Thursday , 21 November 2019
Breaking News

Feet rooted on the ground

Sulakshana Pramod Sawant is a force to reckon with. A chemistry teacher, she has won several accolades, besides being involved with the Mahila Morcha of BJP in Goa. In an EXCLUSIVE interview with NT NETWORK, she talks about her early days, marriage to Pramod Sawant, her initiation into politics, and more

Danuska Da Gama | NT NETWORK

She may be the wife of current Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant, but Sulakshana Pramod Sawant is a firebrand in her own right and is a much loved teacher at Shri Shantadurga Higher Secondary School, Bicholim.

The early days as Miss Parab

Originally hailing from Sal, Bicholim, Sulakshana, the eldest of three siblings, was born on February 15, 1980. She worked her way up the ladder. Having completed her MSc (Inorganic Chemistry) from Goa University in 2002 and then doing her BEd from Nirmala Institute of Education, Panaji, Sulakshana believes that one can spend a lifetime studying and learning new things.

And indeed, despite being a chemistry teacher since 2004, and also holding positions of president of the BJP Mahila Morcha in Goa since 2016 and The Goa State Women Self Help Group Association, Sulakshana is currently pursuing a diploma in Women Empowerment and Gender Studies.

She is also an avid singer and dancer. In fact, being a Bal Bhavan student, the young Sulakshana had the opportunity to learn musical instruments, dance, acting, art and craft and she believes that all that training has led to her overall development as a person. “Attending Bal Bhavan classes wasn’t easy. I used to attend tuitions which would sometimes clash with my Bal Bhavan classes, but I would bunk tuitions for those fun classes,” she says candidly.

Not many know that Sulakshana was also an athlete back in her school days and was a state silver medalist in judo during her final year of graduation, a sport she took up as a challenge.

“When I was in the third year, I was told about a month-long judo training programme. Though I had to face opposition from my teachers I decided to give it a try. I somehow managed to complete the training even though I missed some classes. There were many others who were better than me, but I got a chance to participate, competing at the state level and winning the silver medal in 2000,” she recalls about her tryst with judo that still makes her happy.

Meeting Pramod Sawant

Soon after getting confirmation of the permanent job as a teacher, as a required procedure Sulakshana visited the Public Health Centre in Bicholim for a medical certificate. It was there that Sulakshana and Pramod Sawant saw each other for the first time. “But the proposal came to like any other marriage proposal. We got married a year after that as I wanted to settle down first in my job,” she says.

Interestingly she wasn’t that interested in politics back then. However, after their marriage on May 28, 2005, she and her mother-in-law found themselves on one side, while Pramod and her father-in-law (Pandurang Sawant aka Tato) were on the other side “as they would constantly talk about politics”.

“My father-in-law had contested and won the Zilla Parishad (ZP) elections (2005-2010), but initially my mother-in-law stayed away from political talks. But, gradually I joined their team and we were then 3:1”, she says, before adding that politics has now become a part of their life and despite efforts to keep talks of politics at bay sometimes, “it’s an exercise
most futile”.

Foray into politics

It was in 2008 that Pramod Sawant decided to contest the 2008 by-elections. “It meant the Pramod had to quit his government job, and we weren’t even sure of winning the election,” she says.

However, her husband, she says, wasn’t worried and was ready to take the risk. “He told me: ‘I will live the life I wished for and this is where I want to be. If I don’t take this chance, I don’t know when I will get the next chance. We are young and we can take the risk and start private practice if I am defeated’,” she recalls vividly. Although he did lose the elections in 2008, he won in 2012 with a very good margin.

In the meantime, Sulakshana entered politics, starting off as a booth member in 2005. In 2008 she campaigned for her husband. “The whole team from Goa was in our constituency and I was observing how things were going on. While Congress was in power we could come up with a lot of morchas in that term and that gave me good learning experience,” says Sulakshana, who was made the general secretary of Mahila Morcha in 2012 and subsequently became the president in 2016.

“My work here is more to do with being at the helm of organising activities and structuring the women’s wing,” explains Sulakshana, who adds that while at some places the minimum of four ladies is met, in some villages the entire committee is of ladies, which clearly indicates the level of enthusiasm in politics among women in Goa.

“I am a strong supporter of 33 per cent reservation for women, which we see at various organisational levels from booth to state committee in BJP. But while we see participation at panchayat, municipality and ZP level, there is need for more participation at assembly level. 33 per cent reservation can mobilise this issue but at the same time we women have to make ourselves competent to contest against any candidate, that’s where the real change will take place,” advocates Sulakshana. In fact, Sulakshana herself has been instrumental in motivating women to take an active part in politics, campaigning for them, and actively taking up issues of women safety, health, economic empowerment, besides organising art and cultural programmes at various levels to bring women at forefront.

Pramod Sawant becomes CM

“The day all the political turmoil was happening was the same day our family person – Manohar Bhai was being laid to rest,” Sulakshana recalls of  March 18, 2019. Pramod Sawant was sworn in early morning on March 19.

As his wife, Sulakshana states that she always felt that her husband should be the next CM “because I have seen him struggle so much, and also because I had seen through the eyes of Bhai – that he loved and supported Pramod as his own.”

Illustrating this point, she recalls an incident that took place at Raj Bhawan, when Laxmikant Parsekar was made the Chief Minister. “Like always seats were allotted with tags. And since Bhai was sitting in the chair kept for the CM and he was elevated to the position of Defence Minister, he took the tag of CM from the seat and handed it over to Pramod Sawant,” she recalls. While this action may have been without any motive or any thought attached to it from late Parrikar’s part, “it was indicative of many things”, believes Sulakshana.

She goes on to mention that even when Bhai was not well and there were flag hoisting or state honours that had to be met, it was always Pramod Sawant who would be asked to do the needful. “So I had an inkling that Pramod would succeed Manohar Parrikar Bhai. His blessings were with us during elections, or government matters; he was there to guide and look after his people,” she says wistfully.

She goes on to say that it’s difficult without Bhai around now. “Living up to his expectations and ensuring things are done in the right manner is always a worry we both share,” says Sulakshana, adding that being a Chief Minister is a position of responsibility and has to be shouldered well. “He didn’t have any kind of administrative experience earlier though he was there with Bhai, this is all new for him,”
she says.

Being CM’s wife

And although being the Chief Minster’s wife has cast her in the limelight, the chemistry teacher, who has a charming personality of her own, says that she has never allowed her husband’s current position to
affect her.

“I just like being myself. I don’t feel much of a difference now compared to before, except that I feel a little cautious at times. I go to shops, malls, and the market just as I used to before. I don’t believe that as the CM’s wife I have to change my ways,” she maintains. And while there may be people judging or comparing her to the wives of the earlier Chief Ministers, “every person is different, and positions are never there forever.”

Her work as a teacher has also not changed. “The difference happens when you create the barrier. I talk to my students and they communicate with me in the same way as before,” she says, before adding that though she was asked to leave teaching as her husband is in politics, she couldn’t because she is extremely passionate about teaching, about chemistry, and about her students.

Over the years she has held positions of director on Jan Vikas Co-operative Society; chairperson, Sai Nursing and Paramedical Institute, Sankhali; member on Board of Studies for Chemistry; president, Association of Chemistry Teachers Goa; executive member of NGO- Sai Life Care; and project director on female sex workers project under Goa State Aids
Control Society.

And she keeps within her limits, ensuring that she doesn’t influence students about politics. “I have never spoken about politics, or party related things in the class or outside with my students. I am just their teacher. I try also not to let people change around me because of my husband’s position,” she says.

She believes that teachers need to play the role of friend, philosopher and guide as per the situation in a child’s life and have to be a motivator throughout.

“Every child is unique and thus should be handled accordingly. There needs to be fun added to teaching as every subject is not a child’s favourite. There is a great need to adapt new technology and update students about the subject and its direct and indirect application. Need-based subject education is vital so that they can relate to the subject well,” she says, before adding that she makes it a point to keep herself updated with movies, games, music, sports that her students like so that she can relate to them better.

As for her living style, Sulakshana prefers living within the comfort of her home at Sanquelim. “I don’t like being at the CM’s bungalow at Altinho, as I believe it is best to be with the people who made you CM. And since he meets people in the morning and goes to Panaji, people from the constituency come to me to convey their problems to Pramod,” she says, before adding that politics is part of their lives now and that she too, loves being with people and working for their causes. “My work is not about participating or aiding him in taking decisions, it is more to do with the constituency problems,” she shares.

When it comes to sharing opinions or matters with her CM husband, Sulakshana says she’s pretty straightforward and Pramod too, always gives her a listening ear. “I don’t participate in the state affairs. But, of course if I read something, I express my view and he gives me a listening ear. I do not influence his decision making, and he doesn’t need my advice as he is surrounded with the best people around him, and experts who are there to guide him,” says Sulakshana, before adding that Pramod is lucky to have well wishers who suggest and give positive criticism through sms, emails etc.

Managing home affairs

All said and done, a woman, whether working or not, in power or whether her husband is in power – is still the lady of affairs at home. And Sulakshana’s life is as hectic as that of any other working woman, in fact more, being the CM’s wife and the mother to 13-year-old Parthivi.

“I have learned a lot after getting married to Pramod. In the past I had this

habit of trying to manage everything on my own. But through these few years I have learned that it is not the right way of going about things and there’s nothing to be proved to anyone. You cannot do everything. Instead delegate responsibilities and you will get satisfaction when you see things falling in place. You won’t be stressed and you will be happy,” she says before adding that this is her constant advice to ladies of the Mahila Morcha. “There is no need to try and be a superwoman,” she says.

Sulakshana makes it a point to mention that she doesn’t allow her daughter studying in class 7 to have airs about her father’s position. She makes sure she lives a normal life like any other child. “I tell her time and again that she is Parthivi Pramod Sawant and that is just who she is, not the daughter of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant,” she says before adding that often her daughter jokes about wanting security just like her father, and “that’s when I tell her you have to work hard and earn the position”.

And while Parthivi is more interested in business, she also takes a keen interest in some of the issues in the state. “There was a garden project undertaken and she kept pestering him to get the work finished in time,” says Sulakshana, adding that she was also concerned about the pothole issue and told her father that people are facing hardships.

The mother and daughter also make it a point to try and stay awake till Pramod returns home, which is normally post midnight. “He tells us not stay awake, but when he comes home at the end of the day, that moment is different and we want to be there that time,” she says.

When not in school, at political or social functions, Sulakshana loves decorating her house. “I am not perfect but I love to learn and like my home to be simple yet beautiful and that’s what gives a feeling of belongingness and warmth when someone comes to our home,” she says.

Sulakshana is also a well read lady. “I love reading books authored by Rhonda Byrne and Robin Sharma, among others. I also love listening to Gaur Gopal Das, Sadhguru, Sister Shivani and Sandeep Maheshwari who are inspiring at various levels,” she says. “I like Marathi literature too and Vasant Purushottam Kale’s (Va Pu) and Purushottam Laxman Deshpande’s (Pu La) books are my favourite.”

Life and mantra

Having given various talks/ lectures on women empowerement, need based education, child nurturing for a better world, etc, Sulakshana is of the opinion that one should be satisfied in life and this comes from being happy with whatever you have.

She admits that there is a lot of stress when one is in politics and in social work too. “People think that with position you automatically get lots of power, fame and money, which isn’t the case always,” she says. She credits her family, especially her departed mother-in-law who guided her well.

“Everyone thinks that the link between politics and money is obvious. On social media too, people comment about how people have certain positions because of money. It shouldn’t be like that as the next generation shouldn’t be misguided into believing that becoming a politician requires you to have lots of money or spend lots of money or that money will maketh a politician. ‘I have always believed, ‘Kar bhala, so bhala’ (you reap the goodness you sow),” she says.

Check Also

The life and times of Bonaventure D’Pietro

Frederick Noronha Some people promote themselves. Others do a little to make their work visible. …