If there is one thing that is always refreshing about the Indian political circus, it is that voters seem to care little about the marital status of its politicians.
An Atal Behari Vajpayee could never have become the President of the United States. As a lifelong bachelor he would have been immediately suspect in the eyes of the electorate. Even more dangerously effete, he wrote poetry. The American electorate requires a solid family man in the White House. They need to see a supportive spouse on the campaign trail. They want to see the smiling faces of the kids on stage at the party convention, in a sea of red white and blue balloons. Marriage equals family values. The fact that family man after family man politician has been exposed as having a fling with a White House intern, tweeting penis pictures to random women, hiring hookers, sexting with male pages, has not changed that equation at all.
India, as a society, is obsessed with marriage, much more so than the United States. “Settle” has become a word in most Indian languages. As in if you have crossed 30 and show no signs of getting married parents worry that beta settle nahin hua. Gay activist Ashok Row Kavi told Out and Around magazine “If you go in the train, strangers will ask you, ‘Are you married? Why not? How old are you?’ Then they will go into hysterics. ‘Oh it’s so sad. You have such little time. You may not have children. How tragic.’” But when it comes to our leaders we don’t seem to care whether they are settled or unsettled.
Sushma Swaraj might brandish her mangalsutra like a weapon but no one batted an eye at Atal Behari Vajpayee’s singleness. Jawarharlal Nehru was a widower and effectively single when he became PM. Narendra Modi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Abdul Kalam – the list of our “single and successful” goes on and on.
So it’s a little strange that the BJP’s fortnightly publication, the Kamal Sandesh is trying to make an issue out of Rahul Gandhi’s bachelorhood.
“Rahul Gandhi vivah na hone se dukhi hai, wahi Congress ki dubtee naiyya ko kaise bachaaya jaaye, isse wo swayam jujh rahe hai,” it wrote in an editorial. (Rahul Gandhi is sad because he is not married. How will he save the Congress’ sinking ship when he is struggling himself.)
There are many strikes against Rahul Gandhi. Dynasty. Noblesse oblige. Dull oratory. Entitlement. Dining with the Dalits reality show. But what does his lack of marriage have to do with his ability to save the Congress’ sinking ship? It’s not like the Congress needs more hands on the deck (or in the till). In fact, the BJP, which loses no opportunity to castigate the Congress for its dynasty politics should be happy that its crown prince has shown no signs yet of continuing the dynasty on his end.
It’s especially baffling that the BJP would try to bring this up when it’s fielding Narendra Modi as a star campaigner in the UP polls and Uma Bharati as a candidate. “Bachelor pot taunts kettle,” scoffs the headline of a story in The Telegraph.
That too is a little unfair as the headline writer somehow assumes there is something inherently shady about being single. In American politics being married is a kind of shorthand for trustworthiness. In India, on the other hand, marriage is about duty. It’s about insurance for old age. And it is about happiness. “They want you to be happy so they want to ask about your marriage,” writes Row Kavi about those strangers on the train prying into his private life.
Perhaps it just means that with politicians, we don’t care about their old age and don’t give two hoots about their happiness. But, for sure, being married does not necessarily equate to trustworthiness. When it comes to politics, it just means more scope for nepotism and patronage. Our parliament is full of young politicians who have inherited the gaddi because it was daddy or mummy or hubby's seat. Morarji Desai might have been rigidly upright. But his son Kanti Desai’s business dealings was a different story. Lalu Prasad Yadav had enough of an unsavoury reputation. His brother-in-law just made the story worse.
For Narendra Modi’s supporters his brahmachari status is part of the allure of his sacrifice. He claims inspiration from another dynamic lifelong brahmachari whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated today – Swami Vivekananda. The blog India Retold says Modi’s detractors cannot grasp his appeal.
Caught in their narrow prisms of politics, power, pelf and perfidy, they cannot fathom that a fakir-like leader – no family to propagate, no lavish life-style to sustain, no desire to make and hoard/hide money – is doing things differently because he thinks differently and is energised by different values that are nobler and higher than theirs.
Mamata with her plain white saris is happy to project the image that she is married to her job. “Marriage, bah, all that is faltu stuff,” she scoffed to CNN-IBN’s Sagarika Ghose. Her late mother might have differed but the electorate loves that they get their Didi with no power-hungry, influence-peddling jijajee to worry about. The woman in Indian politics “must be a rule breaker to succeed and endure,” writes Ghose in another blog. The first rule Mayawati, Mamata and Jayalalithaa break is the commandment: Thou shalt get married. After that it does not matter if you wear pink salwar kameezes like Behenji in Lucknow, or hoard jewels like Amma in Chennai or wear crumpled white saris like Didi in Kolkata. Of course, being unmarried has not in anyway diminished Mayawati’s allegedly mammoth appetite for corruption. But imagine the scale of that corruption if Mayawati had a Lalu Prasad Yadav sized family she needed to support.
If the BJP is smart it should not draw undue attention to Rahul Gandhi’s unmarried status. Neither should the Congress fume about it. It might remind voters that when it comes to Indian politics, that just makes him a very suitable boy.
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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2012 14:35:43 IST