Unsavoury swipes

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa did well to put a quick end to the protests by her party’s workers against Congress leader E.V.K.S. Elangovan, who made a rather flippant and tasteless remark about her luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at her residence in Chennai on August 7. With Mr. Elangovan in no mood to offer anything by way of an apology, other than to say his remark was misunderstood, and AIADMK cadres getting restive, the law and order situation could have taken a turn for the worse but for the Chief Minister’s intervention. Of course, politically, Ms. Jayalalithaa did not give Mr. Elangovan even an inch: she clearly saw the protests as being justified, and the reason she wanted those halted was that she thought her party workers had already expressed their anguish. Thus, while the street protests are off, the AIADMK is certainly not inclined to forgive and forget the episode. That Mr. Elangovan had failed to maintain civility and dignity in public discourse with his allegations and insinuations was clear. And this was not the first time the TNCC president had got into trouble for intemperate remarks. But beyond drawing public attention to his indiscretion, the AIADMK would have realised, the street protests only served to inconvenience the public and create tense moments for the police. The job of disciplining Mr. Elangovan is best left to his party leadership, and to the voters he seeks to represent.

What this sordid episode has done is once again expose the underlying misogyny in India’s electoral politics. Like Mr. Elangovan, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had made similar derogatory statements about Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, prompting her to write to the National Commission for Women and the Election Commission on different occasions. In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee likewise came under attack from leaders in the lower rungs of the Left Front. When the standards of public discourse fall, sexist attacks on women politicians become the norm. India has had a woman as President and as Prime Minister and as Chief Minister in several States, but patriarchal attitudes remain entrenched in the public sphere. While misogyny cannot be banished from the political discourse in one stroke, Indian voters need to make the deviant politicians pay politically. Party leaderships too should not allow space for those in the middle and lower rungs to take sexist swipes against top political rivals. The Congress leadership must rein in Mr. Elangovan in its own interest. India needs more women among its elected representatives, not fewer.

Source: The Hindu

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