Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women, Neta and Rajneeti

Let me begin by citing a quote by a chief minster of a state. Digamber Kamat, the CM of Goa, suggested that women from his state should not bother to enter politics, because they have much larger responsibility at their hands of bringing up younger generation of the state. So they should not worry about 33% woman's quota and dream of getting into politics. Well, Mr. Kamat does not make any dent on the national politics but unfortunately he happens to be the chief minister of the state I belong to. And therefore his quote matters to me.

How and why a CM of a state like Goa known for his pristine beaches, high GDP, best health care and 100% literacy should discourage women entering politics? Why women participating in politics in India is seen as threat by the current breed of politician?

Looking back in time in 1930-40s large number of Indian women from every social strata participated in social reforms and political struggle of India. From grass root social worker to party president to military out fit women participated on their own merit and with their free will. This was possible only because the leaders of that time, like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and others who encouraged women to participate in the political struggle had recognized the power of woman in politics. Probably most of these leaders who were educated abroad had realized that for a democratic process to flourish and strengthen, educating women and participating them in the political process is the only way ahead.

However this vision went missing in free and independent India. Women in general disappeared from the positions of power and eventually from the political scenarios soon after local governance began to rule. Only few women who had powerful dynastic connection could come to power and were accepted as leaders by male politicians. Ironically, although these few women who occupied the most powerful positions in Indian politics did not try to influence masses to encourage woman's participation in politics.

On the one hand, India falls in the lowest quartile with respect to the number of women in parliament (9.1%). Even the UAE, with 22.5%, has more women representatives, according to the UN's 2008 survey of women in politics. However the situation is changing gradually, as we see many woman chief ministers ruling the Indian states today. It would be wrong to suggest that all the woman politicians have come to power through dynastic linkages, but one cannot deny that political mentor ship has certianly played a big role in some of these woman's career.

The question is has these women politicians made any significant difference in the quality of governance?

According to the study, the rise of Indian women as panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. Malnourished, suppressed, uneducated, violated and discriminated against, Indian women have the odds stacked against them. Even birth is a hurdle, thanks to widespread female infanticide in rural areas. In short at the grass root level women leaders have made significant difference to the society by changing the quality of life of the family and community at large. Although same cannot be said with woman who are at the helm of power, but there are examples like the chief minister of Delhi, who I beleive has been voted to power for three consecutive tenures because of her quality of governance and the changes she brought in the state.

Let me come to my third point of the subject which is the portrayal of women politicians in movie Rajneeti directed by Praksh Jha . Considering that Indian viewers do not patronize political thrillers nor do the political parties take kindly to realistic portrayal of Indian politics, a genre of political thriller is almost missing in Bollywood film making. To avoid the controversy as well the harassment of censorship from the political power, Jha thus shields himself behind the story Mahabharata to make a covert comment on the current political scenario.

The whole movie revolves around the male characters who are the main controllers of political power. However, there are three female characters in the movie who are directly/indirectly connected with politics either because they are part of the family that is ruling the state or by her own ambition to be part of the political process.

Firstly, character of Bharati ( based on Kunti) is a daughter of a politician but ideologically inclined to politics of left . Bharati's political ambitions get cut short when she gets accidentally pregnant. Her rebellion is thus subverted to submission when she is married into a powerful political family and turning her into a helpless matriarch watching her family members disintegrate before her eyes.

Second female character appears in the movie is of a ambitious grass root level woman worker, who wants to climb ranks of political power, played by Shruti Sheth. This woman who has neither any political mentor, nor dynastic heritage to support her ambition has to subjugate herself to all sort of abuse which includes sexual favours in order to achieve her goals.

The third character is of Indu , played by Katrina Kaif, is a vivacious daughter of a industrialist who lands in the corridors of power not by her own choice but by fate and dynastic heritage as her husband gets killed in the political vendetta.

Jha's portrayal of all the three women /politicians mentioned above, comes across as weak, and helpless women who succumb easily to male coercion and are mere puppets in the hands of men who are deciding their fate in politics. Although Jha explains the woman's characterization in the movie as fictional and based on the Mahahbharat( i.e. kunti ( Bharati)and Draupadi( Indu) one cannot escape similarity of Indu's mannerisms with that of current Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Also the character of Shruti Seth seem to have no resemblance in the original epic.

To conclude, in Rajneeti, Jha carves a stereotypical characterization of women in politics. Which only strengths the perception that politics is a male bastion ,steeped in violence, revenge, treachery, corruption etc. Is Jha like Mr. Kamat trying to tell us look, if you get into politics this is what your life is going to be . Used and abused by male politicians who are very powerful, conniving, violent and full of deceit and deception. Is Jha trying to tell us politics is not the space for woman?

My point is if we want to change this perception( Politics = Violence and corruption) than we need more women to enter the politics and make the difference, by changing the face of politics from violence to development and progress.

Question is are we ready to make that change?


  1. i agree with your comment on the movie. while they used katrina as a major publicity stunt for promotion but the movie had no substance for the female characters and there was so many opportunity. one more fail for female role in bollywood movie.

  2. Thanks!
    In a recent interview Jha has admitted that Katrina's similarity to Sonia Gandhi is only a marketing masterstroke. And the key selling point of the movie. =))


  3. what a load of crap..fluff without any substance..

  4. I watched Raajneeti yesterday after reading your post. Even though the movie as a whole is well made and it was extremely entertaining, the feminist within me was highly disappointed looking at the plight of the women characters in the movie.

    I could still sympathize with Bharati for doing what she did , succumbing to the pressures of the orthodox society of the 80s but Indu is shown to be a modern girl of the 21st century ,who is brought up to think independently and make her own choices. All in all, the message I got from the movie was that even though the plight of the Indian Women has significantly improved over the last two decades, the freedom we enjoy is still very limited and subject to the jurisdiction of our parents/husbands/sons!

  5. The movie is just a work of fiction and the ideas of a few men who wrote it.

    I feel modern India is seeign a lot of powerful women politicians.We have Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati,Jayalalitha...Sushma Swaraj, Sonia Gandhi...etc

    But of course it's very difficult for a woman to climb the ladders in politics. It is totally a male dominated sector and most politicians use women to only pull women's votes, they hate to be ruled by them or to see them in important positions of power!

  6. Rajneeti is a well made film. Good script, crisp dialogues, slick editing and solid performances from every actor making it very engrossing and entertaining movie on the theme like politics.
    But that's besides point.

    And yet, as I said women characters do not come across as strong women of politics. I was wondering if Jha could have scripted it any differently, specially the character of Indu.

    As you correctly pointed Di, Indu comes across as young woman who has all the trappings of independent woman of current generation. Driving fast cars, speaking in foreign accent and even making first moves on the man whom she is in love with.

    And yet Indu ends up marrying a man( Brother of her lover) all because he(lover) convinces her to do so.And later joins the politics after the death of her husband just to 'keep' the seat in politics warm for next generation.

    Well, Jha in this movie is certianly not concerned about projecting woman's image in politics. All he is interested is in bringing some elements of Sonia Gandhi's life on the screen. Which he later admits as master stoke of marketing strategy on which the movie is sold.

    Although he says the character of Indu is inspired from Draupadi(?) , Jha divides Mrs. Gandhi's character between two different female actors .

    Firstly as the foreign girlfriend (Sarah Thompson)of Ranbeer Kapoor( Samar Pratap), who despises politics as she witnesses ugly underbelly of it. She even fights with Samar Pratap suggesting how she would like to keep her unborn child away from such life. That s Sonia Maino, before her marriage into Gandhi family.

    Second part of her life is depicted in the Indu's character where she unwillingly joins politics after her husband's( Rajeev Gandhi) death ; to keep the political lineage of Gandhi family alive. That is Sonia Gandhi.

    I agree Janki, today if woman has to join politics, she has to prove her worth twice and be the 'man' in the politics to be accepted in the political arena. Being as dictatorial, corrupt and even more ruthless than some of the men. For me, that is not the true nature of woman's political power. 33% reservation for women in parliament can make the difference to Indian politics and polity. It may change whole nature of politics as it is perceived today in India. (Violent and corrupt.)

    This has been proven in some of the developing nations, as the quality of politics changed for good of the society as more women came to power. Netherlands is case in point.And this can be the only way ahead in a democracy.
    I beleive it is just a matter of time till Kamats, Yadavs and likes decide to accept it and encourage women to participate in politics instead of telling them to look after the children in the homes.

  7. I feel politics, corruption, violence and other negativity related to it are synonyms.

    Wherever there is politics, there will be corruption in smaller or bigger proportions and there will be violence- finally it's all about power- it's ruthless!