The recent Aam Aadmi Party ad which has a homemaker woman praising Kejriwal and his policies even as she castigates his opponents reminded me immediately of fascist propaganda newsreels from the second world war involving women. Particularly that famous one of 60,000 women cheering Mussolini as he gave his famous speech at the Piazza Venezia in Rome. The fascist parties of Europe did not believe in women holding political power and urged women to return to a more 'appropriate' role of motherhood and homemaking. Yet, women turned up in thousands to support the larger-than-life leaders of these parties, cheering with the same expression on their faces as those in the audience at a Beatles gig four decades later. The propaganda reels made it a point to capture this and flaunt it.
Watching the AAP ad made me think of other things too, like the fact that there are absolutely no women in Mr Kejriwal's cabinet, or of the CM's message on International Women's Day when he talked about how his wife and mother ran the house and supported him while he was out there fighting corruption. In that message, he also said something about how 'women fulfil their responsibilities honestly without making any fuss, which is what I saw the woman in this ad doing now. Buying vegetables, taking her child to school, cooking and serving dinner without any sense of frustration, and only feeling angry all the time with Mr Kejriwal's opponents whom she would flay if given the opportunity just like she does the lauki she is about to cook.
I also thought, 'what brilliant propaganda'. After all, Mr Kejriwal is the CM of a capital which is not just the most unsafe city in India for women in the public space but also one where only 1 in 10 women work 'for a living', i.e., 8% of the total female population of the city, as we are told by Census 2011. I also marvelled at the sense of intimacy established in the ad when the woman uses Mr Kejriwal's first name. She is reminding us here of his accessibility, how approachable and down-to-earth he is. So what if he has been CM for almost six months, he is still the CM who takes the Metro, sits on dharnas, and wears an ordinary muffler.
All of it is dressed up to play out as if this particular ad is meant for the middle-class woman of Delhi, who still believes her place is at home, who might work for a living but does so mostly because the house cannot run on a single income, who treasures her role as a nurturing figure both towards her man and her children. And all the time, the ad is really speaking to the capital's middle-class man. The pretty wife in a red-bordered sari and red bindi is his 'desi-girl' fantasy. He would like nothing more than to earn enough so that the wife of his dreams can stay home and serve and please him when he is back tired and spent from work. Kejriwal is going to make that happen. By reducing electricity bills, by making sure tomatoes and potatoes cost less than ever before, by convincing the autorickshaw driver to charge by the meter, and by removing corruption. It's the same 'achche din' spiel we have become so used to on a national level--the achche din for the Delhi male are here with Arvind Kejriwal who is going to make living easier in the nation's capital, and allow him to be what he loves being the best, the man of the house.
Just to cheer myself up a bit after watching this eminently cheerless propaganda film, I decided to watch it on mute. Suddenly the subtext seemed to shift a little. Watched on mute, the man who seems glued to the sofa waiting for the woman's ministrations appeared to me to be the indolent opposition Kejriwal, the man of action, is fighting. I imagined our pretty homemaker in a red-bordered sari saying to me 'Support Arvind... so he can liberate me from this servitude.' Cheap thrills I know. But it's fun, try it.