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Netas’ Wives Swing To ‘Jailhouse Rock’



They say Indian politics is a man’s world. But each time there is a political crisis or a leading politician is put behind bars, it is women who hold the fort while the men cool their heels behind bars. Time and again in Indian politics, it is the jailed neta’s wife who is suddenly handed over the power reins. After all, a week is a long time in politics!

Right from jailed RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav’s wife Rabri Devi, who served three times as chief minister of Bihar to JMM leader cum ex-Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s wife Kalpana Soren and former Delhi CM-cum-AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal’s wife Sunita Kejriwal, everybody is out to grab the political pie.

Suddenly Kalpana and Sunita have become a cynosure of all eyes. The two women led a blistering attack against the PM Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the I.N.D.I.A. block rally. The duo put up a brave front and promised to fight for justice and show their Nari Shakti! Speculation is rife in the power corridors of Delhi that Sunita may occupy the CM’s chair this week.

Nari Shakti

This is not the first time that women have jumped inside the political wrestling arena. Last year, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu’s wife, Nara Bhuvaneswari embarked on a state-wide tour of Andhra Pradesh in a bid to shore up sympathy for her husband when he was “illegally arrested” and put in jail. Bhuvaneswari lambasted Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. She called her husband’s arrest a case of “vendetta politics.”

Bhuvaneswari left no stone unturned to hit the rivals and invigorate party workers for the Assembly elections.

Even Y. S. Bharati, wife of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, is a determined woman. Has been his strength, running pillar to post when Jagan was in jail, ensuring that Jagan emerges victorious.

There are others like Lovely Anand, wife of strongman Anand Mohan Singh, Bima Bharti, wife of Awadhesh Mandal, and Anita Mahto, wife of Ashok Mahto, who will contest from their husbands’ respective constituencies. Their husbands wield tremendous power over their constituencies but the law forbids prisoners imprisoned for more than two years from running for office “until six years after release.”

Uncertainty in Politics

Faizan Mirza, leader of the NCP (SCP) faction in Maharashtra says that politics has always been unpredictable in every politician’s career. “You don’t know what circumstances will be thrown at you. There’s a saying that women are the strongest pillar of any foundation. Even if any situation arises, we believe that she (Sunita Kejriwal) will still be a strong candidate to lead the party to its destination.”

Addressing a large demonstration in Delhi after Kejriwal’s arrest, Sunita spoke on behalf of her husband saying, “The people of India stand with Arvind Kejriwal. He can’t be kept in jail forever. I am not asking for votes from you. I am not asking you to help defeat someone in elections. I am only asking 140 crore Indians to help in taking this country forward.”

Kalpana was quick to find a comrade in arms (Sunita) saying, “I understand her problems, what she is going through. I experienced the same two months ago in Jharkhand when my husband was sent to jail. I am here to share her grief and take part in this collective fight.”

Dynastic Politics

Sanjay Jha, an author, politician, and former national spokesperson of the INC feels it is a manifestation of dynastic politics. “When the circumstances get negative, unpleasant or the options are limited, somebody from the family steps up. It’s good that there are women in politics now since at some point there will be reservations for women. But the truth is that you need to see more bottom-up leaders coming up who have been with the party and done work as opposed to family members,” Jha says.

The lure of power and fame has often resulted in Indian politics becoming a family-run show.

“This dynastic perpetuation stems from fears of being forgotten or eclipsed. When the succeeding spouse is a woman, it can evoke powerful emotions and portrayals of victimhood,” says Abhishek Katiyar, political analyst. Politicians who leverage this skilfully galvanise empathy and unwavering support from voters and party workers. “Such spousal successions undermine core democratic principles. It deprives citizens of freely choosing competent representatives through legitimate processes. A spouse elevated to leadership may lack proper governance acumen and a true electoral mandate, eroding public trust in institutions,” Abhishek says. He feels that dynastic successions also stifle the growth of political parties by obstructing the rise of fresh talent and new ideas from within the ranks.

Political Observations

Political Analyst Rajalakshmi Joshi points out the visuals of Sunita Kejriwal rubbing shoulders with Sonia Gandhi, while AAP MLA Atishi Marlena Singh sat quietly in a back-row seat. “Sunita Kejriwal, a homemaker might not have been privy to all the cabinet meetings, the happenings, and all the sensitive information that went around in the cabinet meetings and the discussions with the different ministries. So, it is quite questionable how efficiently she will run the Delhi cabinet and how she will head the state. This brings us to the question of how Rabri Devi and a whole lot of other women were put into a position of power, especially at a time of political crisis or in the absence of their husbands, brothers, fathers, or sons,” says Rajalakshmi. This seems to be a phenomenon that happens more at a regional level or in parties like the AAP, which has a national status but is headed by one single individual. “So, this phenomenon of where a regional party chooses to put in place a female in place of the male who is either in jail, unwell, absent, or dead seems to be a phenomenon that happens in most of these parties. Indira Gandhi filled in her father’s large shoes not immediately after his death but after some time. She probably had the advice and cooperation of a lot of senior ministers and some loyalists of her father who probably guided her well enough, and she turned out to be an efficient PM,” she says.

The lure of power and fame has often resulted in Indian politics becoming a family-run show. The practice of political leaders grooming their spouses, especially wives, as successors is widespread.

Women are the strongest pillar of any foundation. We believe that Sunita Kejriwal will be a strong candidate to lead the party to its destination. — Faizan Mirza, leader NCP (SCP), Maharashtra

When the circumstances get negative, unpleasant or the options are limited, somebody from the family steps up. — Sanjay Jha, author-cum-politician

When the succeeding spouse is a woman, it can evoke powerful emotions and portrayals of victimhood. — Abhishek Katiyar, Political Analyst

Sunita Kejriwal, a homemaker might not have been privy to all the cabinet meetings, and all the sensitive information that went around in the cabinet meetings and the discussions with the different ministries. So, it is quite questionable how efficiently she will run the Delhi cabinet. — Rajalakshmi Joshi, political Analyst



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