By Shikha Sreenivas
Priyanka Gandhi is yet again at the receiving end of sexism in Indian politics. BJP leader and union minister Mahendranath Pandey called her a “special utensil” of the Congress, brought in to impress Uttar Pradesh voters before the assembly election.
“In houses of Uttar Pradesh villages we keep some special utensils of steel. Whenever special guests visit us, then we clean it and keep it on the eating table. After they go away we keep it back,” Pandey said.
Earlier, Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Vidyasagar Sonekar called Priyanka an “old file” brought out at the time of elections. Before that, Vinay Katiyar took the title for being the most sexist of them all when he spoke about Priyanka Gandhi to Times Now saying, “What star campaigner? … There are so many other more beautiful female campaigners. There are heroines. So many others more beautiful.”
The common thread in the above comments is the assumption that Priyanka Gandhi’s role in the Assembly elections isn’t instrumental. If that were the case, why not compare her to a brahmastra like Sagarika Ghose did. But even as Priyanka has steadfastly refused to dive into politics, restricting herself to Amethi and Rae Bareli, she reportedly played an influential role in bringing Navjot Singh Sidhu into the Congress ahead of the Punjab elections to five state assemblies, apart from brokering the Congress-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, questions are also being raised as to why so few women are standing for elections. In Goa, 50 percent of the voters were women, but only seven percent of the candidates were. Of the 40 constituencies, 29 don’t even have a single woman candidate.
According to Times of India, the Chief Minister of Goa, Laxmikant Parsekar, said it’s easy to give women a ticket “but getting the person elected is a challenge”. According to him, people want their MLAs to fix their electricity, to get a tap replaced, to accompany them to the hospital if they have a sick family member… which, according to him, “is difficult for women to do”.
So, according to Parsekar, who thinks it will take another decade for women to be capable of taking strides in politics, women are not only incapable of getting themselves elected but also incapable of following the duties they get if they get the position. The resentment for Priyanka Gandhi seems to come from a similar idea of women’s incapabilities.
This kind of ideology makes it even more difficult for women within their parties to stand for elections.
The Indian Express wrote about Palwinder Kaur, who campaigned for the sarpanch election in 2013, and faced snide questions about why she was coming home late at night. In Punjab, where she campaigned as an AAP assembly candidate, only seven percent of the of the candidates were women. She said that her opponents circulated morphed pictures and obscene videos of her. “If any woman tries to raise her voice, they want questions raised on her character so that she would sit at home.”
Taking all of this harassment and lack of confidence into account, perhaps Parsekar as well as all the other male politicians (a lot of them on this list in The Wire) should rethink the reasons why politics may be hard for women. The answer is them.