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Amruta Fadnavis: A welcome change who could do more

mumbai Updated: Oct 25, 2018 19:34 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra,Amruta Fadnavis

Amruta Fadnavis (HT Photo)

Amruta Fadnavis clearly lives life on her terms and speaks her mind. She holds a master’s degree, is a professional banker, mother to a pre-teen girl, an influencer or activist for causes, a sportsperson, singer, an adventurous dresser who occasionally walks the ramp, and a regular on social media platforms. She is also the wife of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis but her identity easily transcends this given role.

This is laudable and interesting to watch but poses questions that did not arise during tenures of earlier chief ministers whose wives were content to stay in their husbands’ shadows or assiduously avoided the public gaze. How far can she change the system? What can she use her power for? In the four years that Amruta has been Mrs chief minister, she has shaken up a part of the system. She is the first working woman in Varsha, the chief minister’s sprawling official residence in south Mumbai, and the first to flaunt her independence.

Varsha has witnessed strong women before – Sharad Pawar’s wife Pratibha was one – but they preferred staying in the shadows or, when necessary, pottered around in their husbands’ constituencies. They did not have careers, they did not nurture personalities independent of their husbands. They were rarely seen, much less engaged with.

Amruta is cut from a different cloth. Perhaps this is a different, more liberating, era too. When her husband was selected for the office, his political colleagues expected that she would resign her job in a private bank, especially given the traditional ethos of the Bharatiya Janata Party. That she did not is a reflection of her – and his – approach to life and her upbringing as a child of professional parents. She secured a transfer from Nagpur to Mumbai.

She doesn’t hesitate to articulate her thoughts, she cavorted in the snow in Davos for a TV crew (and earned some criticism), she sang for an album, posted Bollywood-type photos of herself with husband on his birthday, and so on. Sometimes, when does her own thing, it puts her — and him — in a piquant situation.

The incident this week on board the cruise liner is one such. While inaugurating it with her husband, Amruta ventured far out on to the deck to feel the sea and wind in her hair. The security personnel dissuaded her but she ignored them, enjoyed the breeze and shot selfies. This clip went viral on social media and brought censure. She had to apologise. But the apology was tellingly framed — she regretted her act but emphasised that she was in no danger because it wasn’t the edge of the ship.

In a personal piece for a website in 2015, she had said: “I am a free spirit at heart and mind; I love going out, I love taking off on long drives, I love to unwind with friends. But now, I have bodyguards and drivers who are around me like a shadow … and to top that an eclipsed husband, not to be seen …” She lamented how her “carefree bubbling hubby” was not that anymore; how she could not be seen/ heard singing romantic or sexy numbers but bhajans; and how her salwar suits and saris “should be more covered”. She’s the first Mrs CM to don pant-suits.

A free-spirited young woman – now pushing 40 – she is challenging the straight-jacketed role given to her, and in the process, changing some things about women married to politicians. Amruta’s enthusiasm, attitude and youth have powered her public life so far. But her choice of causes is curious. She has graced tree-plantation drives, inaugurated exhibitions, given away college awards, cut ribbons for farmers’ markets, opened showrooms, wished Happy Friendship Day with her daughter. Superficial, light stuff, you could say. Surely, there are larger, urgent, more important causes that could do with her presence, support and articulation?

The vibrancy, professionalism, never-say-die attitude of Mumbai, she said, had struck her and she admired the daily grind of Mumbaiites. Perhaps she could start a new innings by speaking for the working women of the city, a word for #MeToo, a campaign to make the city safer. More gravitas, less glamour, would strengthen her legacy.

First Published: Oct 25, 2018 19:34 IST