How to assess Sonia Gandhi’s leadership?
Kiran Bedi can’t have the cake and eat it too! While serving in uniform, you can’t play a Medha Patkar or a Mamata Banerjee!
Women empowerment is taken, mistakenly,as putting women in political office! This is just an empowerment by accident! The “widows syndrome”! In the Western societies women empowerment is much more rationally understood, where women come to social and political leadership through a process of educational and cultural attainments of women. In the USA, women have made to the top of the corporate world, we have so many success stories as with women CEOs!
In India, we don’t yet fully appreciate the women’s participation in male-dominated world. Even in bureaucracy, we see the gender discrimination blatantly. A Veena Sikri is fighting for information or a Kiran Bedi is fuming and the government, in panic, is said to have offered secretly Governor’s post!
Even the political parties don’t yet believe in the 33% women’s quota! The Communists make a ritual noise, the Dravidian parties only ask for OBC quota, the North Indian parties are more honest!
So, women empowerment should be seen from a broader angle, now many new avenues are opening up for competent women, media, corporate world, army, police and sports. IT industry has brought a radical change in employing an increasing proportion of women in software and related areas.
After the election of a woman President of India, we seem to be going through a process of new debates and deliberations about women empowerment. Mrs.Sonia Gandhi ,after announcing the ‘nomination’ of Pratibha Patil as the candidate said famously, this was a historic moment! How historic is it and how justified such a statement?
Women empowerment today is taken as the number of women who are at the top in the political world, in the political parties. This is just a distortion of the realities. Women empowerment in politics is only an accidental empowerment!
The whole country knew and also the whole country felt embarrassed to be see witnessing how the Congress party went about announcing Shivraj Patil as its first choice and then when opposition and discontent brew within the party itself went about ,not searching for the next best, but for eliminating the very best in the party one by one. Mr.Pranab Mukerjee was widely favoured within the party and outside by the Left in particular and yet he was vehemently opposed and denied the chance even to be considered in a democratic manner. In fact, Mrs.Gandhi went about her way in a more secretive manner. She went and met Mayawati first and convinced her and got her word to support any candidate selected by the Congress. With that assurance, she went and met the Left leaders who till then were only opposed to Shivraj Patil and was all for opting for Mukerjee. They didn’t foresee Mrs.Gandhi planning to ambush them! So, when the name of Pratibha Patil was trotted out by Mrs.Gandhi, the CPI leader Mr.Pranab Bardhan voluntarily came out claiming to know her from his Nagpur days. Then, Prakash Karat & co had no other escape route but surrender under the banner of a ‘woman’ candidate!
Was this a mere tokenism or substantial development towards women’s empowerment? We have to further ask for elucidation only from the comrades. They only have all these fine notions of distinctions of tokenism and substance!
So, now we have Pratibha Patil and let us hope for the best.
But now, when the woman President is installed at Rashtrapathi Bhavan, our thoughts naturally turn towards the more substantial question of whether we have advanced or advancing towards the noble goal of empowerment. In the near or distant future?
Indian society is what it is. It is a highly hierarchical society. It is a patriarchal society too. Even where matrilineal societies prevail, as in the north-east and the far south, the only politically correct position is to enhance the status of women to an equal status in the political sense only and not in an economic or social status sense. Though women are now enjoying equal property rights and this has naturally given them a sense of equality and a sense of confidence and security vis a vis men, there are certain traditional disadvantages, traditions of social customs and practices make the women still dependent upon men in so many subtle and not so subtle sense and manner.
One very important aspect is the new phenomenon of role models in the persons of women leaders in politics. Indira Gandhi is taken to be the typical role model, though there are other women leaders as Prime Ministers and Presidents, in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Also in the Western societies, UK, Germany and Norway where we have had women Prime Ministers and Presidents. In the USA we are also witnessing the highly interesting debates as to the chances of Mrs.Hilary Clinton winning the Presidential race.
So, the very world of politics which once was the sole domain of male power has opened up to the female power. All this is a welcome development. There is also enough number of women in the legislatures and Parliaments across many societies.
It is important to remind ourselves here that women empowerment is not just a current fashion. Even in the previous times, centuries, there were highly gifted and wise women personalities who were role models in their times and even for later times. Catherine the Great ( on the throne from1729-96) was only one such outstanding enlightened ruler. There were many like her, rulers, patrons and friends of philosophers and sought wise counsel from some of the greatest minds of their times! We should see women empowerment in a more broad historical and sociological perspective.
But then there is also the curious phenomenon of women leaders not setting good examples of role models. Women leaders, be it a Margaret Thatcher or an Indira Gandhi had shown remarkable propensity to anti-democratic ways and also a streak of authoritarian behaviour pattern. Though these women leaders didn’t show any tendency towards high corruption in public life, but then, they were neither free from such propensities, as Thatcher and Indira Gandhi were accused of favouring their progeny, their sons in objectionable deals and arm-twisting the law.
In other women leaders’ cases in our neighbourhood, we see the sorry plight of some of these leaders embroiling in corruption scandals and also favoritism and unluckily some of these countries are ruled by army junta and as such women leaders negotiating ‘deals’ is an unwholesome development. Women leaders, give the fact they are women, have a natural tendency to be of believing types, and soft and gentle and as such they are prone to be exploited by the male bastion, politics still is!
So, to be seen women leaders getting into high controversies and in breach of high Constitutional laws as in the case of Indira Gandhi and other leaders in our neighbourhood taken to task by courts of law and even sent to jail creates a very not so pleasant and progressive view of developments!
In India too we are yet to make an objective analysis of the legacy of Mrs.Indira Gandhi. But future historians would surely won’t give a favourable verdict. While Mrs.Indira Gandhi achieved some notable victories, in war with Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, her domestic agenda would surely draw adverse verdict only. Her social legislation like the abolition of the princely purses, national of banks etc might cheer up the Left-inclined opinion, she was certainly was not a democrat or a practioner of a strictly Parliamentary democracy. The Emergency would be her eternal damnation by all democrats and democratic-minded public opinion.
Now, in the post-Pratibha Patil phase of our political evolution what are out thoughts?
The ‘successfully’ elected women leaders, Mayawati, Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee and not the least ,Mrs.Sonia Gandhi are the current role models. So, what their elections and what their thoughts, ideas and ideals and actions demonstrate?
We see the women leaders, at least some of them, show fatal weaknesses. Personal wealth accumulations through dubious means and also facing corruption charges, and also resorting to anti-democratic practices are some of the short-comings we find with the women leaders. Much more worrisome is their limited vision, narrow focus, regional mindset, also a political course that doesn’t indicate any progressive, secular and cosmopolitan approach to the evils of casteism and communalism. Mayawati enjoys some commendation for her all-inclusive castes approach. That is welcome. But at the same time, her own personal wealth accumulation suggests a negative sign.
Temperamental characters cant lead a people for long. Also, an anti-progress, anti-development mindset also doesn’t help.
Also, the social and educational and cultural background of the society that gives to these women leaders also counts. In the case of the ADMK leader, it is the film world. In fact, even the DMK style politics is based on the film world style only, fiery and empty rhetoric and empty glorification of a past and when it comes to the brass tacks, it is nothing but blatant casteism and chauvinism only. In the case of Mayawati too, it is casteism and nothing more.
Women empowerment today is seen only in a narrow focus, women in politics are seen as empowered. This is of course a much-flawed view. There are women leaders outside politics, in diverse fields and they are all doing outstanding services. One of my grievances, I have written more than once, letters to the Presidents of India about awarding Bharat Ratnas on women leaders in several fields. However, in politics, we see today women leaders have given to a new breed of sycophants, most of them utterly unsuited for public service but they come handy for these women leaders as fixers and toruble shooters! They are the ones who give rise to all sources of troubles, high corruptions and highly illegal corrupt deals too! Readers can guess who these are today in the case of each one of the women leaders we admire!
Now, as to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership qualities?
The subject is almost treated as a taboo! One is not sure why. May be, we Indians are too unsure of a foreign-born individual, married into a high status family of Nehru and that too with so much mental baggage we carry that whenever the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty politics comes for discussion, we become terribly paranoid. Yes, this is the syndrome that makes the current Sonia Gandhi-led politics a subject not for a rational debate and discussion.
There are very many senior Congress leaders owing allegiance to Sonia Gandhi today. But they choose silence! They have been sidelined. Yet, there is no murmur even, let alone any internal debate! There are also a large number of traditional Congress families and they would remain so even if these are left out by Sonia Gandhi’s approach to neglect the state-level leaders in preference to the DMK,RJD and BSP leaders! How she will grow the Congress party in these states? In fact, the state level Congress organisations are slowly led to death and disintegration! I am sure the current doings of the leader would be creating terrific heartburns and one day it might erupt into open revolt. One has just to read the history of the 122 year -old history of the Indian National Congress! In politics, the short-term strategies might work for short-term only. In the long-run, it is the basic principles and new ideas and new convictions that bring new followers to a party like the Congress. Time-servers would always be there as time-servers only!
A great leader is one who articulates a vision and a new ideology that draws the youth, the common people and the elites. Today, one doesn’t see any such vision, only the next step!
But one thing is certain. Sonia Gandhi too resorts not to a democratic political path. This is a pity. Her ‘nomination’ politics has produced a terrible moral vacuum and a breakdown in the Indian polity’s time-honoured values based on transparent and moral principles of Gandhiji-Nehruji. Those principles have led to an open society that India and our democracy has created. It is the open society, a more humane and a more liberal society where people at all levels feel that there is a chance for every citizen to participate in the democratic process of the polity can only give the inner strength to the polity and the people. The democratic process must start from inner party democracy, from the village party units to the district, state and central party office, the AICC and the CWC.
A nominated Prime Minister and now a nominated President and that would only lead to more cynicism and a negative attitude towards politics based on principles.
One hopes that sooner this is realised, better for the country.