On Sunday, November 15, when Bihar’s 17th State Assembly election results were announced, there was a pleasant news for women empowerment in India. Renu Devi (62) who has been anointed as the fifth Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, has gained attention nation-wide, as she is the first woman to be in the position. Also, she belongs to the Noniya caste – which is considered an ‘Extremely Backward Caste’ in Bihar- making her the first person to be Deputy CM from an ‘Extremely Backward’ caste. (Bihar is one of the States where caste is a key factor in winning elections.) She is also the fifth woman in the country to become Deputy CM. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Renu Devi defeated Congress candidate with a margin of 18,000 votes.
The Bihar elections had garnered attention for many reasons this time – one being the rise of BJP (with the highest number of seats – 74) and the second being the decisive power of the female voters. Interestingly, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – of the BJP and JD(U) - won with 125 seats. Nitish Kumar will serve his fourth consecutive (and sixth altogether) term as Chief Minister in Bihar. BJP’s Tarkishore Prasad, who belongs to the upper class Baniya community, will be co-Deputy CM, along with Renu Devi.
Formerly the national vice president of the BJP, Renu Devi has won from the Bettiah constituency (as MLA) in 2000, 2005, and 2010 too. She also served as the Minister for Sports and Culture in the 2005-2009 cabinet, under CM Nitish Kumar. Renu Devi comes from a family which has been closely associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has herself been a part of Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Mother of two, Renu Devi was widowed a few years after her marriage in 1973. She has been a social activist since then, and became a member of the BJP in 1988. She was made the head of BJP Women’s Wing in Champaran region the next year, and has climbed ranks since then.
While Renu Devi’s rise to power is surely good news, the path to women’s representation in mainstream politics in Bihar continues to be harsh. Other than Renu Devi, there is only one woman in the Cabinet now: Sheela Mandal, a first-time MLA from the JD(U).