Maneka Gandhi was 23 with a three-month-old son when she lost her husband, Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi, in a plane crash in 1980. The younger daughter-in-law of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, a former model, would soon fall out of favour with the family over her perceived wish for a greater political role. After all, her news magazine Surya had played a key role in boosting the Congress after its defeat in the 1977 election over Emergency Rule.
Maneka Gandhi is currently leading from Uttar Pradesh's Sultanpur with around 3,00,000 votes, with the BSP's Chandra Bhadra Singh Sonu trailing with around 2,87,000 votes and Congress's Sanjay Sinh polling only around 25,000 votes till now.
Months of argument and bickering ended in a dramatic late night family blowout witnessed by the media; Maneka Gandhi was asked by her furious mother-in-law Indira Gandhi to leave their 1, Safdarjung home.
She set up her own political party, the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch, which made youth empowerment and jobs its agenda. The outfit won four of the five seats it contest in the Andhra Pradesh state polls. In 1984, Maneka Gandhi lost the national election in the Gandhi family seat of Amethi to Rajiv Gandhi, her husband's older brother.
In 1988, she joined VP Singh's Janata Dal and became its general secretary. In November 1989, Maneka Gandhi won her first election to Parliament and became the youngest minister at 33. Over the years, Maneka Gandhi has been part of successive governments, and while she is known to be a spirited women's rights activist and animal lover, she has established herself as the key voice for environment protection in the country.
She and her son Varun Gandhi joined the BJP in 2004.
Maneka Gandhi is the parliamentarian from western Uttar Pradesh's Pilibhit. This time, she has switched seat with son Varun Gandhi, who is the BJP lawmaker from Sultanpur.
Pilibhit has played a crucial role in her political career. It is from this seat that Maneka Gandhi was first elected as a Janata Party candidate. She has won the seat in 1998 and 1999 on the party ticket.
After joining the BJP, she won Lok Sabha polls from there in 2004 and 2014. In 2009, she won from UP's Aonla. She hasn't suffered a defeat in over two decades and is considered a force to reckon with in UP.
In 1992, Maneka Gandhi founded 'People For Animals', a non-profit rights group. Her activism has won her awards and international recognition for her efforts.
She is also a forceful voice in India's feminism movement. Her strongly-worded letter to her cabinet colleague Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to report a sexual harassment allegation in the All India Radio had caused a flutter.
"I would like to submit that the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act is equally applicable to a woman employee irrespective of her being a permanent, temporary or casual employee. Some of these women had complained to the appropriate authorities but no action seems to have been taken. I understand that an organisation would have a natural tendency to dismiss a casual woman employee the moment she reports sexual harassment. But this is not good," she had written in the public letter last year.
While campaigning in Sultanpur last month, she landed in trouble over her controversial remarks. She told the Muslim community, "I have already won the elections, but you will need me. This is your chance to lay the foundation. When the election comes and this booth throws up 100 votes or 50 votes, and then you come to me for work we will see.."
Her comments provoked a 48-hour ban on campaigning.
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