Friday, April 17, 2009

A woman achiever in a male-dominated world of politics

If someone were to say that Mayavati would be a dreadful prime minister because she’s tyrannical in a paranoid, thin-skinned, temperamental way, I would assume (I think reasonably) that the comment was gendered. Think of contemporaries of Mayavati like Mamata Banerjee or Jayalalithaa or Uma Bharti — every woman in Indian politics who chooses to lead a political party without being beholden to a male patron is typecast as difficult, irrational and unpredictable.

That's Mukul Kesavan writing in the Telegraph. He goes on to add:

... [B]y rights, she ought to be Indian democracy’s poster-girl. She helped Kanshi Ram found the BSP on April 14, 1984. That a young girl born to an ‘untouchable’ Chamar family should have co-founded a party that managed to win an absolute majority in India’s largest province, Uttar Pradesh, and threatened to hold the balance of power at the national level on the eve of a general election, within 25 years of its founding, is, or ought to be, a matter for celebration. That she should have achieved this without the dynastic leg-up or the majoritarian short cut that has defined Indian political leadership in recent times, is even more remarkable.

One reason why this isn’t celebrated is easily summarized: Mayavati’s relationship with Kanshi Ram is sexualized in gossip and sleazy reportage. The same middle-class people who celebrate the process of ‘mentoring’ in corporate contexts, find it hard to see Kanshi Ram as Mayavati’s political mentor: he has to be cast either as an older man preying on a young woman, or as her visionary political patron, so that she can be cast as an upstart client given her start in life by an all-seeing man.


  1. Pratik Ray said...

    There is a lot more to it than gender, and being typecast as "irritable". There are a number of women politicians who arent seen as "irritable" etc, like Sonia Gandhi, Rabri Devi, etc.

    As is his wont, Mukul Kesavan gets it wrong again in his article. Its not that her relation with Kanshi Ram is made out to be sleazy. I couldnt care less if it was sleazy or not, but what I do care is the way this lady has gone about getting power - systematically weeding in corruption (at a rate higher than most politicians I must add).

    What most people who wouldnt like to see Mayawatis as PM (this includes me too) is her record. Anyone remember the Taj Mahal case? Or the recent controversy over her birthday celebrations (apparently, her goons butchered a PWD worker because he refused to donate money for her birthday celebrations. Bottomline is she is now synonymous with absolute corruption. Heck, after making a song and dance about criminals in Mulayam Singh's party, she has the nerve to field the largest number of criminals from a single party in UP.

    What has to be admitted though is this lady can manipulate the masses. Very good politician, but not a leader by any stretch of imagination.

    Before anybody labels this comment as gender biased, let me add that in this elections, none of the presidential candidates are leadership material. I agree with Advani that Manmohan Singh is a weak PM. I agree with Manmohan Singh that Advani combines strength in speech and weakness in action.