And Her Mad Sisters
By Sagarik Ghose
08 September, 2004
Bharati rides again. This time on a train from Bhopal to Hubli, knee
deep in screaming supporters and brandishing the tiranga. The agitator
is in her element. She was never comfortable imprisoned in a chief ministerial
institution anyway. Too many Mid Day Meal projects to organise and far
too many IAS officers to transfer. Much more her style to be the tiranga-waving
semi-lunatic holy woman, screaming out her dedication to her party gurujis.
Hidden in the shadowy interiors of their air-conditioned offices, her
male manipulators look approvingly on. They wipe their manicured hands
on spotless kurta pyjamas and smile in benevolent scorn. Kitna kaam
karti hai, hamari Uma. Bahut vote lati hai.
Uma Bharati is a
symbol of the tragic fate of every Indian woman politician, most of
whom have failed to emerge as either democratic or dignified. Uma Bharati,
the female activist, is indistinguishable from Pravin Togadia, the male
rabble-rouser. Mayawati as chief minister was as efficient or as inefficient
as any male chief minister. Mamta Banerjees erratic behaviour
bears a remarkable similarity to Bal Thackeray and Jayalalithaa is almost
as reckless about human rights as Narendra Modi. Far from launching
exciting initiatives to educate, clothe, shelter and dignify women,
to give the woman the status of individual,
the Indian woman politician, in fact, is totally unaware of her own
womanhood. Gender is a ministry. Gender
is a womens cell. Gender is a slogan.
But gender is still not an educated consciousness or a robust identity,
the way jat or rajput
are. Most Indian women politicians are in a hurry to behave as if they
were men and probably secretly wish they were men. The appalling backwardness
of our society is revealed in the fact that a woman is forced to behave
as badly as a man to be taken seriously and that crucial governance
issues like reproductive health are seen as womens
Political scientist Ali A. Mazrui had an interesting phrase about the
political careers of South Asian women. He called it the phenomenon
of female accession to male martyrdom. This
is a situation where a woman attains high political office but only
in succession to a heroic male relative, who is usually martyred. The
process began with the 1959 assassination of SWRD Bandaranaike, prime
minister of Sri Lanka. A year later, his widow Sirimavo became prime
minister and today their daughter Chandrika is president. Nehru died
in 1964, Indira became PM in 1966. Bhutto died in 1979, Benazir became
PM in 1988 for the first time. Mujib-ur-Rehman was assassinated in 1975,
his daughter Hasina became PM in 1997. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated
in 91 and er.. look where his widow is today.
However in India,
distinct from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the roots of democracy
have sunk deeper and the political sphere has seen the rise of the underprivileged
woman politician. These are women without powerful male relatives or
a dynasty, women who havent necessarily inherited the mantle of
a dead man, yet at the same time managed to climb the political ladder.
Mamta Banerjee clawed her way up through student politics in the Youth
Congress in West Bengal. Mayawati may have been initiated into politics
by Kanshi Ram but soon struck out with her own aggressive brand of dalit
politics. Uma Bharati rose through the ranks of the sangh mostly due
to her extraordinary oratory.
Yet these plebian
women are united by a single feature: a cultivated insanity. A manufactured
lunacy, a strategic madness which probably protects them in the savagely
unequal world they operate in, but does not allow them to grow into
mature stateswomen. Mamta Banerjee stomps in and out of governments,
sulks about portfolios and messes up ministries. Behenjis single
topic of conversation is manuwadi conspiracies. And Uma Bharati seems
blissfully unaware of the highly retrograde role model she embodies.
Equally regressive are the figures of bharatiya bahu
Sushma Swaraj with the jogging track of sindoor in her middle part and
vidhva bahu Sonia Gandhi dutifully serving her
a single woman politician today who stands forth as a thinking, modern,
progressive individual who is not afraid to make health, education and
welfare the center of her politics, for fear that if she does so she
will be regarded as (shock! horror!) too much of woman.
Those who do to any limited extent, perhaps people like Brinda Karat
or Jaya Jaitly, are unfortunately, political lightweights. Sheila Dikshit
is perhaps the only exception. Even she hasnt found it easy to
survive in Delhis political akhara.
So why does India
not have any modern woman politicians? Simply because there is no demand
for one. Women in India are still not a vote bank. Just as the poor
are not a vote bank. Today, you can stand up and say, Yadavs, unite
or Dalits unite. But will you ever hear anyone saying, poor families
unite or women unite? No, you wouldnt. In stark contrast to, say,
self help groups or micro credit groups or social sector groups, there
has been no mass mobilisation of women in the context of parliamentary
politics in India. The massive tectonic shift in Indian politics has
been towards caste, not gender. The masses who actively participate
or make decisions in politics in India are men. At voting time, women
do as their husbands tell them, or as their caste leaders instruct or
as their party bosses dictate. Under the metaphorical banyan tree, men
talk politics and women discuss health. If only we realised how intimately
inter-connected health and politics are, we would not be so foolishly
segregated. Party high commands are reluctant to give women tickets.
Women members are reduced to a womens cell
in most parties, even in the progressive CPM.
A highly educated politician like Vasundhara Raje could not afford to
openly condemn sati. The brutal patriarchy of Indias politics
is consolidated by women politicians themselves. The rise of the poor
woman politician could have become an enormous forward movement in democratisation.
Instead, swamped by costumed caricatures, millions of Indias hardworking,
sensible and level-headed women remain deprived of any political representation.