Some years ago, when Sharad Pawar was still the Union agriculture minister, he was rather rattled by Uddhav Thackeray’s lack of rural understanding. Uddhav had been lamming the UPA government for not declaring remunerative prices for ‘kapaashi’ and being obsessed with ‘paraati’ instead. Pawar described that as an ‘asinine’ remark, for, paraati was a common word for cotton in the villages — rather like ruiee and kapaas in Hindi.
He has now minced no words in stating that Uddhav does not know if groundnuts grow on trees or beneath the soil. Pawar is upset at the current government’s inability to handle the agrarian crisis — both ruling parties are urban oriented and have not taken rural distress seriously. So, senior journalist Kumar Ketkar is equally tart when he says, “Ask anyone in the state cabinet, including the chief minister, and no one will be able to tell you the difference between a drought and a famine. They think it is one and the same thing.”
But now what horrifies me is that the urban-educated Pankaja Munde, a medical professional who represents a rural constituency, does not know the difference between a ‘draught’ (sic!) and a ‘drought’. Moreover, she was most insensitive while touring the drought-affected areas of Latur as she tweeted her selfies with the parched farmers of the area as proof that she is doing good work. I am stunned that the daughter of Gopinath Munde, who was among the best grassroots politicians, could be so disconnected with the masses — and would not know the difference between compassion and self-aggrandisement.
Jansatta, a local Hindi newspaper, has also reported that while she was touring the districts, she even complained about her make-up getting smudged because of the heat and dust. That self-obsession is something I cannot swallow. Over my long career, I have travelled with and closely observed generations of women politicians. Pratibha Patil always wore full-sleeved white blouses with her Ikats and Balucharis but she never complained about the discomfort in the heat on her tours. Former deputy chief minister Shalinitai Patil was known for her crisp Nagpuri and Kolhapuri cotton sarees and her huge Jijamata style red, round bindi. But while I saw sweat streaking down her face on occasion, she never cared how that might destroy her image. Closer to the times was Dr Vimal Mundada, who started as Gopinath Munde’s close aide in the BJP, then ended up as a minister in the Congress-NCP government for two terms. I toured extensively with her as she set about improving maternal and child mortality rates in the remote areas. But never once did she care about fixing her face for the cameras that followed her.
Perhaps it is a thing of the times because recently Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter, unabashedly spoke about how she and other women MPs admire and exchange notes about their sarees. But, then, there is the example of Varsha Gaikwad, of an age with Pankaja, and minister for child and women welfare in the previous government. When I toured with her the Naxal-affected areas of Gadchiroli, Chandrapur and Gondia to study the diminishing female ratios and stem female foeticides, I did not see her complain even about the lack of toilet facilities for herself. She returned to Bombay and quietly began the process of building toilets for women on waysides much before the scheme became popular.
Pankaja then lets down all these women who worked hard without bothering about smudged make-up or selfies. She also lets down her father who never needed a camera for his good work.
The author tweets as @sujataanandan