This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
No real narrative for women in 2014?
More than six decades have flown by in a blink. We have Elections 2014 in our backyard. And so far, at least, I have not really noticed any narrative for the women of India. Isn’t that sort of dim ? Night after night, the nation watches mainly men thundering away on assorted panel discussions that deal with political issues of every hue. The expressions on their faces are suitably grim ( I miss Manish Tewari’s supercilious smirk ) as they dissect what went wrong in Muzaffarnagar ( come on, chaps, we all KNOW what happened there! But do any of you know how to fix it?). The economy and its ding dong condition ( “Oooooh! Sensex close to a 3-year high. Thanks Uncle Sam!”) is tediously analysed on biz channels, often by chirpy young things wearing startling shades of lipstick. Then there are the heavy duty interview/ issue based programmes anchored by our tv star presenters ( male and female). Since their thrust is to generate fiery exchanges via an aggressive, confrontational approach ( I long for the full on attack mode of the original – Karan Thapar at his fiestiest), the topics are picked accordingly. Right now, one cannot escape Narendra Modi. And here’s the interesting bit: he is the only neta to be actively courting the female vote. Ever since my spoof on Raghu, the RBI Guv appeared in ET, and got everybody’s knickers into a right royal twist (that was amusing!), I have been inundated with requests from other publications to ‘do a Raghu on Modi.” No chance! I was informed Modi had won a recent poll conducted with middle- aged house wives who had declared him their ultimate heart throb. Good for the house wives and good for Modi. Count me out of this one.
To his credit, Modi has been overtly courting the female constituency in his own State and launched several initiatives which, on paper at least, sound positive, pro-active and most crucially – possible. His ‘Mission Mangalam’( launched in 2010) and the ‘Sakhi Mandals’ are designed to create livelihoods for a million women over the next five years. Understanding the cultural dynamics of Gujarat, these self- help groups are transforming lives, albeit slowly. When Modi addresses rallies, at least a few of his bombastic utterances sound female- inclusive and in sync with women’s expectations. The rest of the political big wigs behave like women don’t exist ( except as rape victims), and nearly all their reference points are stubbornly male. Amazingly enough, the three , four or five heavy weight Devis in the political sphere have breezily ignored issues that concern India’s female population. They go into strident mode only when a tragic Nirbhaya case or a spate of horrific gang rapes galvanize the country. One rarely hears Sushama Swaraj, Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee, invest any real time or thought on women specific concerns. This is not just short sighted of them, but also rather dumb. One doesn’t really expect or even want special concessions, but it is a reflection of the indifference of the ruling class that not a single leader has bothered to make women’s welfare a key issue so far.
The female rupee has already impacted the economy in a significant way. If our money counts, shouldn’t our minds? While emotive subjects like curtailing violence against women have been taken up by a few political parties( no matter how clumsily), the lives of women in a wider perspective remain side lined and ignored. This is really where Rahul Gandhi comes in. Forget the poor fellow’s Kalawati episode (yes, I know that’s hard!). Forget his more recent roti-for-every-Indian speech (the Baba meant well, and at least he didn’t promise pizzas to poverty stricken villagers ). It’s an interesting head-to-head contest between two bachelors now. How they woo and court the ladies may turn out to be the biggest differential in the months ahead. Both should look at hiring teams that are tuned into the specific needs of today’s woman – rural and urban. The guy who’ll walk away with the female vote will be the one who doesn’t talk down to us. Word is out that both the bachelor boys are working on pumping up their sex appeal - getting more in touch with their feminine selves. Which is fine, I suppose. But the thing is, we aren’t looking to bed them. We want them to work for us. Huge difference!