Whoever thinks that women political leaders can’t survive the rough and tumble of electioneering and bring in the votes hasn’t met V. Sugnana Kumari Deo from Odisha. At 77, this senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator from Kabisuryanagar constituency in Ganjam district has the uncommon distinction of being the only woman to have been elected to the state assembly for a record tenth time in the just concluded elections to the Odisha state assembly.
What are the factors that contribute to a consistently good poll performance by some women leaders, while others fail to make an impact? And can female politicians in general follow Deo’s lead to improve their success rate? According to Surya Mishra, a Bhubaneswar-based political analyst, “Our social psyche and male-dominated political system do not allow a woman to make it to the top. In the Odisha assembly, many of the women who have been elected this time have either come from a high social status group, such as Sugnana Kumari Deo and Usha Devi (she belongs to the royal family), or have previous political experience, like Pramila Mallick, Snehangini Churia and Sarojini Hembrum. But not to take away any credit from them, these women have definitely proven their metal. They have fought hard to find their rightful space in the political sphere. So they are, in a sense, examples that enable others to hope.”