In the demise of Jaywantiben Mehta, the BJP has lost a very sincere, honest and hard working leader. In all her works, the transparency and honesty that she maintained are worth emulating
Jaywantiben Mehta and I knew each other for over 50 years. She came from a middle class Gujarati family of Aurangabad, Maharashtra. She came to Mumbai after marriage. Her husband, Navinchandra Mehta, was a RSS swayamsevak. I also came to Mumbai from Pune for service after my B.Com studies. I worked there as an Upper Division Clerk in Accountant General’s Office. Jaywantiben’s husband Navinbhai and myself have been the swayamsevaks of the same Shakha. So, I knew him before their marriage.
Being a Sangh swayamsevak, Navinbhai was not very interested in politics. But being a youthful lady, Jaywantiben was interested. Navinbhai promoted her in politics. She was well versed in both Gujarati and Marathi languages. She started working as a Jana Sangh lady volunteer. For the first time she contested Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)
elections in 1967 from Bhulleshwar constituency, which is a predominantly Gujarati area in Mumbai. Most of the people there are traders. Jana Sangh at that time was not an important political party as far as Mumbai is concerned. In the 1957 municipal polls, the Jana Sangh could win only two seats and that too in the suburban area. The Gujarati dominated area of South Mumbai was fully for Congress. But she worked hard and tried to bring more women activists in the Jana Sangh fold. When she won from the Congress dominated area of Bhulleshwar in 1967, it became big news. I was election
in-charge of Jaywantiben in that
election. I was working at that time. But in 1969, I left my job and became the organising secretary of Mumbai Bharatiya Jana Sangh unit. This enhanced my activeness in politics.
Her husband Navinbhai had unique capacity of promoting her. When she used to go to meetings, he also
accompanied her. He always saw to it that Jayawantiben is encouraged in a proper manner. She was a fine orator in Guajrati, Marathi and also in Hindi. She developed this quality after sustained efforts. In 1972, she was again elected to the Municipal Corporation for a
second time. In Mumbai, at that time, three parties had prominent women leaders. Mrinal Gore from Samajwadi Party, Ahilya Ranganekar in CPM and Jaywantiben Mehta in Bharatiya Jana Sangh. After Congress, the Samajwadi Party and Communist Party had a better following.
Hence, to promote the growth of the Jana Sangh was a difficult task in those days. Even then, she organised many agitations, particularly pertaining to women's causes. Soon, she became the voice of the women in Mumbai. In due course she came to be honoured
as ‘Bhulleshwar Ki Bhavani’. Bhulleshwar is a part of South Mumbai from where she was contesting
elections. Mumbai’s famous Mumba Devi temple is also in the same area.
During the Emergency in 1976, she was among the first leaders to be arrested. I was underground at that time. Her son and daughter were very young at that time. But in spite of that, she continued to put up a brave fight. After Emergency, when Jana Sangh merged into Janata Party, I became president of the Mumbai Janata Party. In 1977 Lok Sabha polls, we had won all the six Lok Sabha seats of Mumbai. We also won 34 seats in the Assembly. The assembly polls were held in 1978. Jaywantiben was given a ticket for the Assembly elections from Girgaon
Since there was no post of
organising secretary in Janata Party, I was also told to contest the election. So, both of us contested the 1978 polls and were elected. Thereafter, we were together in the Assembly for three terms. After the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party, we continued to work for the BJP. On the organisational side, she slowly got various responsibilities in the Maharashtra unit. Since she was a popular speaker, she was deputed to
different states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The number of women leaders in these states was comparatively less at that time. As a National Executive Committee member of the BJP, she travelled all over the country. In 1989, she and I were elected to the Lok Sabha and then we worked as MPs in the Lok Sabha. Thus, my association with her on the organisational and legislative fronts also has been very close.
In Mumbai, she was first elected from the Mumbai North East
constituency. The next poll she won from South Mumbai, the traditional Congress bastion. Because of her own strength and also the increasing strength of the BJP, she was elected to Lok Sabha. During Prime Minister Shri Vajpayeeji’s cabinet, she was made Minister of State for Power, where she performed quite well. The way she developed her political career, one can say that she was a self-made women leader,
properly supported by her husband. Normally, it is believed that a man can be successful in social or public life because of the
support of his wife. But here it was the opposite case, as she was promoted and supported by her husband. Navinbhai unfortunately died early in the 1980s. However, Jayawantiben continued to work for the Party.
In her political career, wherever she worked, as legislator, MP or as a Minister, she worked very
efficiently. She became the voice of Mumbai so far as the women are concerned.
On the organisational side, she
subsequently became the national
president of BJP Women Wing in 1991 when she was not a Member of Parliament. Whenever she came to Delhi, she stayed at my residence at 42 Ashok Road. The late Ved Prakash Goel, BJP National Treasurer, whenever he used to come to Delhi for party work, also stayed at my residence. A separate room was reserved for both of them. This is how we would work in those days.
For some time, she had developed health problems, mainly because of diabetes. For the last year or so, she was not in good health. The people of Mumbai remember her the way she developed her career. In all her work her transparency and honesty was remarkable. In her death, the BJP Mumbai unit has lost an eminent leader.
She will always be remembered for the work she did in Mumbai. She was also involved in different cultural organisations. She was a guide and source of inspiration for the younger generation of the BJP. The party has lost a very sincere, honest and hard working leader who achieved a respectable place not only in Mumbai but also at the national level.
Her simplicity is a quality that the people and the party workers can imbibe. Though she became MLA and MP many times, she never left cooking. If the guest came, she would cook for then herself. A middle class lady who was deeply involved in politics was also a caring mother for children. She lost her husband in 1980s. It was not an easy task for a middle class lady to work in politics and raise her son and daughter singlehandedly after her
husband's death. The way she
maintained her house with simplicity is a model for the new generation. South Mumbai is predominantly a posh area. To live there in a modest way is very difficult. She lived a simple, honest and middle class life. My Tributes to her!
(The writer is Governor of