairs and some had to stand in the aisles.
Mohini Giri, president of the Guild of Service and former chairperson of the National Commission for Women presided over the meeting, which started with Capt. Lakshmi being garlanded and presented with bouquets by many of the activists present. Mohini Giri, who could hardly contain her happiness and enthusiasm, said that this was a historic moment when the entire women’s movement was united and was being seen to be united in their unstinted and heartfelt support to the first woman presidential candidate who was also an inspiration for all women. She called upon the women to raise their voices and create a situation in which parliamentarians and legislators would cast their votes in favour of Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal.
The first speaker was Syeda Hamid, president of the Muslim Women’s Forum. She said that at a time when the Gujarat events had left people wounded in body and spirit, Capt. Lakshmi’s candidature was a ray of hope because she embodied the spirit of secularism in herself and in her work. She said that millions of women like herself would pray for Capt Lakshmi’s victory and would work towards it. Mary Khemchand, former president of the YWCA and Kapila Rekhi, current chairperson, were both unstinting in the support they extended on behalf of themselves and their organisation. Vimal Thorat of the National Federation of Dalit Women welcomed and supported Capt. Lakshmi’s candidature saying that her voicing of the concerns of the poor in this campaign were most welcome by the socially ostracised, dispossessed and forgotten for whom freedom had yet to become a reality. Ritu Menon of Kali for Women said that as proud publishers of Capt. Lakshmi’s autobiography they were only too happy to extend their support to her campaign. Bulu Sarin from FORCES, Malini Ghosh from Nirantar, Sarojini from Sama also spoke about their respect and admiration for Capt. Lakshmi’s work and their enthusiastic support for her candidature. Many distinguished individuals also addressed the gathering. They included the painter, Anjolie Ela Menon, professors Zoya Hasan and Anuradha Chenoy. The latter two commented on the fact that at a time when the constitution and its secular character were under attack, Capt. Lakshmi’s candidature assumed tremendous importance and should be supported by all concerned people including those who are voters in this election. They said that in an era of coalition politics, the role of the president became extremely important and it was all the more necessary to elect someone whose credentials and commitment were as exemplary as Capt. Lakshmi’s.
Senior journalist, Seema Mustafa, was eloquent in her impassioned support of Capt. Lakshmi’s candidature. She said that it was a great tragedy that the BJP-led NDA had managed to forge a false consensus in favour of its candidate by projecting him as a member of the minority community when, in fact, the carnage in Gujarat had made their anti-minorities and fascist agenda only too apparent. She said that in such a situation, the candidature of Capt. Lakshmi assumed a historic importance as the issues raised by it exposed the hollow claims of the NDA.
Brinda Karat, general secretary of AIDWA presented the poster that had been issued in support of Capt. Lakshmi’s candidature and also the appeal for a conscience vote in her favour being issued to legislators and parliamentarians from various organisations and individuals from the women’s movement.
Amarjit Kaur, vice-president of NFIW, said that the current presidential election campaign was a battle between jingoism and true nationalism and said that Capt. Lakshmi embodied the best traditions of the national movement and those of the struggle for social and economic change.
The last speaker was Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal herself. As she spoke, her sense of great happiness and appreciation of the tremendous faith that leaders belonging to the entire spectrum of the women's movement had reposed in her which had found such eloquent and heartfelt expression in their speeches was very apparent. She spoke of the different ways in which she had been fortunate to be able to follow her inclinations whether it was to become a doctor and serve the poor or to lead the Rani of Jhansi Regiment and play her role in India’s battle for independence or whether it was to practice medicine and participate actively in struggles for women’s and workers’ rights. Capt. Lakshmi said that the significance of the presidential election campaign was in the issues that it was throwing up, in the fact that the concerns of the poor were being forced on the agenda, in the fact that the defense of secularism and the Gujarat carnage were once again brought centre-stage and in that the importance of women being given their due place in public life had become an important part of the national debate. Finally, she said that many people thought that she was fighting a losing battle. To this she could only say that while the INA had lost the battle, it had won the struggle for Indian independence and similarly while she may not become the president, the unity being forged would definitely win the struggle to defend the constitution and the rights of the poor, of women and all other sections of the oppressed.