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SUCHETA KRIPALANI (1908–1974)


Sucheta Kripalani was a freedom fighter. She was to become the first woman Chief Minister of independent India, serving in Uttar Pradesh, and was a member of both the provisional Parliament and of the Lok Sabha. She was born at Ambala, the daughter of Dr S.N. Majumdar, a medical officer. He was a liberal Brahmo and kept an open house for freedom fighters. From him and from Bengali literature, especially the novels of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, she derived her staunch nationalist and independent spirit. She graduated from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and taught at Sri Gangaram High School, Lahore and later as professor at Benaras Hindu University in 1929. She met her husband Acharya J.B. Kripalani there and married him in 1936. Her marriage cemented her love for the country, for her husband shared her activism and worked tirelessly for India. Even though she joined politics, she was primarily an academician.

She was deeply influenced by the Russian Revolution and later, from 1936 onwards, by Gandhian philosophy. From 1939 she worked under Dr Rajendra Prasad in flood and earthquake relief, and in the same year she established and became the secretary of a women’s section of the Congress. She mobilised women during the Quit India movement and was imprisoned in 1940 and 1944. From 1941–42, she was involved with the All India Congress Committee at various levels.

In 1945 she became the co-ordinator of the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust. She worked with Jai Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali. The chaos and pain of Partition made a deep impression on her, as did Gandhiji’s distress at his inability to prevent the suffering of divided India. Sucheta toured with him, trying to prevent bloodshed; she did not flinch from visiting the most remote trouble spots and was said to carry at all times a phial of arsenic with which to take her life should the need arise. However, it did not, and she survived the turmoil of Partition.

From 1948 to1951 she was a member of the Congress Working Committee and from 1958 to 1960 its president. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1950. In 1949 she was a member of the Indian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, and in 1954 of the delegation to Turkey. She led the Indian delegation to the United Nations conference on Asian Women in 1956. She became the first woman chief minister of India on 2 October 1963, and had to work very hard to organise and build an effective administrative system in her state of Uttar Pradesh. She held the post till March 1967.

She had a happy marriage and gave credit to her husband for bringing her into politics, as she said her primary interests were music and social work. She was able to fulfil her wish later by involving herself with the Lok Kalyan Samiti and several other organisations. She died in 1974, having retired from politics, disappointed with the direction of political progress in the country and disillusioned with party politics, though as committed as ever to the larger ideals of freedom and democracy.
 
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