I don’t know whether people still play the parlour game ‘Sex, marriage, cliff’ in honour of St Valentine. Frankly, I don’t know whether they ever played the game. But recently I found myself playing the harmless but sometimes disruptive game that involves having to choose from three names one person you have to pick to engage in the final stage of erotic activity, another to spend your life with as a partner, and the third to get summarily rid off. The choices are usually provided from a list of glam folks from the untouchable world of movies and entertainment, but they can degenerate into the uncomfortable zone of office colleagues or even family members.
Thankfully, on the ‘Sex, marriage, cliff’ list some weeks ago, the choices were from a sober roster: Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati. It was a toughie considering that all three ladies wielded considerable power and, depending on your politics, catered to different tastes. I won’t tell you my choices. All I will say, though, is that I didn’t tip Mayawati over the cliff.
Last week, I find my Mayawati — I mean, Mayawati — in the news because of her security officer, Padam Singh, committing what according to many jaw-jaws was a horrendous offence: he casually bent down to clean his boss’s shoes with his handkerchief while the UP chief minister was visiting a village. The poor President’s Gallantry medal winner later stated his gallant act was voluntary and that he was just cleaning a blob of mud from the lady’s shoe that she was unaware of.
Okay, so Singh doesn’t have image consultant pals and didn’t figure that the media would make one of those constantly looping grainy grabs with Mukesh singing ‘Jiska juta usi ka sir’ in the background. But what had Singh done that was so totally against our ’umble traditions? If someone had inadvertently barfed on Rahul Gandhi's kurta, wouldn’t someone, anyone, have got some napkins and immediately start wiping? I know I would have.
Of course, such an incident becomes an Incident in the state that coined the word ‘votebank’. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan found the matter heinous, reflective of Uttar Pradesh’s “feudal mentality”, something that Mulayam Singh Yadav and he must be fighting against even as I write this. UP Congress state president Rita Bahuguna Joshi was more direct and asked for Mayawati’s resignation. This wasn’t, after all ND Tiwari carrying Sanjay Gandhi’s slippers. For RBJ, Mayawati had “disrespected a Dalit”. My Zoroastrian sources tell me that Padam Singh isn’t a Dalit but a brahmin, but they could be wrong.
Not all Congress leaders shook in outrage though. St Edmund Hall, Oxford, alumnus Salman Khurshid rightly compared Padam Singh to Sir Walter Raleigh taking off his cloak to ensure that Elizabeth I didn’t have to step on a puddle. But then we went off on a tangent on the rise in crimes against women in UP and how Mayawati’s government blah blah... I think what has irked those who have been irked by Padam Singh’s chivalrous but risky and spontaneous gesture is not that a government official has bent before a chief minister for the first time in India’s political history. No, it’s not because of repercussions of symbolic gesture on caste lines breaking across the Gangetic plains either. And nope, it’s not because Mayawati has rediscovered feudalism in 2011 India. What has irked the lot is a man wiping a woman chief minister’s shoes. Jayalalithaa has had men flinging themselves before her; Mamata has had men cowering in front of her, but my Mayawati — sorry, Mayawati — has gone a step further. What? You thought only the Azam Khans and the Rita Bahugana Joshis of the world were masters of identity politics?