Posted by Himalika Mohanty
Is everything personal political?
Early mornings at work mostly mean discussing the front page news, especially now with the elections around the corner. Conversations have recently started revolving around the women in the political scenario of India who are creating news today – Mamata Banerjee, Smriti Irani and the Priyanka Gandhi. Mamata Banerjee refused to let Yogi Adityanath’s chopper land in Kolkata for a rally; she was also sitting on a dharna to protest the CBI’s uninvited entry into Kolkata police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence for connection to Bengal’s very notorious Saradha chit fund scam. Smriti Irani said that she would quit politics as and when Modi would retire, and Priyanka Gandhi has taken on Uttar Pradesh this upcoming election to offset BJP’s rule in the state.
With the Lok Sabha elections coming up, it is an exciting time for newspapers. Opinions are galore, but what is interesting to see is the perception of women now in the political realm. One of my colleagues today got the conversation rolling with Irani’s quip on her tenure in politics coming to end when Modi’s would. To this, another of my colleagues expressed no shock – women in politics have always needed to shadow a stronger man to be seen as important in this sphere, she said. Why, she said, at one time it was Sushma Swaraj shadowing Modi, now the ball has merely moved to Irani’s court.
Either you conform to the idea of a good woman in the political realm, or you risk the character assassination that will become an inevitable part of your time in politics
This got me thinking – why is there continuous character assassination of women when they decide to enter politics. Of the many articles I’ve read after Gandhi’s entry into the political scenario of UP, most revolved around how much she looked like Indira Gandhi – same hair, similar sarees and friendly demeanour. But what is her election pitch? What is she going to tell the people in the rallies once she starts them in UP, apart from smiling and waving? Very few seem to know, and even fewer seem to care.
Popular interest seems to revolve only around the nepotistic, dynastic relations that gave her the space to enter politics. When there are no dynastic relations to ponder on, like in the case of Didi, then we tend to notice the ‘unreasonable’ aggression her politics entails.
Does she really need to sit on dharnas every chance she gets? Well no, maybe not, but when critiques of her aggression are shallow – when they do not delve into the underlying rationale behind her political actions and critique that, when they only revolve around ‘but what else is expected of her’ kind of arguments, then the conversation often veers into a very discriminatory personal zone – where she comes from, what her background is, ‘obviously she will act in such an uncooperative manner’, and many more. It gets difficult to manoeuver this space because character assassinations are difficult to reason with. Let’s instead discuss what denying Yogi’s chopper to land in Kolkata means for TMC’s liberal image in the city.
In a time when we are fighting for adequate representation in every sphere of public life for women, it is important to consciously dissociate the stereotypes that come with being a woman and having political stands. Our most significant women political leaders today are those who have taken on the familial roles of didi, amma, and
If women have something to say, they should be allowed to say it without invoking character assassinations and digging up the past.
So strong is this allusion to a sanitised, ‘pure’ version of politics, where business dared not be mixed with any kind of funny business, that you risk losing your clout if you veer from that virginal path. Recently, when former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah was called out for physically lashing out at a woman from the constituency his son was looking after when she told him that his son hardly came to the place and did not address the issues of the people in the constituency, he immediately took the narrative of how the woman was like his sister, and hence that act should not be misconstrued as anything but a mistake.
I will not comment on whether the act was a mistake, but I will take this opportunity to point something out:
If women have something to say, they should be allowed to say it without invoking character assassinations and digging up the past. Recently, Kamala Harris announced her run for the 2020 Presidential elections in the US, as a Democratic candidate. One of the earliest articles around this announcement was a sexist account of her previous romantic affairs. Again, why does it matter who she was romantically linked to in her life? Why, instead, can’t we discuss her election pitches and the issues she will address during her candidacy?
Political mudslinging is rarely ever political – mostly personal. And while the personal is
Himalika is slowly beginning to get the hang of being an adult, despite being a bad cook. She will take most things with a sense of humour and is constantly striving to infuse feminist practices in her research. You can follow her on Twitter.