Women wield power in election wrangling
With the wrangling for allies in earnest ahead of election results due Saturday, women leaders hold an inordinate amount of power in deciding who will form the new Indian government.
Women leaders have always had a role in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, from Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant in the independence struggle to Indira Gandhi, the second woman in the world to become prime minister.
Women leaders are perhaps at the peak of their influence now, with Gandhi’s political heir regarded the most powerful of them all — indeed, the most powerful political leader in the country.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is credited with energising the party and leading it to a surprising victory in the 2004 election, and she looks to have the lead this time around too, according to exit polls.
Gandhi, once voted the world’s sixth most powerful woman by Forbes, walked away from the prime minister’s job in 2004, but her influence over party allies and even with the on-again off-again left is unquestionable.
Her influence though, doesn’t extend to Mayawati, the feisty and controversial leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party and chief minister of the potentially swing state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends a whopping 80 seats to the lower house.
Mayawati, hailed as queen of the lower-caste Dalits, is part of the Third Front, and a prime ministerial aspirant whose ambition mirrors her party’s elephant symbol.
Known for her lavish birthday celebrations and love for giant statues of herself, Mayawati’s massive following among lower caste Hindus, tribes and other backward classes is not to be trifled with.
At the other end of the spectrum is J. Jayalalithaa, a convent school-educated high-caste Hindu and leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the potentially swing state of Tamil Nadu.
The former film star, a part of the Third Front, has allied in the past with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and could be a kingmaker this time. A win for AIADMK would boost the prospects of the Third Front, and Jayalalithaa, who was once jailed on corruption charges, will be a vital pawnbroker.
As will Mamata Banerjee, leader of Trinamool Congress in left-ruled West Bengal state. With exit polls pointing to an erosion of support for the left, Banerjee — who drove Tata Motors’ Nano car project out of the state — is on a good wicket.
“The outcome of this endgame is linked to women,” political analyst Yogendra Yadav wrote in The Hindu newspaper.
Perhaps their examples will inspire more women to take the plunge into politics; there were only about 550 women candidates against more than 7,500 men candidates. Or are they not quite the role models we seek?