Maneka wasn't born into a family of jet-setting luxury. But, life had plans, perhaps more significant than itself, for the Indian Minister for Women and Child Development. Tumultuous yet awe-inspiring; Maneka Gandhi’s life has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, which continues with gusto.
Indeed a case of sheer serendipity, Maneka, and Sanjay Gandhi's paths crossed on a fateful cocktail party in the early 70s. Maneka, the fauji kid, happened to hob-nob with an extraordinary guest at the party thrown by her uncle Major- General Kapur. The gig saw business honchos, tycoons, politicos and noted figures from the elite strata. But, among hordes of guests, Maneka and Sanjay felt an instant connect. And, the rest, as they say, was history. Exactly a year later, Maneka and Sanjay tied the knot of holy matrimony – and were declared husband and wife on September 23, 1974. Maneka was well aware of the family Sanjay belonged to and took his work pressures and challenges in her stride. It wasn't too long when Sanjay began to reign supreme in Politics – during the period of The Emergency.
Maneka, on the other hand, began to helm a publication titled Surya, which played a vital role in the promotion of the functioning and happenings of the Congress party, post the party’s defeat following the Emergency.
Maneka had a streak of feistiness in her, and it was reflective in all her pursuits. History will always remember her as the go-getter who fought an arduous legal battle with the government in power, which etched plans to confiscate her passport.
In the year of 1980, Maneka became a parent – to Feroze, a bright young baby boy named after his paternal grandfather. But, the period of glee and joy was short-lived, and what ensued over the next three months was an absolute nightmare – the death of Sanjay Gandhi in an air crash.
Tabloids went into a tizzy, highlighting the news and giving details about the growing animosity between Indira Gandhi and her. So much so, an altercation reached another level leading Maneka thrown out of the Prime Minister's residence.
Undeterred and always focused on looking ahead, Maneka channeled all her energy towards politics, and there has been no looking back ever since. Maneka founded the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch with Akbar Ahmed Dumpy. The initiative centered around the idea of empowering youngsters and improving employment opportunities for them. The party was a stupendous success, clinching four out of five seats at the Andhra Pradesh Elections. Maneka had a great deal of love and admiration, which spilled over all her work even after his demise. She donned the hat of an author and penned a book titled' The complete book of Muslim and Parsi Names,' which showcases a deep insight into Sanjay's Zoroastrian faith.
Maneka's tryst with politics has been a bumpy journey too. But she has continued to persist. She contested the Amethi constituency from UP but lost to Rajiv Gandhi. But, she wasn't going to quit anytime soon. One thing led to another, and in 1989, Maneka won her first election to the parliament and made an entry as the minister of environment.
As someone who doesn’t believe in mincing words, Maneka has often found herself in the eye of the storm for her comments and views. In the year 2017, she faced severe backlash upon her opinion that early curfew in girls' hostels was an incredible idea to curb ‘hormonal outbursts' among them.
While she likes to keep her private life low-key, one thing is sure- Maneka’s innate flair for the environment and wildlife don’t seem to go unnoticed. Aside from amassing acclaim for her work on that front, Maneka has clinched prestigious titles and awards for her deep-rooted knowledge, awareness, and contribution towards the preservation of wildlife. Maneka was offered the seat as a Chairwoman of the Committee for controlling and supervising of experiments done on animals in the year 1995, which she willingly accepted. Maneka, at present, helms the Jury of International Energy Globe Foundation, a venture that honors innovative environmental ideas annually. In a nutshell, Maneka has plunged into multiple fields- only to emerge victorious, despite severe opposition on various levels.
Currently, a Member of Lok Sabha; Maneka has been the recipient to several awards like the:
- Lord Erskine Award from the RSPCA(Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in the year 1992.
- Environmentalist and Vegetarian of the year 1994.
- Prani Mitra Award, in 1996.
- Maharana Mewar Foundation Award, in 1996 for her Environmental work.
- Bhagwan Mahaveer Foundation Award for Excellence in the sphere of Truth, Non-violence and Vegetarianism in 1999.
- The International Women's Association awarded Woman of the Year Award, Chennai, 2001.
- The Dinanath Mangeshkar Aadishakti Puraskar in the field of Environment and Animal welfare, 2001.
- The Human Achiever Award in the area of Women Empowerment and Children Welfare provided by Mrs Caroline W/O Ambassador of Namibia and Ms Sanorita Issac, the founder & Chairperson of Human Achiever Foundation, India.
Needless to say, she’s a force to reckon with.