“So when people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago,” said Michelle Obama in a highly personal endorsement of her husband at the stage of the Democratic National Convention.
Her speech hit all the ‘stand by my man’ notes: Obama as loving husband; doting father; man of honour, integrity and courage; self-made success; the quintessential American et al. And yet her turn on the stage generated more tweets than Mitt Romney’s acceptance of the Republican nomination.
First Ladies are hugely important in American politics, receiving nearly as much scrutiny as their husbands. Or more so, since everything they say, do, and wear has to be just right. Above all, they must be well-liked, more so than their husbands. How much ever the liberals loathed George Bush, they could never summon up the same bile for Laura. The big question instead was this: what’s a nice librarian like her doing with a chump like him?
Pick the wrong spouse or none, and you may never become the President of the United States. A man who woos the trust of the voter must first show he’s earned the love of a good woman who can testify to the strength of his character, purity of intentions, and devotion to family and flag.
As the land of the singleton politician — from Panditji to Didi — we are more progressive in these matters. And we certainly don’t care who our politician is hitched to — or how many he is hitched to, given the predilection for bigamy. Most of us don’t even know the name of Manmohan Singh‘s wife, let alone her opinion of her man.
The political spouse in India, however, does serve a number of important purposes, albeit of a less savoury kind.
The Indian wife is highly prized for her loyalty and unquestioning obedience; stellar qualities that make her the perfect political proxy. Lalu Prasad Yadav was infinitely blessed in this matter. Rabri Devi bore him nine children, dutifully tending house and later the Chief Minister gaddi when her husband was forced to resign over a massive Rs 950 crore fodder scam.
She was the ultimate working mom, running an entire state from the safe confines of her home. “I am an early riser. I get up at 5 am. I prepare breakfast for myself and my children. I attend to office work around 11 am. I avoid going out to meetings,” Rabri Devi told Rediff.
And yet fulfilling her marital duties brought her nothing but grief: “lliterate and a newcomer to politics, Rabri Devi was nick-named ‘Rubbery Devi’ by her critics who alleged that she was a rubber stamp for her husband and a mere figurehead. They said Mr Yadav ran the state by remote control.”
But not all wives have to undertake such lofty responsibilities of state. Sometimes, it’s enough just to put your name on a election ticket, like Dimple Yadav who helped her husband secure the Kannauj Lok Sabha seat. No one dared take on Uttar Pradesh’s first bhabhi who won the by-election unopposed.
“The decision to field Dimple from Kannauj was seen as Akhilesh Yadav‘s final act of redeeming his honour,” observed the Economic Times. While there has been plenty of coverage of Dimple-Akhilesh love story, her army brat background, passion for painting and fitness, no one has bothered to ask her opinion on a single political issue. Her job is merely to be, a silent symbol of her husband’s power.
The better half can be just as useful outside the political arena. When it comes to corruption, our politicians prefer to keep it in the family. And bigger the family, the more to loot, as former chief minister M Karunanidhi has so effectively demonstrated:
In the past decade, his family – comprising three wives and their children, as well as his nephews, has grown increasingly influential in business and political circles. For instance, one of Mr Karunanidhi’s grandnephews, Kalanidhi Maran, owns the Sun TV cable network, radio stations, a Tamil newspaper named Dinakaran, and SpiceJet, a leading low-cost airline. Mr Karunanidhi’s wife and daughter control Kalaignar TV. Two of Mr Karunanidhi’s grandsons, Udhayanidhi Stalin and Dayanidhi Azhagiri, own film studios and cinema theatres in Tamil Nadu.
Surely, Karunanidhi wouldn’t have prospered quite so well without three good women willing to bear him so many hardworking children and personally shoulder the burdens of large-scale public theft. Corruption is a family business in India, and none of it would be possible without the ghar ki Lakshmi.
America is welcome to its family men and their doting wives. We prefer our politicians free of spouse and spawn. The very good news: if either BJP or Congress gets its way, our next Prime Minister will be a bachelor. Hallelujah, praise the lord!