Attagirl!



Mayawati had Kanshiram, Sheila Dixit had her father-in-law Umashankar Dixit, J Jayalalithaa had M G Ramachandran, Uma Bharti first had the patronage of Rajmata Vijay raje Scindia and later of L K Advani who she acknowledged as pita-tulya (akin to a father) and, of course, her brother standing beside her through thick and thin.

Sonia Gandhi had Rajiv Gandhi, Mrs Indira Gandhi and the rest of the Nehru-Gandhi family charisma to back her up. But Mamata Banerjee had no godfather at all. Or, indeed, no godmother as Pratibha Patil has always had (first, Indira and then Sonia Gandhi).

I was awaiting the results of the West Bengal elections with bated breath – for Mamata’s win would mean she is the only woman in this country who has made it to the top, quite on her own.

It has taken her nearly 15 years – which is not much in a lifetime – and various flip-flops between alliance partners before she got both her formula and timing right. And she is now all set to be chief minister of West Bengal. Which holds out a lot of hope to many women in this country who might want to go places without the baggage of male patronage as has been generally happening until now.

I am not a votary of reservation for women because I think it demeans women and defeats the purpose in two crucial ways: one, it goes with the presumption that women are not good enough to fight men in their own backyards; that they are somehow inferior and so the poor things need some special privileges. And two: reservations, in any case, are of no use to women who do not belong to powerful political families – the large number of women in parliament today are all related in various ways to powerful male politicians of their own time.

My most enduring image of Mamata is one of her getting up onto the roof of her car some years ago and attempting “suicide’’ by tying her sari pallu round her neck – as if that was guaranteed to do the job! But despite the hysteria (and histrionics) of all of her shrill protests, my tears brimmed over on the morning of the counting as I saw her using the same pallu, drawn over her shoulder, to wipe the sweat off her brow – much as my grandmother and mother used to do, in the days before air-conditioning, through their household chores. No delicate lace-edged handkerchief for her and absolutely no self-consciousness at all about being seen on national television thus. That is a homespun image that could prove very endearing as well as enduring.

To that extent, even President Pratibha Patil, who is the only other woman I can think of who got to that high office without any godfather in her family, was ever more sophisticated with her full-sleeved blouses and crisply starched saris – and, yes, slippers to match as against Mamata’s blue-strapped Hawaii chappals (will Bata now record high sales of this humble footwear?) which no one will ever be seen dead in outside their own bathrooms.

There is something to be said for simple living and high thinking, after all – friends in Calcutta have told me how, despite the fact that Mamata finally began to draw a lot of funds from industrialists who had seen the writing on the wall in recent months, she was not urged to go out and buy silks and jewels for herself – every last paisa was turned over to her party for fighting these elections. How much do white cotton saris and rubber chappals cost, after all?

It would be interesting to see if she goes for a makeover as chief minister but that’s beside the point – a thought like that perhaps even trivialises her victory. My excitement comes more from the fact that Mamata’s victory perhaps now opens a small window for women on their own in politics. Going by my own experience in Maharashtra, I have been unable to come across a single woman – single in more ways than one – who has not had a male supporter standing firmly beside her. Even President Patil began life with six brothers watching her like a hawk before she was married and later a husband who worked his career round hers to facilitate her progress in her chosen field.

I know as a matter of fact that Sharad Pawar had wanted to give tickets to two prominent women at one time – one was single and the other divorced. Every five years, as elections came round the corner, he would call over both. The standard question to the singleton was “So you don’t want to get married?’’
To the divorcee, it would be, “I do not know what your family situation is now?’’

It took a long time for them to catch on that they were not getting tickets because Pawar thought they could not make it on their own without a husband or some other male relative fobbing off the unwanted and clearing paths through the political thickets for them. So these women, living in one of the most progressive of Indian states with pioneers like Jija Maata, Ahilyabai Holkar and Savitiribai Phule, among others, who broke so much ground for women in earlier times, have still been the poorer. They can draw some twisted sense of satisfaction, though, from the fact that at the last election Pawar, in a way, paid all the women and particularly President Patil a backhanded compliment by referring to her MLA son as Rajendra `Patil’; instead of Rajendra `Shekhawat’ (Patil’s husband is Devisinh Shekhawat).

Sometime ago when I asked Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily about how he thought the women’s reservation bill would benefit anyone but women related to male politicians, he said, “In the beginning it might be like that. But it will get better. It might take time but we will, by and by, have women independent of any male shackles.’’

Well, Mamata was always independent of any male bonding (or shackling). Her constant companion was only her sincerest dedication to her cause. So I believe she is a better icon for women in politics than any of the others: you don’t have to be hip, you don’t have to be sophisticated, you don’t have to be bejeweled. All you have to be is yourself, in a simple cotton sari and Hawaii chappals. Attagirl!

And attagirls, all, who want to follow in her footsteps.

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  • http://www.hindustantimes.com Pankaj Vohra

    A very well written blog Sujata. It was a pleasure reading it. I am sure Mamata’s win will inspire more women. She has made it to the top due to her own determination and grit beating a full male dominated field. Hats off to her. Attagirl. Brgds.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanks, Pankaj.

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  • ashok

    Indian politics is becoming increasingly like a club for people born to greatness. Every once in a while a person, even more creditable if it is a woman, comes along who kicks the door open and admits herself. Hoping Didi will prove as able an administrator as she is a fiery politician.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    I am hoping for that, too — in the interest of all women. otherwise they will dismiss all women as inefficient administrators and mamata as capable of nothing more than histrionics.

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  • http://- Rajeev

    Mamata is now going to royally S*crew Sonia and her party royally both at the center and in west bengal.
    Well done Mamata…

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Lets wait and see shall we? And not take away from Mamata her phenomenal achievement.

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    ankit Reply:

    Mamata already asked Sonia and Congress to shut up or walk out of alliance, so sure she was of her win. As someone on Congress payroll, am sure you know that.

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  • Idiot

    My reply is not about this topic. But one of your wiritng about Rajiv Gandhi. By your reply for a comment you have proved that you are a paid journalist.
    One of the reader replied with the other face of Rajiv Gandhi, which was so cruel, that he once made a statement “when a big tree falls the earth shakes”. this is how Rajiv justofied killing of 8000 innocent Sikhs by Congress as a compensation for assassination of an old witch. This shows how cruel he was.
    You could have replied to the reader that your experience was different and this case was different . Both are not related. But you replied. Advani justified Jinnah !!!. Disgusting. where does Advani came into picture. he was no way realted to the topic. Even then Advani’s statement didnt kill anyone !!!. It proves either you are a PSYCHO or paid journalist who will write anything for money.
    BTW, how much u got for this article? :)

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Advani’s rath yatra killed hundreds, according to teh Srikrishna report . That not enough for you?

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    Rajeev Reply:

    But Advani did not get Bharat Ratna for his murderous rath yatra whereas scum Rajiv Gandhi got Bharat Ratna for his misdeeds.

    You are a paid journo..there is no doubt about it.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    If the BJP had been in power long enough, dvani would have got that Bharat Ratna, too. Unfortunately,Congress spoiled his plans by coming to power in 2004 — as a paid BJP troll, surely you should know that?

  • Jaiprakash

    The article is really good. Inspiring as well ! In college, I came across lot of girls claiming to be independent and always taking their own decision. But, I believe, They never realised what actually it is !! I think, this article will give them a answer.

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    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Thanx

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  • http://www.hindustantimes.com Sujata Anandan

    If the BJP had been in power long enough, Advani would have got that Bharat Ratna, too. Unfortunately,Congress spoiled his plans by coming to power in 2004 — as a paid BJP troll, surely you should know that?

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  • reena

    Nice one,
    I just hope taht her makeover is not Like Mayawati,
    Anice sari and sandals …she deserves, but Not birtrhday cakes of 500kg, , jewellery, silk outfits , garland of currency notes, like mayawati,
    hope that she delivers all what’s expected of her,
    she didn’t do much about the railways though, so i’m worried

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  • http://incorrectpolitically.wordpress.com/ Akhilesh

    Fantastic article…..this line says it best ” So I believe she is a better icon for women in politics than any of the others:’

    BTW, would it be too much to ask who the two women were you mentioned in reference to pawar?

    Akhilesh

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  • Anonymous

    Reservation per se discourages excellence .However, to set right social imbalance ,it needs to be enforced but limited to a specified period.A well defined cut off date will effectively encourage the addressed communities to use the opportunity to the maximum.Perpetuating the reservation regime for ever will only encourage mediocrity

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  • Anonymous

    Zia, my mate WHEN WILL YOU STOP SEEING TREE FOR THE WOODS.
    Now lets say THERE IS NO RESERVATION BASED ON CASTE OR RELIGION ., BUT BASED ON FAMILY INCOME.
    Please answer me, WHO WILL BE THE BENEFECIARIES,
    will it not be the SC/ST , OBC AND MUSLIMS.
    The preference will be given to the poorer of the poor.
    IT COMES TO SAME , ONLY NO LABELS , OR PERHAPS ONLY LABEL
    INDIAN, not a bad idea really.

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  • Anonymous

    So long as the Nehru dynasty is in power,reservations for any caste or religion,are provided for garnering votes and are hogged primarily by the fat cats of that segment of society and secondarily by the congress and babudom.Time has come for the weaker sections of society to refuse to be exploited by the govts that offer small doles and make big promises before the elections for looting the country.Marx,the real father of Marxism,had advised the working classes to rise against those who exploited them,saying ‘You have nothing but chains (Gulami ki berian) to lose’.Communists of West Bengal are the agents of trade and industry(the two corrupt classes).The bulk of their party cadres consisted of power-hungry criminals.A large number of them were inducted into various departments of the govt.Personaly, I won’t be surprised,if an honest probe holds them responsible for some of the heinous crimes,including the death(killing?) of infants for destabilising the govt.There is a saying in Chinese:’Don’t give me fish,teach me how to catch fish”.The real well-wishers of deprived classes must put pressure on the govts to provide free educational facilities for the first two children of parents of this class in the schools where the children of babus and netas generally study.It must be ensured that Jagjivan Rams,Paswans and Jogis (the fat cats of these castes and the corrupt favourites of the powerful families)don’t hog the reserved seats.It should also ensured that the students of these classes are not discriminated against.And this can be ensured by honest govts.Therefore,the voters of deprived and underprivilleged classes must vote only for honest candidates.This time Anna hazare could guide you in this matter.The supporters will certainly be the agents of the corrupt.

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  • indian

    It should strictly be based on income. Otherwise there are going to be internal wars as we have seen like gujjar agitation, jat agitation. People will realise this one day how congress is doing the harm by using divide and rule policy.

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  • Sumit Bose

    Helloooo, is or isn’t India a secular country?
    If we are indeed a secular country then we must not have any reservations based on anyone’s religion. We must also not have the Prophet’s birthday as a national holiday, alongside our Independence day and Republic day. We must cease being pseudo-secular. That is the only way to give a sound stability on the bedrock of individual merit. My query to this muslim and the pseudo-secularists is why cannot they give a direction to the country for merit to be the sole criteria for personal or social advancement. In areas that were seceded to Pakistan, the people of this muslim’s community drove out almost all Hindus and Sikhs, and instead of the muslims of India, who voted whole-heartedly for the Muslim League in the 1946 , who after coming into power, resorted to “direct action” of brutal aggression on Hindus, stayed on in India. These muslims who stayed on in India, faced no official harassment or social terror. They live and are viewed equally by the official machinery and the judiciary, something that is to speak voloumes of the “large-heartedness” of the Indians. Mr muslim, please dont spit on the plate you have been feeding yourself.

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  • anil

    I think some politicians in politics will fall sick if they don’t take minority tablets every now and then.
    Are you one of their kind?

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  • Anonymous

    It seems totally naive and wrong for this blogger to conclude majority of the people of the nation ”cannot bear the sight of even crumbs being given to minorities!” On the contrary, the writer should have emphasised the well-known fact that even after almost 65 years of independence, the minority still refuses to become part of the majority without realising the broad range of benefits that will accrue to them!

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  • http://twitter.com/shreyasdesai Shreyas

    Instead of focusing on rightwing, why don’t u ask real questions? Why rulers of India for 600 years require affirmative action? Why is it that muslims breed at twice the national rate, do poorly in women education and empowerment and education?

    Probably you can take guy out of muslims but can’t get muslim out of a guy like you.

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    RajX Reply:

    For people like Zia, it is easy to take the tax payers money based n religion. To fix social issues you are talking about, it requires a lot of hard work and social reforms. There are very few social reformers in the Islamic community unlike other religious groups in India. You won’t find any dayananda saraswati in that community.

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  • Anonymous

    They call you Muslim because you don’t want to erases your identity as a Muslim. Greatest tragedy of Muslim community of India they think themselves orphan.Living ghetto not to mix up in national circle, not participated in business ,education, never think to be competitive with, Hindu in every field.Don’t want forget their historical past. Till obey Maula and Moulvi.When they break the out of dated old norms and came forward with new norms which are appropriate with new era till people called them Muslim.

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  • RajX

    Every Indian is a minority in some way or the other. I doubt if SRK’s kids need help from the government through reservation but the “high” caste Kashmiri pandits in refugee camps in Delhi who were driven away from their lands by Muslims will definitely need government help. But the in sad and pathetic India, the Muslims who drove the “high” caste Hindus out of Kashmir and stole their property will get reservation while the poor “high” caste Kashmiri pandits will be left to rot in refugee camps with no support even though he has lost everything because he was loyal to India. Our country is full of injustices where villains are turned into heros and victims are turned into oppressors, up is down and down is up.kalyug where communal groups rule the roost and have their people like Zia firmly in place in the Indian main stream media. We need a revolution.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5LKDVIAY6R5XC3TZH3EJ5DGQUM R

    who do you think will benefit from this? only the creAMy layer

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  • RajX

    I have discovered a donkey…you.

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  • engrich

    yes and feel proud.

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  • engrich

    forceful making was hindu samaj was the first major terrorist act in india.there was no forceful conversion.

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  • RajX

    Take the oil away from the middleast and they got nothing we want. They are just a bunch of not so civilized societies.

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  • Neha Saini

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    [Reply]

  • abhishek sharma

    If Iran is behind the Delhi attacks on Israeli diplomat, I think Iranians have taken this war a bit too far. I mean attacking your enemy in a third country can’t be justified. Or else it could be someone else who wants to see the only Shia theocracy in the world cut to its size.

    This is really going to be interesting. For Indians, this terror attack is another reminder of her view around the globe as a reluctant nuclear power.

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  • http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/singly-political/2012/03/16/rebel-without-a-cause/ Rebel without a cause : Singly Political

    [...] all praise for the West Bengal chief minister when she swept elections in her state last year (See ‘Attagirl!’ May 13, 2011), recalling to mind what one of my earliest mentors had told me: a woman has to work [...]

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