If one is to go by surveys and election analysts then the hunt is on in the NDA and UPA to find a ‘suitable boy’ for 2014. Most are zeroing in on a Modi versus Rahul battle or as the social media calls it: a Feku versus Pappu blitzkrieg. Then there are other names doing the rounds — Manmohan Singh (third term), ‘Niku’ Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, LK Advani, Raj Nath Singh, Arun Jaitley, AK Antony and P Chidambaram.
Every move that these gentlemen make comes under intense scrutiny. When Modi visits Uttarakhand and news spreads of him ‘rescuing’ 15,000 Gujaratis, hours of television time is spent on discussing the improbability of the exercise — and paradoxically, the morality of saving just Gujaratis — when even the armed forces could not save as many. And then comes the downer…it was a plant and the journalist most obligingly disclosed his source. When Rahul does not appear in Uttarakhand, manhunts are launched about where he is, when such a huge disaster has struck. He appears and visits and then voluble debate takes place over why he had to disturb relief activities by going there.
In all this breathless excitement, everyone has almost forgotten that two women who were seen as potential prime ministerial candidates not so long ago have slowly but surely receded to the background. Sushma Swaraj just tweeted about Uttarakhand and stayed quiet. She did not launch any collection drives for relief material or take part in a prayer ceremony. She did not attend the funerals of the jawans who died in the rescue operation nor did she accompany the Prime Minister to Uttarakhand. Sonia Gandhi joined the Prime Minister in an aerial survey of the hills, flagged off some ill-fated trucks laden with relief material that did not reach their destination as they ran out of fuel.
Somewhere along the line they have relegated themselves to secondary roles. To the world, it seems that Sonia Gandhi is the regent guarding the post of PM candidate of the Congress-led UPA for her son, Rahul. She has been and is the centre of gravity of the Congress Party despite relinquishing the nomination of Prime Minister by her party; she has never sought to regain it.
Sushma Swaraj, who was all fire and brimstone in 2004 when it seemed that Sonia Gandhi would be Prime Minister, wrapped herself tighter in her sari and waistcoat and donned the role of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. She seems quite content in the role. She has neither worked towards the party nomination for Prime Minister nor displayed any sense of ambition, quite appeased playing second fiddle to a fading party leader. JD-U’s Anil Anwa commented about Swaraj, “She speaks well and is not in any controversy. But the whole nation is watching as to how this party, which talks about India’s culture and civilisation, sidelines a woman and an elderly.” Of course it’s not lost on anybody that the JD-U has off-late discovered the merits of Swaraj and Advani just when the BJP decided to project Narendra Modi.
Both Sonia and Sushma are nowhere in the battle for the top job in the country. In the past few years they have ceded ground to other politicians, all male, so far as being in contention for Prime Minister is concerned, for one reason or the other. And other women politicians have also not shown any desire to make a bid for being the Prime Minister of a Third Front, if the situation arises in 2014. Mayawati is in political wilderness after her loss in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2012. Mamata is bordering on the bizarre in her statements and almost all politicians are wary of her tantrums and mercurial temperament. Jayalalitha wants to be empress of Tamil Nadu by getting a 100 per cent win record in the state in the parliamentary polls. She is the only prospective NDA ally who seems openly comfortable supporting her friend Modi while helping the Communists get elected to the Rajya Sabha.
None of the top women politicians can be seen or heard discussing things that directly affect people: fuel prices, rising unemployment, internal security — the Maoist problem, foreign policy — India-US, India-China, India-Pakistan, and Look East policies, crime rate, women safety, education, and natural disasters. In all likelihood, come 2014 and Indira Gandhi will remain the only woman Prime Minister India has had. No woman politician is displaying signs of aspiring for that post. And that is not a happy message for women who constitute half of the Indian population. Kyoon Bhai?
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash