Eye on Maharashtra: Will men in politics ever learn manners?

All political parties treat women with scant respect but even among them, some do treat women worse than others, writes Sujata Anandan

Eye on Maharashtra: Will men in politics ever learn manners?

Sujata Anandan

What could be wrong with being Rabri Devi? As far as I know she executed herself reasonably well as chief minister of Bihar, albeit with the help of bureaucrats loyal to Lalu Prasad Yadav and has been an exemplary wife, mother and citizen of this country. So why do Maharashtra’s politicians use her name almost as a term of abuse?

When she first became chief minister of Bihar, the then Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray at a public meeting said, “I have stopped eating rabdi ever since she became chief minister!” There was raucous laughter from the men in the crowd. Later when some women journalists raised objections, one Sena leader said apologetically, “Ours is a purushi (male-dominated) party. Our leader sometimes forgets he is in the presence of women.”

But today that mockery is being turned on his daughter-in-law, Rashmi Thackeray, wife of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, with a BJP spokesperson referring to her as “Maharashtra’s Rabri Devi”. The insinuations were multiple, and all in the negative.

The BJP has been relentlessly after Uddhav Thackeray, trying to convince the people that he is unfit for governance after his surgery for cervical spondylitis. In a recent tweet, now deleted, party spokesman Jiten Gajaria said he expected Rashmi Thackeray would soon become Maharashtra’s Rabri Devi by taking over from her husband as chief minister.

So? What’s wrong with that, should such a situation arise- though there are several veterans in the Maha Vikas Aghadi who could as easily slip into that position. So why pillory Rashmi Thackeray for not even expressing such an ambition, presuming it even exists? For Rashmi Thackeray is no Amruta Fadnavis, who made her husband Devendra Fadnavis look silly by singing and dancing for a cause he could easily have addressed with a policy decision as chief minister.

Eye on Maharashtra: Will men in politics ever learn manners?

Nor indeed is she like her ambitious sister-in-law Smita Thackeray who used her surname for all it was worth as a springboard to enter politics- when she threatened to join the Congress, Uddhav Thackeray responded by saying were that to happen, he would buy up all the flowers in Bombay to be woven into a giant wreath to be sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi to express his remorse at the sad fate that had befallen her party. “And even then, the flowers would not be enough to express the depth of my sincerest condolences to the Congress,” he said, effectively killing Smita Thackeray’s political career in the Shiv Sena, Congress or any other political party.

Now, with her husband’s rising political star, Rashmi Thackeray could have chosen any role for herself in the Shiv Sena. Instead, she chose a supporting role vis-à-vis her husband (unlike Amruta always attempting to outshine her own) and to guard her two little sons closely and bring them up as exemplary citizens.

She had been good friends with Hema Deora, the wife of then Bombay Congress president Murli Deora who had given her a lasting piece of advice. Hema too had two sons and she had told Rashmi, “No matter how much power or money you have, if your children grow up all wrong, none of it will be of use even one bit and you can then consider yourself a failure. And remember power and money are the most corrupting influences in the world!”

Now all that Rashmi had wanted out of life was a boutique for glassware. She loved crystal and porcelain and her husband could easily have set her up in a crockery shop. But she grew afraid that there was too much power and money at Matoshree, the Thackeray residence. Moreover, her children tended to wander into their grandfather’s sanctum sanctorum and pick up his filthy words of abuse for political rivals.

“They repeat the words mindlessly and no one dares correct them. No domestic help or party worker can summon the courage to admonish a Thackeray grandchild and when they merely laugh and let it go, the children think they have said something smart. I cannot allow them to grow up using language like that and I am the only one who can set them right for my husband is too busy to be able to discipline them. So, I must give up my crockery store and stop them from falling into bad habits and bad company until they are safely adult,” she once told me.

Aaditya and Tejas Thackeray do their mother proud today; so, does Rashmi Thackeray need to prove anything else?

Equating her to Rabri Devi was petty though I do not think it as an insult (although Gajaria meant it as such) for even Rabri Devi’s children have all grown up well-- did we hear of any one smoking coke and drinking champagne in one binge as the son of Pramod Mahajan did? And almost died that night like his binging companion, Mahajan’s Secretary did! That happens only in the sanskari BJP, someone might remind Gajaria.

But while Gajaria has apologised after a case was threatened against him, I think it is now the turn of Rabri Devi to sue the BJP for equating her name with an abuse. It is an insult to all womanhood.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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