At 86-years-young, there’s nothing to stop Congress veteran and Himachal Pradesh’s senior minister Vidya Stokes. As the No.2 in the state cabinet, she spends most of her time in office but has no desire to take that one final step to the chief minister’s slot.
On an average, I daily spend at least 10-12 hours in meeting the public and attending to my office,” Stokes, who has just completed four decades in active politics, said in an interview.
The eight-time legislator, who holds irrigation and public health, horticulture and science and technology portfolios, said: “If I am not touring, I prefer to remain present in the office.”
Born on Dec 8, 1927, Stokes is known in political circles for her clean image and has never taken any salary, be it as a legislator or as a minister, throughout her political career. It’s a different matter that she hails from a landed family.
“We are in politics to serve humanity. It doesn’t behove on us to hold the public office for personal gains,” Stokes, the country’s first woman speaker, said.
“I work harder than many others who may be half my age.”
Asked why she was never offered the top post despite her proximity to the Gandhi family, Stokes replied: “I am satisfied, at least not keen now to become the chief minister.”
“Throughout my political career I remained loyal to the party. Whatever the party offered me, I accepted it with grace. This time too I was told before the cabinet formation that I would be given an important portfolio (public works department). But somehow there was some changes at the last minute,” she said.
Stokes, the daughter-in-law of an American missionary, became active in state politics in 1974 after the death of her husband Lal Chand Stokes.
“Before entering politics, I was the youngest woman director in the State Bank of India (1972-73),” she added.
She is also known for her masterstrokes in promoting Indian hockey. In August 2010, she surprised many on being elected the president of Hockey India, the game’s governing body for both men and women, by defeating Olympian Pargat Singh.
“I was interested in hockey when I was not even in politics in the early 1960s. During my stint in various capacities as a hockey administrator, I tried to equip the players with modern gadgets and extend maximum facilities.”
“My priority was to mobilise funds, both for the game and the players,” said Stokes, who was president of the Indian Women’s Hockey Association for five consecutive terms in 1984, 1988, 1994, 2003 and 2009. Hockey India was formed in 2009.
She is also known for being on a non-cereal diet for the last 50 years. “Fruit, salads, soups and vegetables are the perfect recipe of fitness and surviving for long.”
Stokes, who was power minister in the state from 2003 to 2007, loves a banana or an apple with yoghurt or low-calorie biscuits for breakfast. Her lunch is usually soup and baked vegetables. And dinner comprises dal and salads.
Her father-in-law Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes Junior) first introduced high-quality apples in the Kotgarh-Thanedar belt in upper Shimla in the early 1920s.
Stokes, who was elected to the state assembly for the first time in 1974, now manages most of her family’s orchards in upper Shimla.
“On my weekly off days or on holidays, I prefer to take care of my orchards,” said Stokes.