Beauties among the beasts

I wonder what it is about male politicians, in India and elsewhere, that they just cannot be chivalrous about women, justifying the famous adage `male chauvinist pigs’ coined for their sex years ago at a particular international womens’ conference.

I recall fighting with a local Samajwadi Party MLA in Bombay when Mayawati had pulled out support to Mulayam Singh’s government in Uttar Pradesh years ago that brought about a concerted attack on both her person and her persona by the SP in both Lucknow and Bombay.

We all know how the Samajwadi Party planned an attack on Mayawati’s person in Lucknow for which she has not yet forgiven Mulayam Singh. In Bombay, at a meeting in support of Mulayam, one party MLA said, “I just don’t know what Kanshi Ram sees in Mayawati. Naa surat hai na shakal hai pur Kanshi Ramji hamari baat maanne ko taiyyar hi naihn hain. Maya ki hi maya mein kho gaye hain!’’

That had me glaring at him with such fierce anger that he was a little taken aback and had to ask what he had said wrong. “Aapki surat ya shakal hai?’’ I asked him. “So what does Mulayam see in you!’’

“That’s not the same thing!’’ he snapped back “It is!’ I retorted. “You are in the party for your ability to win elections, not because of your looks. So why single out Mayawati?’’

He moved away and did not persist with the argument and we continue to dislike each other – we cannot even stand in the same room even today without our tempers flaring. But I have the satisfaction of knowing he did not get very far – on his looks or on his talent; he stopped winning and then got dropped by SP leaders for he brought nothing to their table.

Around the same time as this, a little earlier, I had heard Sharad Pawar refer to noted socialist leader Mrinal Gore as `Pootna maushi’’, after the demoness who attempted to poison baby Krishna on orders from King Kansa. Gore had just exposed a major land scam in which Pawar was involved and had some months earlier undergone surgery for breast cancer; so Pawar’s remark was particularly despicable in that context.

Bal Thackeray, too, has been full of uncharitable remarks for women politicians and media personnel, referring to the latter as Phoolan Devis for their aggressive writing. There was a time in the 1990s when leaders like Mrinal Gore, Ahilya Rangnekar, Pushpa Bhave and others, all socialists or communists whom he hated, had taken him on for his fascist and dictatorial ways. They were all past their sixties then and he had been extremely uncharitable in pointing to their age and saying how they were frustrated because they could not `produce’ anything worthwhile anymore.

Then, very recently, a particular Congress leader in a private conversation with some of us referred to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as a frustrated spinster and said that is why she was so shrill and unmanageable. “Because she sees all other women married and with children and wants to vent her frustration on the rest of us.’’

To top that, Union Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal recently made a tasteless remark about old wives becoming less attractive and now even a party like the BJP, which speaks all the time of shuchita and samrasta etc, has a leader like Narendra Modi who talks about `50-crore girl friends’ commodifying both women and relationships.

Of course, union minister Shashi Tharoor, about whose wife that despicable comment was made, gave it back to Modi in no time at all saying his wife was priceless and Modi would know the value of women only when he had one to love. That brought forth a remark from BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that Tharoor should be made minister for love affairs and not human resources. I recall during as serious a protest as one against the 26/11 attacks in Bombay, Naqvi had referred to the candle-light vigil as a silly protest held by `women wearing lipstick and powder’ that forced the BJP to publicly distance himself from his remarks.

Now Mulayam Singh brings things back full circle by saying he is against the women’s reservation bill because rural women who are unattractive would be at a disadvantage at winning votes and elections. That presumes too much – that only urban women are attractive (he probably has not taken a good look at how beautiful village belles are even without the benefit of makeovers done by city girls) and that people vote only for a beautiful face (in which case he must be talking about only himself and other men in his party like the one in Bombay a la Mayawati years ago).

But this male chauvinism is not confined to just India alone. I recall years ago when Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister of Britain and facing a challenge to her leadeship, one of her own Conservative Party MPs entrusted with gathering support for her was caught in a sting mounted on a phone conversation with another party MP. He described Thatcher as a `mad cow’. “The cow wants me to speak to you…’’, etc.

Very lately during the American presidential campaign, two Republican candidates seeking election to the Senate were soundly defeated for their remarks on rape and abortion. Richard Mourdock from Indiana described pregnancy resulting from rape as a `gift of God’. And his colleague Todd Akin lost a seat from Missouri which he could have won but didn’t following the controversy over his remark that rape was legitimate if it resulted in a pregnancy as otherwise women’s natural systems would shut down and prevent conception!

But now who would have thought that someone like noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani would fire a shot in favour of women and that, too, by taking on Lord Ram over his treatment of his wife, Sita. Jethmalani has said Lord Ram was a `bad husband’ for putting Sita through her trial by fire and even more agony just on a suspicion raised by a washerman in his kingdom. He has steadfastly refused to apologise for the remark despite a controversy, saying he has said nothing wrong.

I am not really a fan of Jethmalani in any way but what he says today has been said by many poets, writers and even politicians (like during the Dravida movements of the South) and other commentators in the past. In today’s polarised political atmosphere the remark seems rather extreme but while Lord Ram had many exemplary qualities to be emulated even today, I do not think any modern-day woman would put up with such nonsense as he perpetrated on Sita and would certainly not want such a man for her husband, even if h was the last available male on this planet!

So, as Jethmalani stands out as the singular politician who has spoken out the truth, I can only recall what Lady Thatcher, the only woman at the table said when all European heads of state were discussing the European Union. One such male leader vehemently opposed her suggestions on policy for the EU. He tried to tell Lady Thactcher that she was, well, a dolt just because she was a woman. “If God had intended the world to be ruled by a woman, he would not have made Adam!’’

Mrs Thatcher snapped back, “Well, he did better on second thoughts when he decided to make a woman (Eve)!’’ That rendered all the men speechless and she got her way on that policy.

That’s my kind of a (woman) politician. And all our women should similarly blow the MCPs away!

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