Her Kingdom has come
By M J Akbar
Byword:In India Today
9th May 2011
Now for the good news. If opinion polls are right, more than 60 per cent of India will be ruled by women of substance from the middle of May. Between them, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee could preside over the destiny of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, along with a part-share in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East. Add a supplementary, that BJP has chosen a woman, Sushma Swaraj, as leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and you have a burst of feminine power not seen in India since Razia Sultan sat on the Delhi throne in the 13th century.
Silly columnists rush in where angels fear to tread. Sensible angels don't make poll predictions. Alas, for journalists, no angels, this is a bread-and-butter requirement. Mamata Banerjee may be more wind than flight, but she will land in Writers' Building once results are declared on May 13; not as comfortably perhaps as she imagines, but still there. She has already acquired heavy-frame spectacles in the billboard image sprawled across Calcutta; if you want to be chief minister of Bengal, it helps to look like an intellectual. In Tamil Nadu, the polls are done. Jayalalithaa has gone on holiday and the Karunanidhi clan returned to family squabbles. No one can be certain of the Tamil Nadu result, but the theme of this series of Assembly elections is taking shape: if you are establishment, you are in trouble.
The Leftist rock in Bengal is looking more like rock salt; while the DMK is writhing in pain from different wounds. The Assam Congress, which began this campaign in a chipper mood, is now visibly distraught at the possibility of losing office. In all states, the Congress vote has dropped sharply from its 2009 levels because of the crime opera being serialised in media every day. But an intriguing variation has spawned an anomaly in Kerala. The Left has repositioned the contest as one between two establishments, the local Left versus the national Congress, and switching the question from 'Who is better?' to 'Who is worse?' But this is unlikely to prevent a Congress-front victory.
Men are psychologically destabilised by the thought of women on top. All through history, across nations and cultures, their contempt for women who aspire for power has been well-documented. They have repeatedly used doctrine and sword to keep the "weaker sex" in its place, which, in their world-view is ideally restricted to the pillow, their influence whispered into the ear, or stretched to seduction. The image is as old as Genesis. Eve initiated proceedings in heaven when she "tempted" Adam with her apple, but on earth it was Adam who occupied the temporal throne. A role reversal has been long overdue, but had to await the gender equality enshrined in adult franchise, a process which began through faltering steps, in the 20th century.
The first phase of feminine empowerment was marked by accident, opportunity and individual ability. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir have been declared successful (by men) because they were re-imagined as proto-males, the only-man-in-the-Cabinet syndrome. When all three decimated foes in war with calm ruthlessness, men cheered them on as one of their own, implying that their success was due to a functional male gene in a dysfunctional female DNA. The sexism was unnoticed by one gender, and ignored by the other.
Democracy has at long last hit critical mass. Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee-or for that matter Angela Merkel-are where they are not because of genes, but by the collective will of an unsentimental electorate. How much real change will this represent in India? To suggest that women in power will be less corrupt is fatuous, and contrary to all prevalent evidence. Even Mamata Banerjee, who has spent decades suggesting that money was seriously injurious to her health, has abandoned pretence and is promoting a North Indian moneybag as an elixir of the Coming New Bengal Economy. Given the protection of privacy, such women would doubtless argue that they need cash for their counteroffensive in a hostile environment where gender bias starves them of resources. So will they, to use an apt metaphor, be merely cosmetic?
It depends on whether these women decide to behave like faux men, or whether they obey their natural instincts. A woman does not have to bear babies to be a mother. Men take pride in achievement; women take pride in feeding the family. Every member of a family is not an achiever, and will not bring the same amount to the kitty, but everyone has to be fed equally. It is, in essence, the difference between exclusive growth and inclusive growth. Men gave us the first. Women should give us the second.