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 the theme song of the current Indian political establishment.
Going by the results of the recent Assembly elections, being single is a qualification many Chief Ministers have in common, from Tamil Nadu's Jayalalithaa to West Bengal's Mamata to Assam's Sarbananda Sonowal. The political dividends of having a spouse appear to be diminishing.
The political dividends of having a spouse appear to be diminishing.
A politician, they say, should be born an orphan and die a bachelor. But worldwide, people prefer a family man/woman 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 played off on Trumps' campaign tagline ("Make American Great Again") with the caption "Make the First Lady Great Again". It 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! Either way, first spouses in most countries are political celebrities.
But in India, where Karan Johar's films are successful because "it's all about loving your family", a politician's success seems positively correlated with the absence of a spouse. Bollywood gave us a glimpse of how having a spouse is a shortcoming in the film Aandhi. Remember how Suchitra Sen (Aarti Devi) tried to hide her marital status fearing an electoral defeat? Yes, for 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.
For ages, our neta log have treated their "single but refuse to mingle" status as a virtue.
We have had many single champs, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is considered the most popular non-Congress Prime Minister to Abdul Kalam, who was an all-time favourite President, to Naveen Patnaik who has never lost an election. Other single champs like Prime Minister Modi and Vasundhara Raje tread cautiously across the marital minefield.
The question is: what makes a bachelor a winner? Could it be the perception that someone who is without the baggage of a family will serve the people 24/7? That he or she will have no reason to be corrupt?
But wait. Going by that logic, shouldn't RaGa be the only song playing in a loop? Clearly, Rahul Gandhi's bachelor appeal brings little to the table. Having lost whatever initial connect he had with the people, dynasty has become a millstone around his neck. Moreover, when you treat a political dynasty as royalty, with obsequious party men signing loyalty bonds, succession on the basis of birth becomes tenuous.
The aspirational Indian wants politics of merit over politics of privilege. About time too.
This is, however, not to say that political dynasties are dead. Even though Lalu Prasad's sons and daughter Misa continue to flourish, the aspirational Indian wants politics of merit over politics of privilege. About time too. No longer can a neta demand votes - s/he has to earn them. Little surprise, then, that the family party DMK, was rebuffed when papa Karunanidhi tried to promote his lad, Stalin (albeit grudgingly) as his heir. For the people of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa was the "suitable girl" they were looking for. In Assam, when Tarun Gogoi tried to impose his DNA, people went ahead and garlanded another "suitable boy", Sonowal. In West Bengal, bachelorette Mamata crushed anti-incumbency with her 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 Ganj girl, Mayawati.
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.
Perhaps this electoral trend of bachelors and bachelorettes walking away with victories is an illusion. Regardless, 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/girl until his or her dying day. Because that's the way to stay.
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