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If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence?
Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation. This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results.
For example, in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee recorded victory by banking on support from the female electorate and similarly, in Bihar, Nitish Kumar got re-elected with female voter base. This change is mainly keeping in mind the forthcoming election of Uttar Pradesh & Punjab where women always played crucial role in win or loss (also given their role in the Farm Laws).
But No! if we go by the reservation in the ministerial berths which also needs contesting in the country that has nearly half the populace as women. With 0.65 billion women and a sex ratio of 901 females against 1000 males, the gender gap has further widened from 66.8% one year ago to 62.5% this year. The disproportion percolates in all the social welfare aspects including political leadership especially being in a patriarchal context. Although we have managed to change the grassroot political positions,  we have not done enough to improve the overall state of women, but also not enough to subjugate the patriarchy which influences political situation.

Patriarchy and idol worship are hurdles

Patriarchy augmented with idolising are the key hurdles for women politicians to rise in the country. Every time whenever Modi is questioned for his conduct and governance, a naïve reaction comes from the close aides and the media, ‘Modi nahi to Kaun?’ It is furthered with reaction like, ‘Modi Nahi to fir kya Pappu?’. National and regional media have polarized the country in a way that there is no alternative.
While I don’t see any problem in Rahul Gandhi leading, who happens to be my senior from the University of Cambridge; and at the same time, as an ordinary citizen and a learned woman, I like to contest the very argument with facts and saying, ‘Kyon? Mein Hoon Naa? Well, two things that I may appreciate more about Rahul Gandhi over Narendra Modi are the better respect for women and the use of better language in public (especially women) addresses.
Others have also contested this claim including Arundhati Roy. If an ordinary citizen like Narendra Modi, a tea seller with hidden education and hidden marital status can claim the top position of the country; any ordinary learned citizen including me certainly can especially with clean and caring image as we have had in the past with Dr Manmohan Singh. 
Both these leaders do give a hope about leadership emerging from ordinary citizenship (and not always nepotism) and so do not underestimate the power of an ordinary citizen as long as there is democracy; indeed, that ordinary citizen requires to acquire the traits and talents of a leader.
Important question here is whether most ordinary citizens perceive and accept the ordinary leaderships when they claim politics as a dirty business and refrain from supporting their spouse and siblings get into politics? Nobel Laureate Esther Duflo and her team carried out a study on women leadership in India which showed that places, which has never had a woman leader, men, in particular, rate their male much higher than the female.
So, the problem is not in my or any ordinary citizen’s political leadership, the problem lies in the citizens’ mindset of patriarchy and idolising politicians. For example, in a country/capital where an acclaimed educationist, Atishi Marlena, loses election to a star cricketer Gautam Gambhir, it speaks volumes of patriarchy and idolising, unfortunately even by the women.
Both Modi and Dr Singh could rise in the partisan and patriarchal politics but for a woman it remains a challenge without extraordinary favours from the party and party (men) leaders. In the past, women thinkers like Fatima Sheikh, Aruna Asaf Ali, Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule etc. could have made great leaders in the politics however, they did not get the deserved platform and lift.
Today, the young ones like Shehla Rashid who rose to the occasion but could not find substantial support to stay afloat in the political realm. Then there are sexist perceptions about women leaders, which are also extremely disturbing. Still there are a few women who have managed to find their way into mainstream politics on their own.
Further, women who have made a place in politics are often the produce of family support (aka nepotism) or celebrity which is not a problem at all if we see the percentage of women in politics since the bottom line is we need more women out there. Young politicians like, Ramya/Divya, Alka Lamba; Shruti Choudhary, Jyoti Mirdha, Priyanka Gandhi, Mausam Noor, Priya Dutt, Supriya Sule, Mohua Moitra, Atishi Marlena, Remya Haridas, Chandrani Murmu, Goddeti Madhavi, Mimi Chakrobarty, Nusrat Jahan, Raksha Khadse, etc.
The north-eastern states although have a strong maternal grassroot leadership, it is showing slower rise of women politicians with people like, Sunmaya Gurung, Agatha Sangma, Pratima Bhowmik, Dipti Halam, Lalthlamuani, Jarjum Ete, etc. Ironically, unless family, there is no woman leader to give subsequent woman leadership except Sonia Gandhi.
For things to improve, women leaders also must extend support to fellow women. Politicians like Mehbooba Mufti, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Brinda Karat, Uma Bharti, Smiti Irani, Nirmala Sitaraman and the others alike have extra responsibilities to bring ordinary women into politics. Several women activists are also working as well as whistling about various governance aspects. Only few chose to plunge into the political arena like Medha Patkar and Irom Chanu Sharmila, however, were let down by either the voters or by the ill election practices. This is a matter of concern as a huge gap in political leadership may be filled by the women activists. 
There are also women who led the CAA-NRC Shaheen Bagh, the Bhima Koregaon, and now the Farm Laws protests as examples where several women leaders are standing the test of the time. The way women resistance was suppressed and ignored last year in the CAA-NRC is to be noted and condemned. 
Importantly, the women appealed the Court in January this year that their case be heard in parallel to the Farm Laws. From that point last year, it is a big leap this year that near 200 women farmers from Delhi's neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana gathering today at Jantar Mantar for a Kisan Sansad to continue the agitation against the Farm Laws.
Many women in these movements have the potential to be inducted into the mainstream politics with the system and the society support. Alas! Is the system and society ready to vision these potentials as we are quickly judgemental in tagging people antinational when they rise to dissent laws, policies and politicians. The antinational narrative itself is patriarchal just like the corona lockdown where the women are extremely and more impacted than the men.
More and more women from humble backgrounds are rising in dissent today if not in direct politics and that itself is a good sign of challenging patriarchy and idolism. If a parliament can be made up of 40% people with criminal records, I’d rather opt for 40% women protestors who are fighting for the ordinary citizens matters and thus living the true meaning of serving the society which is actually the duty of every politician.
Given an opportunity, the younger lot of women leaders like, Aisha Ghosh, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zagar, Nodeep Kaur, to the recent Disha Ravi have a long way to go in their political career if they aspire. As society, we need to nurture such women leadership as it is a future need otherwise, we are heading towards leaderless country including of men. The current state of ‘Modi nahi to Kaun’ is also an example of that.

Urgency of women leadership

Would a woman lead differently than a man? In India, Women Leaders Have a Legacy. In our #FridayswithFuture sessions (on 16th and 23rd July), we discussed at length the past and possible contributions of women in Indian Politics. Besides the simple math of populace share and gender equity, there are several reasons why we desperately need women leadership at the top positions. First and foremost is the need to change the political narratives and discourses including that of having women politicians.
A lot of stress in masculine politics is on the economic development that is not even happening and seems to hit more in the future however, in this process the ecology is badly compromised with all time high deterioration which is further augmented with the climate change impacts. Similarly, a lot of stress is on external defence by military instead of strengthening the internal safety and security from caste-class-communal divisions. In this process, even the democracy is now challenged with the various legal tools activated to subjugate the freedom of the populace including the rising women voices.
Further, in the present Council of Ministers, 42% have criminal cases, 90% are millionaires. The proportion of Union ministers who have declared criminal cases has risen by 3 percent after the expansion. Mind you, all the ministers listed with criminal cases are men! This scenario may change when more women are in there if we go by gender share by sheer cases, conviction rates and jailed inmates. 
Then, the desire to earn more and have all the luxuries in the position also needs relook as the current system is inherited from the colonial period. We need more devolution of powers to the grassroot to empower the ordinary citizens to make decisions and take actions as is defined in Gandhi’s Swaraj system of governance.
Esther Duflo’s study of women leadership in West Bengal shows clearly that women are more abled to bring local changes. Various studies also show that women are more focussed on everyday life issues such as, water distresses, child-maternal health, food security, wellbeing, domestic violence, equitable distribution, education, etc.
I may sound naïve, if I strongly believe the country needs to focus on these issues prior to making defence plans against neighbouring countries and going to moon and mars. What is the point of making external defence and development when the internal is shattering with social-ecological-communal-cultural diseases? It is like a plastic surgery over a diseased body just to make the body look good to the outside world. Learning from China-USA on this matter who are weak inside but showing to be great nations is a good idea to leapfrog towards a strong welfare nation.
Time and again it is proven that women understand the importance of internal strength much better than men. It is not a coincidence that six out of eight leading countries in Happiness Index are run by women: Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Simonetta Myriam Sommaruga President of the Swiss Confederation, Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg and and the all-time great German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Their priorities are more on the human dignity and delivery, care and concern, peace and prosperity, ecology and environment, health and happiness, and even towards gender balance governance have helped them do well even in the economic development. Even a small country like Bangladesh is projected to do better than India and it cannot be a coincidence that it is also led by a woman Sheikh Hasina since 2009.
We need to change the political narratives and discourses towards building peace and ecology. We need freedom from caste-class inequality, communalism, economic race, weaponizing defence and indeed gender biases. We need the right to live and love. We need the fundamental right to dream as rightly put by Mahashweta Devi. All of these and more challenges borne out of masculine politics have to be faced and fought by women leadership.
In the process of fighting out patriarchy and for positions, many women leaders end up internalising masculinity in their approaches as seen from, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Mayawati, Uma Bharati, Smiti Irani, Nirmala Sitaraman, Jayalalita, and even Indira Gandhi. So actually, it is about masculine and feminine way of governance. From time to time, we need to be reminding about adversaries of the masculine leaderships even by the women as it will worsen the state of the society faster than otherwise only by patriarchy. It is important to groom and encourage women leadership to be feminine and avoid the masculine route of success using the development and defence agendas.
For a sustainable and equitable alternatives to the dominant economic development and defence model, a radical ecological democracy framework is needed to achieve direct democracy, local and bioregional economies, cultural diversity, human well-being, and ecological resilience. Such vision requires more women participation in the decision-making process and positions.
World over the women leadership is showing the path by challenging the patriarchal perception and pursuit of politics besides registering the success in crisis like, corona management and communal management. We need emphatic political leaders. We need ordinary leaders with extraordinary skills of accommodation and collective aspiration. We definitely need to change the narrative that being compassionate is a sign of a strong leader and leaders need not be arrogant.

Women leadership today

The fear of rising women leadership is natural in a patriarchal system as young women now are now at the centre of crucial political contestations finding their way. The pattern of rising women politicians through different realities and impulses, from the feminist activism at the universities to the global climate and wellbeing movements.
The more political assertion now is an impact of deeper reforms — from the steady rise in numbers of women in higher education to their emphatic presence in voter turnouts, from cracks in the patriarchal consensus to the silent changes incubated by internet subcultures around gender identity. This political and democratic rise is still outside of and despite the conventional party and political structures.
The political parties pretended the rise of women politicians for long time but are now capitalising the situation with seemingly unexcited by the possibilities for democratic politics and unapologetic of extending least/no support to accommodate or alleviate them. In a recent conversation organised by Anhad, some (listed below) rising Young Women Politicians spoke about several aspects and struggles of inclusive democratic India:
  • Aishe Ghosh, President JNUSU, SFI Delhi State Committee Member
  • Aparajitha Raja, Convenor, NFIW Young Women’s Committee
  • Atishi Marlena, MLA, Member of the Political Affairs Committee, AAP
  • F. Zorameni, Member, All India Professional Congress
  • Kawalpreet Kaur, All India Vice President AISA
  • Pooja Shukla, National Vice President, Chatra Sabha, Samajwadi Party
  • Pramila Mehra, Member Central Committee, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha
  • Priyanka Bharti, National General Secretary, Women’s Cell, RJD
  • Sakshna Salgar Yuvati State President, NCP
  • Sayooni Ghosh, Youth President, All India Trinamool Congress
This amazing session of multiparty leaders certainly showed signs of hope for future women politicians. It was evident that the parties have made space for women as leaders and ministers; however, the path charted isn’t easy and is not ought to be also as acknowledged by them. While these young women spoke fearlessly of the challenges, they also reflected how they learned to tailor their political endeavours.
The challenges and concerns women politicians face in their line of work are many, as it is a process of social change, and social change is slow. From political literacy to legal knowhow besides the social engineering all needs to be learned. 
The lack of experience in political administration, gender prejudice from predominantly male staff who work in the system, restrictions around women’s mobility, non-conducive work environments, and elected women being represented by their male relatives (as proxy or stand-in representatives) to lead deliberations and decisions, are all part of the problem. Senior women leaders who have charted their political paths may endorse the struggles of the juniors and thus must extend support to increase the women clout.

Way forward

Do the men have a vision of a better future? It seems not! Since men have dominated the political canvas for near 75 years and since India is slipping backward in every sector, be it education, environment, nutrition, health, violence, farming, and even economy & international relations. The demand for women leaderships is huge despite the long wait for equality in the parliament. The anticipation of more states and more parties may increase coalitions and is likely to increase support for more local women leadership. What is important is the discussions on women leadership is fuelled more.
Two concepts that can help rise women leadership and at the same time make the society more sustainable and liveable are the peace and ecology. Women need to change the political narratives to peace and ecology. Peace needs to be carefully and patiently woven from the ground up, not enforced through peace accords struck behind closed doors by the political elites, as there no examples where deals among elites have actually ended violence instead those end up being merely trickling-down peace as fraught an ideology as trickling-down economics.
Similarly, ecology also needs to be grounded and not enforced through developmental initiatives from remote top-down like the Buxwaha, Ken Betwa, or the Jal-Jungle-Jameen. Both peace and ecology are bottom-up governance approaches and for the long patriarchy in the society the men politicians are challenged to think bottom up. The women leaderships around the world have shown ways to go bottom up with the everyday matters including our very own Chipko Andolan and Narmada Bachao Andolan.
If change is to be brought -- it is we the women that need to recognise the intersectionality of the challenges as well as the opportunities that women leadership entails. Women's groups need to unite across lines of diversity. Women, regardless of religion, class, wealth, education, and caste must target the common changes - patriarchy and misogyny.
"This struggle is inherently in us" ... is so so true. For women to rise in the leadership, ordinary women like in West Bengal and Kerala have to also rise for which education may definitely play a crucial role in women empowerment. However, the protests of Kerala Congress leader Lathika Subhash and the questions about the dropping of KK Shailaja from the new Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet showed that even progressive Kerala struggles with paternal condescension to women.
So, what is needed is to find the glue that will bring all the diverse forces and impulses together as a critical mass that is required to either pull the women’s presence or push the heavy weight male politicians. Alas! The democracy is so powerful an idea for the opposition to come together.
The 1993 constitutional amendment for Panchayati mode of Governance that mandated a third of village council leader positions (Pradhans) reserved for women has a lot of learning and lessons for bringing more women to the fore of the Indian politics. In the covid times, while across the globe the women leadership showed the stark difference in covid, what is under-noticed is that the women Pradhans of the Gram Panchayat too have a high success rate which confirms that woman are better crisis managers as they focus on details.
Also, why not non-tribal women learn from the tribal women in the context of gender justice, women leadership and women movements for saving constitution, secularism and democracy, and socialism. Those of us from the mainland must also learn from the strong women-led movements that existed in history, and that continue to exist even today, in many of the states especially of the Northeast.
The demand for 33% reservation for women in Parliament remains challenging, and political parties seem to do little to remove the structural barriers that discourage women. The pandemic, which has taken a disproportionate toll on women’s employment and income, calls for a politics that responds to these altered realities. Most of all, it demands that political parties catch up with women who are not silent spectators — who speak the language of democracy and are unafraid to build new solidarities as seen during the pandemic.
We need the young women leaders to actually come together and take the lead in defining the road map towards 2024. We should support, encourage more platforms and dialogues - and request senior leadership of each of the major political parties to listen carefully and build cadres and fearless new generation leadership.
India can have a better future -- we need to join hands to change the mindsets. Women represent vital constituency yet the general inclination for male leaders both by men and women in the country is concerning and requires changing. Hope the perceptions about women leaders change post corona crisis and with the advent of the climate change impacts locally.
For that, the women leadership also needs to be cultivated with welfarist schemes beyond the gas cylinders, ration cards and bank accounts to challenge the masculine defence and development discourses. More studies on women leaders is an important way to percolate into the minds of the citizens and those with leadership qualities besides changing the perception about the women leaders. Whenever women matters are discussed, the dissemination should be strategically made to get more men to listen.
Changes are also required from the constitution of the Parliament and the overall governance system. We can go for a policy of either PM or President be a Woman at any given time. We must definitely have Women as Home Minister, Environment Minister, External Affairs Ministers, Water Minister, Child and Youth Development for some time now. We must start Ministry of Happiness & Wellbeing, Ministry of Peace, and even Ministry of Wellbeing of Men which can be also led by the Women in the initial phase.
We have to move to 50% reservation for women based on sheer statistics and curb the proxy politicianing. We must push for alternate men-women tenures for the positions of, the Chief Justice of Supreme-High Courts, the Governor of Reserve Bank of India, the State Governors, Chief of Defence, the Niti Ayog and all other large and small public/private institutions including university Vice Chancellors.
I’m invited a couple of times to join the mainstream politics. But for some reason or the other the idea has not worked; however, given the situation in the country, the call for women leadership is keeping me also on the toes to engage more into the everyday political matters. I’m in the process of writing my ideas of a ‘socially-ecologically just society’, doing community engagements on various matters, connecting with few people in the politics. Besides, observing closely the larger political canvas of the present time while volunteering for a few leaders from the India Greens Party and the Socialist Party (India). Hopefully in the future, I may take it as a profession to serve and savour.
At any given day, I’m ready to take on a debate with anyone-anywhere about, ‘Modi Nahi to Kaun’ and defend my candidature as ‘Kyon, Mein Hoon Naa Iss Desh Ki Ek Aam Sashakt Nagrik’, an empowered citizen of this country who can work towards building peace and ecology. We need women with green (ecology), white (peace) and orange (wellbeing) hands to live the tricolour in true spirit, which many women have including me.
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, keen political observer. More about the work of Mansee can be learned at: www.mansee.in

Comments

lucky said…
Aukaat dekho apni, aukaat. Modi virodh mein itni andhi ho chuki ho to aao fight karo election sasti blogger.

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