Fear of the fair sex

MPs seek refuge in an untenable argument

ajay

Ajay Singh | March 8, 2010



In one of his moments of candour, the legendary Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, India's first civil supplies minister said, “We want legislators as political goondas.” Though Kidwai, himself a no-nonsense minister and a crusader against hoarders, might have said this in jest his words proved to be truly prophetic. The manner in which certain regional leaders are trying to bully the dominant view of parliament on women's reservation bill ironically reflects the precise mindset that the legislation seeks to guard against.

Sharad Yadav put it succinctly when he said that parkati (women with shortened hair) would rule the roost after the reservation. Uttar Pradesh's strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav inferred that wives of upper-caste bureaucrats would get elected in absence of any clause to reserve seats for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) within the quota for women. Lalu Prasad virtually declared a yuddh (war). But why did these regional satraps marshal all their resources to scuttle this legislation?

If you go by the logic of history, you will realise these leaders conjured up their objections out of thin air. India's democratic transition since 1952 has consistently encouraged the rise of the plebeian. If upper caste members comprised over 64 percent of the Lok Sabha in 1952, their numbers nearly halved in 2004 and 2009. All this has been achieved by active participation of the social underdogs in democratic elections. Obviously the upper caste-dominated Congress leadership retained its stranglehold till it enjoyed the confidence of the OBCs. With the emergence of Ram Manohar Lohia's brand of socialism, this shackle weakened and ultimately broke loose when OBC leaders started asserting their independence.

The subsequent emergence of Chaudhary Charan Singh in UP, Karpoori Thakur in Bihar, Chiman Patel in Gujarat in 1970s marked the assertion of intermediary castes. The empowerment of OBCs got a further fillip in the post-Mandal phase which virtually transformed the political landscape of the Hindi heartland. Studies conducted on the demographic composition of UP and Bihar assemblies prove that the OBCs dominate assemblies in both the states (from 30 to 40 per cent). The process of empowering the marginalised has gone to the extent that re-establishing the political hegemony of the upper castes is almost unthinkable in Bihar. Similarly is the case in UP, where upper castes are reduced to play second fiddle either to Mayawati's BSP or Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party - both products of social empowerment of the marginalised. The rise of the OBCs in social and political status is quite evident in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even in Gujarat despite its projection as a bastion of Hindutva.

This trend reflected at the national level as well as the representation of OBCs in Lok Sabha ranged between 25-30 percent in 2004 and 2009 elections against their 40 percent share in population. An analysis of the educational background of these MPs shows that there is an increasing influx of more educated OBC MPs who are not dependent on traditional loyalties and have emerged leaders in their own right. This positive trend must be understood in view of the women reservation bill. Like OBCs, women in India have faced a long history of suppression and oppressive male domination. That women have been bracketed with dhol, ganwar, shudra and pashu in North India's brahminical order is a commentary on the bad old ways. By any yardstick, in India women constitute the biggest social chunk among the marginalised that remains fettered by a grand social conspiracy of vested interests.

In Bihar, women have proved to be agents of good governance in a unique political experiment where they have been allowed to run 50 percent of the local self-government. This prompted chief minister Nitish Kumar to change his stance on the bill though he had raised certain objections in 1996. Now he says he has revised his view after taking into account the Bihar experiment. Obviously given the preponderance of the OBCs among the fair sex, it is highly unlikely that upper castes and English educated women will get to dominate the electoral scene.

Phoolan Devi was neither from the English-speaking elite nor an upper caste but she won from the unreserved seat of Mirzapur twice. Rabri Devi was a housewife till a day before she was catapulted into politics by her powerful husband. The internal dynamics of Indian politics are not so simplistic as is being made out by Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad. In fact, the biggest fear of these regional satraps comes from the fact that they are finding power slipping through their fingers and going to their better halves who may prove better at governance. Perhaps the imminent power shift within their households is what worries these leaders the most.


 

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