Madame Ministers

In an “unholy alliance,” two women ministers have secured their berth as junior ministers. By focusing on women power, both female faces in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s council of ministers played an instrumental role to prepare a larger ground for their respective parties’ 2014 poll victories, reports Bilal Handoo

Asiea Naqash
Asiea Naqash

Much before a daughter of former Session Judge of  Srinagar walked inside Jammu University’s Zorawar Singh Auditorium to take oath, the life would mainly “revolve around social works”— even after, she embraced politics. But “political hurdles” continued to damp the pace of her social works. At fag end of 2014, along with the hurdles, PDP’s Asiea Naqash also routed National Conference from its Hazratbal bastion – first time – since 1977.

At 44, Asiea—a multi-millionaire lady, is leading an unmarried life. Before holding Health, Social Welfare and Transport portfolios as Minister of State in PDP-BJP alliance, she worked in Mehbooba Mufti run NGO ‘Umeed’ in late nineties. A law graduate from Kashmir University, Asiea carried with her social works close to home in Hazratbal constituency. But before moving to Habbak residence (in Hazratbal) some 30 years ago, Asiea’s family (who owned renowned Naqash Textiles) was living in old Srinagar’s Mallaratta.

By 2004, she fought and won councillor elections from Hazratbal. As a councillor, it is said, she gave a face-lift to an otherwise “medieval” segment of Srinagar.

But apart from playing development card, her focus on women and their issues turned out to be her trump card in 2014 assembly polls.

Asiea’s maiden assembly berth on December 23, 2014 displaced NC from its stronghold. In the battle of ballot, she defeated her nearest rival and two-time MLA Hazratbal, NC’s Syed Akhoon by 3400 votes. Against Akhoon’s 9834 votes, Asiea polled 12,542.

A sister-in-law of PDP’s “giant killer” Tariq Karra, Asiea says she is essentially a social worker: “Being MoS Social Welfare, I will continue to discharge my duties as a social worker and will focus on women power.”

Asiea, however, isn’t alone in Mufti’s council of ministers. BJP’s Priya Sethi (who didn’t contest elections) is another women minister in PDP-BJP alliance. A day after swearing-in, Governor NN Vohra exercised his powers under Section 47(1) of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir to nominate Priya (along with PDP’s Anjum Fazili) to the Legislative Assembly as MLA.

But Priya’s elevation isn’t a sudden outburst in “north pole-south pole” alliance.

Well before joining active politics in J&K, Priya Sethi was a social worker in Dehradun. In December 1990, she was married into Jammu’s well known Lala Buta Ram family. Her husband Yudhvir Sethi, a BJP politician, is president of Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha. She continued her social works until contested Cooperate Elections in 2005 on BJP ticket and won.

Priya Sethi
Priya Sethi

After elected as Secretary Bhartiya Janta Mahila Morcha (BPMM), she launched a membership drive across Jammu. After successive successful stints, she rose to become General Secretary BPMM. As women participation swelled in BPMM, the state BJP president Jugal Kishore appointed Priya as president of BJMM in 2013.

Interestingly, before “Modi wave” swept over uneven ridges of Jammu last year, it was Priya who was preparing ground for BJP’s grand twin wins in Jammu province in 2014.

To ensure maximum seats though, BJP’s star campaigner Modi visited J&K five times and addressed nine rallies to boost BJP’s victory during assembly polls. BJP’s rank and file also did extensive campaigning in Jammu province. Besides, more than 1000 workers, volunteers, Swayam Sevaks and others arrived in Jammu and devised party’s strategy. They did door-to-door campaigning, held nukkad meetings, conducted rallies for star campaigners and mobilizing voters.

“But primarily,” says Ashok Koul, State General Secretary BJMM, “it was because of Priya’s efforts that prepared a larger ground for BJP’s win in both parliamentary as well as assembly elections.” In fact, it is said, the ‘political polarisation’ in Jammu province was nothing but “extensive ground work” done by Priya and others.

BJMM under her, says Koul, achieved success in its motive to mobilize womenfolk during the 2014 twin elections. “Their job is not over as of now,” he says, “BJMM’s women force has to now focus on party’s membership drive.”

On January 25 this year, BJMM under Priya launched membership drive to register a minimum of one lakh members from Jammu province. “The motive is to reach to women in particular in all the districts,” Priya says. The membership in Kashmir and Ladakh, she continues, will be undertaken later.

Well before the assembly polls, Priya asserted that if BJP comes to power, party’s female cadres would be inducted in the system. With her induction as MoS Education, Culture and Information, BJP seems to have lived up to its promise.

Amid all this, Priya is smiling over the party and public support. “I came to Jammu as bahu, but was treated more than a daughter,” she says. “Now, I want to contribute toward peace, development and women welfare.”

With both Asiea and Priya focussing on “women power,” it seems Mufti’s  Madame Ministers are well set for their ‘fairer’ governance in the state.


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