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Opinion | Dear netas, stop the abuse, women politicians are here to stay

Elections generate heat and political rivals often trade charges but some of our netas are unabashed. They don’t even put up a pretence of being civil.

opinion Updated: Mar 28, 2019 09:12 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
priyanka gandhi vadra,sexist comments by politicians,misogyny
Congress party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Varanasi. On March 27, Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister and BJP leader Mohsin Raza said, “Priyanka is a Siberian bird, who migrates from one place to another after seeing the weather conditions”.(AP)

Let me predict it at the start. “Shut up, you, presstitute,” is the response this piece is going to draw and that’s precisely the point. The language our politicians and their supporters use is not just colourful, but also full of expletives. Nobody from the BJP condemned Union Minister VK Singh, who popularised the use of the word presstitute and few from across the political board seem willing to take action against those who make sexist, misogynistic, downright derogatory remarks.

Elections generate heat and political rivals often trade charges but some of our netas are unabashed. They don’t even put up a pretence of being civil. On March 27, Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister and BJP leader Mohsin Raza was quick to dismiss Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as a ‘Siberian bird’. “Those who are questioning the existence of Lord Ram, what are they going to find in Ayodhya? They are going (to Ayodhya) as they have remembered Babur (Mughal ruler). They want to search for his remains there. Priyanka is a Siberian bird, who migrates from one place to another after seeing the weather conditions,” Raza said. Earlier, another Bihar cabinet minister and BJP leader Vinod Narayan Jha dismissed her entry into politics by saying, “She is very beautiful but other than that has no political achievement.”

Most political parties have pledged their support for the women’s reservation bill but the boys club is nowhere near ready to accommodate them. Hours after Haryanvi actor-dancer Sapna Choudhary joined the Congress (and subsequently denied that she had), BJP MLA Surendra Singh said that the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was taking his family’s tradition forward by drafting a “dancer like his mother Sonia Gandhi.” There have been subsequent reports that Choudhary could join the BJP.

For women, physical appearance is the constant at the heart of the derogatory sexist remarks. The problem is not that the male politicians are just being politically unsavvy or politically incorrect. The problem really is that they seem to grudge women a place in politics, a profession they guard as a male-only bastion.

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who has served as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, has, in the recent past, been guilty of the same offence, even though he comes from a party led by a woman as strong as Indira Gandhi, and later by Sonia Gandhi. Speaking of a younger colleague, the three-time chief minister said, “Our party MP, Meenakshi Natrajan, is a Gandhian, simple and an honest leader. She keeps going from place to place in her constituency. I am a seasoned smith of politics. Meenakshi sau tunch maal hai.” Translate it any way you want, ‘tunch maal’ means hot chick.

Few political parties, if any, have ever taken action against tongues that have wagged. In 2016, the BJP was forced to act against its Uttar Pradesh vice president after he called Mayawati a prostitute. Daya Shankar Singh, a Thakur leader, was sacked after he called the Dalit leader a “vaishya” who sold assembly tickets. Singh’s remarks came just ahead of the state elections and the leadership had no choice but to expel him. Remember, however, that his wife was rewarded with an assembly seat and he was reinstated a year later.

That doesn’t always happen. In most cases, the offenders get away.

Aam Aadmi Party legislator Alka Lamba was referred to as someone who roamed around all night. “Raat bhar ghoomne wali,” a colleague said on the floor of the house. The Speaker suspended BJP legislator OP Sharma from the assembly for two days - even though MLAs asked for a thirty day suspension - and soon, it was back to business.

JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, while opposing the women’s reservation bill in the Lok Sabha infamously said it would only benefit ‘par kati aurtein’ (well-heeled women). Many will also remember how Sanjay Nirupam attacked a feisty Smriti Irani in the course of a television debate. “Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi.” (You used to dance on TV and now you consider yourself to be a political analyst.”

Our male politicians don’t get the simple point they should have realised decades ago: women in politics are here to stay. What political parties can do is rein in their own and draw up a model code of conduct.

As I wrote earlier, decency cannot be taught, nor is it to do with class, or VK Singh, a former army chief, would not have said presstitute and gotten away with it. Women have broken the political glass ceiling; only the men refuse to see it.

First Published: Mar 27, 2019 16:48 IST