Recently, at a programme in Nagpur city, Jaydeep Kavade, the son of the local MLA of People’s Republican Party, a strong ally of the Congress (I) and the Nationalist Congress Party, got to the podium. On the stage with him was the Nagpur MP hopeful from the Congress (I), an ex BJP man called Nana Patole.
Amid cheers from the audience, Kavade launched into a spirited speech about defending the Constitution of India, as written by Babasaheb Ambedkar, from amendments of any type. Fair enough, right? Everyone has the right to an opinion on the Constitution and whether it is up for amendment, including members of a party that has amended it over 80 times. Unfortunately, that was not how Mr Kavade chose to make the point.
He chose to earn brownies by maligning Mr Patole’s chief political foe Nitin Gadkari, via the cheapest, lowest weapon – a scandal with a female colleague. A rough translation of his speech would be:
Smriti Irani was sitting close to Gadkari and said she will change the Constitution written by Babasaheb. But Mr Patole, who was in that party, stood up and said No!! Changing the Constitution isn’t the same as changing husbands, and you know what these women with big bindis are like!!
The actual Marathi words are too filthy for me to transcribe but in idiomatic vernacular, Kavade was beyond crudely slandering Mrs Irani. Forget the assembled crowd, Patole the MP hopeful himself patted Kavade, thus endorsing the speech.
Like Bangalore traffic, or Pakistan’s hand in terror attacks on Indian soil, or death and taxes, there is an inevitability to Mrs Irani being the subject of spiteful personal and professional slander at any time. If you landed in India, and read statements like Kavade’s, you wouldn’t guess that she was not only a Miss India finalist but also the highest paid TV actress in her time. In fact, she defined prime time in India (I was the client paying for ads on her show, trust me on the per second rates). She overcame humble circumstances to reach a Union Ministry. In a country where the political elite still has a chokehold on exposure, jobs, and recognition, being self-made like her should be an asset, yet here we are! Kavade’s speech was cut into a WhatsApp forward within minutes and circulated widely in what is perhaps the lowest news cycle for female politicians in recent times.
Kavade’s *Big bindi* reminds me of Surekha Punekar, the judge on Apsara Aali, Z Network’s wildly popular programme on Lavani dancers. When it was being speculated that Ms Punekar was a likely Congress (I) candidate for Pune, supporters of the NDA went wild with dance memes. One compared her dance with Mr Bapat’s shaking both left feet at a function. What rankled though, was the observation that the depleted Congress (I) could only get a *Nachnewali* as a candidate. Lavani is Maharashtra’s widely recognised dance form. Surekha Punekar’s entire career was thus reduced on the mere speculation of political candidacy, to someone who dances for others’ public entertainment.
Mrs Irani’s former profession, that gave her stunning recognition and public affection and the sort of recall necessary to pull crowds is equally held against any actress joining politics. The names of Urmila Matondkar’s parents are well known. Yet, folk conflated her parents with Amrita Singh’s, to tie in with her marriage to a Kashmiri Muslim model. Urmila has been at the top of her profession too, handling commercial and art projects to huge acclaim. I remember an interview where she spoke about her favourite French and Russian writers. The interviewer challenged her, considering that her education was in the vernacular. She replied that she’d read their Marathi translations, and great writing transcends language. A successful woman of that sort of presence of mind should be questioned on why she’s joining the party of Kavades. How would she feel sharing a stage with this sort of deplorable mentality, being a former actress herself? Mocking Ms. Matondkar on her former profession, her marital choices etc. does no favours to voters, when she should be closely questioned on what she brings to the table as a politician.
Speaking of actresses, Sumalatha Ambarish, beauteous star of the 80s and widow to one of Karnataka’s most beloved actor-politicians Rebel Star Ambarish, first-hand felt the thud of the UPA’s low blows. Sumalatha’s biggest crime is that she is fighting as an Independent against the heir-presumptive to the Devegowda dynasty, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, a former actor himself. Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Revanna, the older brother of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, and a minister in the state JDS-Congress (I) government observed thusly, “It’s not even a month since her husband died and she is already nursing political ambitions and wanting to contest elections. See what level they have gone to”. Ambarish was a senior Congress politician. When he passed on, few senior Congress (I) folk turned up, including Mr Rahul Gandhi’s social media chief Divya Spandana. The erstwhile actress, and coalition partner to the JDS, predictably had nothing to say on this crude remark. Nagma, another Congress (I) actor-politician had to fight off pawing males of her own party at every gathering she attended last election cycle. Predictably, no one held either her party’s leadership nor the female dynasts in her party accountable.
Mrs Irani’s ideological and political opponents seemed fixated on her appearance because in the 21st century of self-care, she seems to not care at all. She’s a happily married mother and busy professional. She’s not obliged to look pretty for anyone. Besides, looks aren’t an indicator of anything. Ask Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, whose appearance overrides her medical degree, and her courage to publicly represent the NDA in a super hostile socio-political environment. Dr Tamilisai’s wedding was attended by both MGR and Kalaignar, and she looks like a doll-like Maniam drawing. The supporters of these two towering politicians though, take no prisoners when it comes to her.
Let me quote her at an event organised by the Entrepreneurs Council of India ~ “Being one of most trolled politicians on social media from (TN), she acknowledged that it was her ‘personal appearance’ and ‘curly hair’ that often featured in memes and not her actions as a politician. Deeming them misogynistic, she said the mentality was deplorable. “Not every woman can be fair. I don’t mind the Vadivelu memes. It is ironic that we are neighbours,” she said to thunderous applause.” Being a single man, Prime Minister Modi makes several Romeo-like appearances in Dr Tamilisai memes, doubling the cringe, and the irony. The very folk who have successfully isolated Tamizhnadu for tremendous political gain through Moolnivasi Dravidian Aborigine whatchamacallit, savagely mock the complexion and hair of a woman who looks like the mother, wife, daughter of nearly all of them.
If sensible, hard-working, ambitious and civic-minded women from all professional walks of life are to enter politics, then the path for them should not be strewn with filthy innuendo. How many would have families and colleagues willing to view WhatsApp forwards as occupational hazards? Congress wants to bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill to allegedly increase women’s participation in the body politic, a move widely cited to show their progressive stance on women’s affairs. However, their medieval supporters and representatives belie this.
It’s time to hold Rahul Gandhi and his leadership firmly accountable for discourse, as well as the treatment of women who want to enter politics, over and above such superficial declarations.