Back in 1963, when Cliff Richards sang, ‘Son, you’ll be a bachelor boy and that’s the way to stay,’ he didn’t know that he was singing for the Indian political album, 2016. Whether it is Jayalalitha or Mamata, being ‘single’ is a killer qualification. With Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal joining the bachelor brigade, the political dividends of having a spouse are diminishing. So much that Nitish Kumar is now hoping to say, ‘I Do’ when it comes to tying a knot with the Prime Minister’s office. After all, being the quintessential Kumar, Nitish does have the requisite qualification.
A politician, they say, should be born an orphan and die a bachelor. But worldwide, people prefer a family man as their leader. When it comes to electing a President in the United States, the stature of the First Lady remains a topic of debate. A recent satirical cartoon captioned ‘Make the First Lady Great Again’ portrayed Michelle Obama as angry and masculine, and Melania Trump as feminine and attractive. While the cartoonist received flak for his sexist portrayal, he forgot that the First Spouse of the United States could very well be a man! Nonetheless, first spouses in most countries are political celebrities.
Closer home, in a country where Karan Johar’s films are successful because ‘it’s all about loving your family’, a politician is successful because he is bereft of a family. Bollywood gave us a glimpse of how having a spouse is a shortcoming in Aandhi. Remember how Suchitra Sen (Aarti Devi) tried to hide her marital status fearing an electoral defeat? Yes, since ages, our neta log have treated their ‘single but refuse to mingle’ status as a virtue. Much of India has moved on, but politicians remain forever betrothed to the nation. And don’t even mention romance! It is as alien to them as giving birth is to a man.
We have had many single champs from Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is considered a favorite non-Congress Prime Minister to late Abdul Kalam who was an all time favorite President, from Naveen Patnaik who has never lost an election to Nitish Kumar who is said to be ‘Sushashan Babu’ in alleged Jungle Raj! Other single champs like Prime Minister Modi and Vasundhara Raje tread cautiously across the marital minefield.
But wait. Going by the logic, shouldn’t RaGa be the only song playing in a loop? Electoral defeats aside, Rahul Gandhi’s bachelor appeal reaps zero political dividends. Having lost the initial connect with the people, dynasty has become a millstone around his neck. Moreover, when you treat dynasty as royalty with obsequious party men signing loyalty bonds, succession on the basis of birth becomes tenuous. Alas, there is little point in sermonizing. Any advice will land in the dustbin because the dynasty retreats into the comfort zone of the predictable at the first suggestion of giving up the remote.
This is, however, not to say that political dynasties are dead. Even though Lalu Prasad’s sons continue to flourish, the aspirational Indian wants politics of merit over politics of privilege. About time too. No longer can a neta demand votes - he has to earn them. Little surprise, then, that the family party DMK was rebuffed when papa Karunanidhi tried to foist his lad, Stalin. For the people of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha was the ‘suitable girl’. When Tarun Gogoi tried to impose his DNA, people went ahead and garlanded a ‘suitable boy’, Sonowal. Dressed in a crumpled sari and chappals, Bachelorette Mamata crushed anti-incumbency with focus on rural development and PDS schemes. And even as electoral cards are being printed in UP, it will be interesting to see if the Hindi heartland will embrace the Saifai son, Akhilesh, or the Ganj girl, Mayawati.
All said, when it comes to electing a leader, we prefer a tie that binds with the people and not a tie that binds with the spouse. Whoever said, ‘No life without wife’ never stood for an Indian election. A true Indian politician remains a bachelor boy until his dying day. Because that’s the way to stay.
|Image from Here|