The Karnataka BJP’s factional fight came to a close on Monday with the only woman minister in the government, rural development minister Shobha Karandlaje, bowing out. Her resignation was the price chief minister BS Yeddyurappa paid, albeit with tears, to save his chair.
For the BJP, the drama carried strong overtones of déjà vu, with several of its chief ministers in the past having been called to question over their proximity or at least for their promotion of women leaders in the party. Karandlaje is just one in a growing list peopled by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Kusum Rai and Gujarat education minister Anandiben Patel who were pilloried for being “close to the boss.”
Rumour has it that a similar drama is already brewing in Chhattisgarh over chief minister Raman Singh’s promotion of a woman MP from the state. While many in the party itself dismiss this as one of the hazards of politics, social scientists feel that women are vulnerable, especially in a patriarchal party like the BJP.
Political scientist Prof Imtiaz Ahmad says that the BJP’s peculiar ethos is also responsible for its trouble with women. “All parties have a resistance to women leaders, especially those who come up through the ranks. The BJP being a conservative party devoted to the idea of an adarsh Bharatiya nari (Indian woman whose world revolves only around her family), finds it difficult to tolerate any deviation from the patriarchal mould,” he said.
Karandlaje, a long-time RSS pracharak and single woman, faced hurdles as her influence over the chief minister appeared disproportionate to her years in the party. To be fair, party leaders have defended her good record in governance. “She is a long-time member of the party and known to be efficient,” said party general secretary Arun Jaitley, pointing to this reporter that “as a woman you should be sympathetic to a woman politician who faces such allegations.”
And yet, the majority in the state unit could not wait to see her out. Same was the case with Kusum Rai who was singularly held responsible for being a Noor Jehan-like figure to Kalyan Singh’s Humayun act as Uttar Pradesh chief minister. All major decisions, or so the talk went at that time, were taken in consultation with Rai.
Much water has flown in the Gomti since then, and while Kalyan Singh never found himself comfortable in the BJP after that, Rai became a Rajya Sabha MP on a party ticket last year. Some say that it attests to her abilities, with or without Kalyan Singh.
Feminist author and publisher Urvashi Butalia says that the Karandlaje episode is a lot more complex than is being credited. “What is strange is that the BJP is one party which goes out of its way to promote women’s leadership. There are very few cases, like the partnership of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram, which was accepted by the BSP, probably, because it was so in-your-face. In most cases, in almost every party, proximity of this kind is always attacked,” she said.
Even iron man Narendra Modi had to contend with rumours and innuendos when his education minister, Anandiben Patel, was attacked by her own husband for her proximity to Modi. “When she entered politics, she severed all ties with the family for no fault of ours. Her behaviour has become deformed and Narendra Modi is responsible for it,” her husband Mafatbhai Patel had said. He even stood against her in the Gujarat assembly election in 2007.
The Congress, on its part, appeared sympathetic to Karandlaje. Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the “changes in the government there are merely cosmetic and non-issues and insignificant personalities are being made the scapegoat. Obviously the lady in question is one such scapegoat.”
While BJP has been the only party to reserve a third of its organisational posts for women, it is clear that it remains uncomfortable with women leaders, especially those promoted by its chief ministers.