Margaret Alva, the veteran Congress leader and Opposition’s Vice-President pick, always ready for a comeback

Margaret Alva has spent more than four decades in politics – she has been a five-time MP, a Union minister, and served as governor of four states. Now the 80-year-old Karnataka leader is ready to contest the vice-presidential polls against NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankar

Opposition parties might not emerge victorious in the contest for the president and the vice president (VP), but they are not giving up without a formidable fight. Their candidate for the VP polls to be held on 6 August is veteran Congress leader Margaret Alva.

She is up against National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate and West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar.

Also read: Explained: The Santhal tribe that NDA presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu belongs to

The 80-year-old has donned quite her few hats, from being a Union minister to the governor. On Sunday, Alva said she accepted with “great humility” her nomination for the vice-presidential polls and thanked leaders of various parties for reposing faith in her.

“It is a privilege and an honour to be nominated as the candidate of the joint opposition for the post of Vice President of India. I accept this nomination with great humility and thank the leaders of the opposition for the faith they’ve put in me. Jai Hind,” Alva tweeted soon after her name was announced.

Alva’s many roles

A lawyer by profession, Alva took a plunge into politics in 1969 becoming the only woman block president of the Congress in Karnataka. She became the head of the Congress women’s wing in Karnataka in 1972 and went on to become the general secretary of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

At the age of 32, she entered Rajya Sabha in 1974 and served as a member of the Upper House for 24 years – four consecutive terms.

She was a minister in Congress governments led by Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao. Under Rajiv Gandhi, Alva was appointed the Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs. She moved to the human resource development ministry and was in charge of youth affairs and sports. Later she headed the women and child development ministry. She also briefly worked as the minister of science and technology.

In 1999, Alva was elected to the Lok Sabha after she won the Uttara Kannada seat. She was strong ties with the senior Congress leadership that fuelled speculation of her being a contender for the chief minister’s post, according to a report in The Indian Express.

In 2004, Alva was appointed as the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee for five years. After her tenure, she took on gubernatorial assignments in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Goa, and Uttarakhand.

Alva was the only UPA-era governor to complete her tenure under the Narendra Modi government, according to a report in India Today.

Alva was once considered close to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. PTI

Working for women’s rights

During her three decades in Parliament as MP and later minister, she was part of four major committees that ushered in amendments to women’s rights – the Dowry Prohibition Amendment Act, reservation for women in local bodies, equal remuneration, and marriage laws.

She was India’s representative at all the major United Nations conferences during the Decade for Women and at meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN In 1999. She was also part of the expert group set up by UNICEF to draft a country code on the rights of the child.

Speaking her mind

An outspoken leader, Alva was considered close to Sonia Gandhi at one time. She did not hesitate to speak her mind.

In 2008, she said that Congress’ Karnataka unit was selling election tickets to the highest bidders rather than picking candidates on merit. This did not go down well with top leaders in New Delhi and she was dropped as AICC general secretary and was kept out of the party’s election committee.

In her autobiography, Courage and Commitment, Alva blamed senior leader AK Antony for her removal from organisational positions and held that it was because she had once recommended his removal as the Kerala chief minister earlier, according to a report in The Hindu.

However, she made a comeback as governor.

During her time as governor, Alva “refused to be a rubber stamp” and was “active in asserting her powers to take care of tribal welfare and universities and pointing out flaws of the state government during the Congress regime in Rajasthan. Even after the BJP came to power in the state and the Centre, she wrote to the government pointing out flaws in the Jaipur-Delhi national highway,” reports India Today.

She maintained a low profile after her gubernatorial roles but in 2021 participated in the protests against The Karnataka Protection of Right of Freedom of Religion Bill, proving that she is ready to carry on.

In January, this year, the veteran leader wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on violence against minorities. She also spoke against the anti-conversion bill and statements by some religious leaders calling for the genocide of non-Hindus. “Your silence is misread as tacit approval and encouragement to the ever-increasing violence and intimidation India’s minorities are being subjected to,” she said in the letter to the PM.

“We Christians are a disciplined, non-violent, service-oriented community. If we were involved in mass conversions, why is our number under three per cent,” she wrote, opposing the move in Karnataka to bring a law on religious conversion.

Similarities with opponent Dhankar

Alva and Dhankar have a lot in common. For starters, both have been governors and Union ministers, and have had links to the Congress party. Dhankar was in the Janata Dal and Congress before joining the BJP.

The two leaders have a law degree; each has been a one-time Lok Sabha member. They share a connection to Rajasthan – Dhankhar is from the state and Alva has been its governor.

Alva has a vast experience in the gubernatorial position. Dharkar was appointed the governor of West Bengal in July 2019 after Modi came to power again.

The Alva family

Margaret Alva married Niranjan Alva in 1964, with whom she has a daughter and three sons. Her husband, a lawyer and businessman, died in 2018.

Her father-in-law Joachim Alva represented the Kanara constituency in Lok Sabha as a Congress MP for three terms from 1952 to 1967.

Her son Nivedith Alva has been attempting to represent the Uttara Kannada region in the Karnataka legislature for many years. One of her sons Niret Alva is a renowned television producer.

With inputs from agencies

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