Meet the MP: Geniben the giant killer - Hindustan Times
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Meet the MP: Geniben the giant killer

Jun 16, 2024 01:05 PM IST

In Delhi to attend a Congress Parliamentary Party meeting, Geniben Thakor aka ‘the giant killer’, the only opposition candidate to win a seat in Gujarat.

At Delhi’s plush, high gloss marble-floored Garvi Gujarat Bhavan, Geniben Thakor is sitting in her room, her bags packed. She had planned a quick shopping trip before catching a train back home to Banaskantha, Gujarat, but now there’s no time for that and she gamely settles down for a chat.

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HT Image

Her hair neatly pulled back, the 49-year-old has been in the news for winning the sole opposition Parliamentary seat out of 26 since 2014. It’s a big deal. Since 2014, the BJP has won all 26 seats in the state.

Located on the northern border with Rajasthan, known for its food processing and dairy farming—the Banas Dairy is amongst the largest in the country—Banaskantha has been a BJP stronghold since 2014 when the party’s Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary won by 200,000 votes. In the next general election in 2019, the BJP’s Parbhatbhai Savabhai Patel increased the margin of victory to 368,000 votes.

Geniben’s victory margin for the Congress party is a more modest 30,000 votes. But in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state, that is not a small achievement (consider that another woman candidate, Congress’s Sonal Ramanbhai Patel lost to home minister Amit Shah by over 744,000 votes in Gandhinagar).

What makes Geniben’s victory stand out is the fact that she fought with barely any funds and was facing off against Rekha Chaudhary who had the backing of Shankerbhai Chaudhary, a man who Geniben defeated in the 2017 assembly elections but nevertheless wields enormous influence as the chairman of Banas Dairy. Banaskantha was also the only constituency in Gujarat where the two main candidates were women.

Geniben spoke to me in Hindi about being a “giant killer”, the title bestowed on her by the media, and how to make it as a woman politician in India.

You are being called a giant killer after the results came in.

People are calling me a giant killer but the fact is that I have been working amongst the people for 28 years. I have years of social work behind me. Starting with various panchayat elections, this was actually my ninth election. I have risen through local elections and have come up on my own strength.

I grew up in a small village in Banaskantha called Abasana. My father was a farmer and a worker in the Congress party. He also had contested the panchayat elections and it is from him that I get my interest in social work and politics.

But it was my mother who really struggled for our education. We are five siblings and despite being uneducated herself, she saw to it that we were all educated, even if that meant that she had to work on other people’s farms. I completed my graduation from the Jain Vishwa Bharti Institute thanks to her efforts.

There are several reports on how you had to crowdfund your campaign.

The Congress bank account had been frozen. There were no donations coming in. Everyone told me that without money it was not possible to fight such a big election. But they also told me not to worry and that they would ensure both money and votes.

So every village raised money for its own expenses; expenses for meetings, vehicles, paper-work, and expenses for agents. There was a managing committee that organized and coordinated all this. If one village couldn’t meet the expenses, then surplus from another village would fill the gap. The biggest expense was that of agents—you need 5,000 per booth. So, with 2,000 booths in the constituency that is quite a big expense.

People contributed as little as 10 to as much as 25,000. It’s the people who made me win.

And if you had lost…?

I have 28 years of work in my district, as I told you. Everybody knows me. I have stood by anyone seeking justice. All our state and district leaders from the Congress have really backed and supported me. In the 2017 assembly election, I was much younger and had only been a taluka panchayat president. Many leaders were opposed to my candidature. But Madhavsinh Solanki [three-time Gujarat chief minister who died in 2021] insisted that I stand. He said we cannot win every seat, and even if I lose, it would at least be a valuable learning experience.

As you know, all the parties had come together to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, but when the time came to give tickets to women, all parties failed. Why aren’t women given a chance?

I can’t complain personally. I have fought this election from a general quota and have earlier fought four assembly elections and local body elections.

In Gujarat, the Congress put up four women candidates. The other three lost by a massive margin, including Sonal Ramanbhai Patel who lost to Amit Shah.

It’s hard for women to work on the ground because they have the responsibilities of their homes and families to shoulder. I am free of these responsibilities. I have one son who has graduated and is working. So, I am able to take out the time to work among the people.

But when you entered politics your son must have been a baby.

I had a lot of support from my family, including my father. My husband too backed me.

What is your advice to young women who want to enter politics?

I would tell them, decide early on where you want to spend your energy, whether it’s business or politics or social work. Focus on the one area where you are getting results or from where you want to get results.

I could be running a small business or doing social work. But most of my time has been with the Congress party. So don’t waste your energy on many things but focus on one thing. Just work hard on that field, don’t worry about the results.

And what were the biggest roadblocks, besides funds of course?

We haven’t a Congress state government for 30 years. In our organization, if there is a hard-working Congress worker, then the BJP puts a lot of pressure on them to leave the party, especially if they have a business or property because they are scared of the ED and police. So, because we have not been in power for so long we don’t have workers or funds.

The following article is an excerpt from this week's HT Mind the Gap. Subscribe here.

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