OCTOBER 1, 2013
by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, kafile.org

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Rural Indian Women (Courtesy India Post) and An Urban Indian Man (Narendra Modi)

I watched the television broadcast of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s speech at the Japanese Park in Rohini in Delhi on Sunday morning with breathless anticipation and some trepidation. With the restless anxiety that he would spin at least half a new idea, that could induce some naive fence-sitters in Delhi, my city, to sign up behind his juggernaut along with the rest of his zombie horde.

Would his spin doctors have worked hard and tirelessly overnight to give their client a new teflon coating? Would his savvy advisers have given him a sharp new statistic to play with, an incontrovertible fact, a compelling argument that would persuade my fellow citizens?

I could have done something more useful on a Sunday morning, like clean and order my bookshelves, air out winter clothes and woolens, or read an anthology of Sanskrit poetry than listening to a manicured middle aged man purvey his cheap ethnic jokes (about ‘asardar sardar’s’ ) to his testosterone hungry adoring audience of (overwhelmingly) masculine clones of his own mediocrity. But I thought,  albeit reluctantly, given that the ‘lion’s roar’ in Delhi was being projected as the clarion call for what is probably going to be one of the most important elections in the world in my life-time, I should pay attention, and see if Narendra Modi has anything to offer.

He did not fail to disappoint me. His spin doctors are clearly on holiday, or maybe, they are actually working for the Congress party. I was wasting my time. If even the most naively apolitical person in Delhi is persuaded by the flatulence that Modi purveys as oratory, then I will need to have my head examined.

Speaking of head, I sort of woke up from his drone when Modi (following Sushma-behn’s bloodthirsty lead on several occasions) began talking about decapitated heads. He wanted Manmohan Singh to bring back the heads of Indian soldiers from Pakistan, without in the same breath offering to give back some of the heads of Pakistani soldiers purloined by the Indian armed forces. But then, that is his second nature, not just the insistence on the savage imagery, but also the sneaky subterfuge of an unfair bargain (‘Give us our heads back, but we won’t give you yours).

He could not resist invoking the ethnic identity of his adversary (Manmohan Singh) because he cannot think beyond the mental age of a twelve year old schoolboy whose wisdom consists of sardarji jokes. He fawned on himself, expressing the kind of narcissistic obsession with his own rise to power that only a second rate fascist can deploy as a rhetorical device. He could not resist attacking the dynasty without mentioning that he himself is a tool of a secretive khaki directorate that needs its heads, (and its shorts) examined.

And then he played his trump card. His ‘concern’ for the dignity of the servile apparatchik who is Manmohan Singh was a mirror of the ‘concern’ that cynical congressmen have for the BJP dinosaur known as L.K.Advani. Modi expressed his indignation at the Chinese Whisper report of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s apparent off the record slighting of Manmohan Singh at a New York breakfast as a ‘Dehati Aurat’ with all the strength that distilled Indian middle aged misogyny can muster. So, according to Narendra Modi, the greatest insult to this country is to call its head of government a ‘rural woman’.

What is wrong with rural Indian women ?

India has 16 % of the world’s population. India has approximately 16 % of the world’s population, this amounts to (roughly) around 1.20 Billion people.  68.84 % of that population (making up 833.1 million people)  lives in rural areas. Rural women constitute a little less than half that population. There are 405.1 million women in rural India according to the 2011 census.

In rural areas, out of 310 million workers, 111 million workers are women.  42.95 % of the rural female working population is involved as agricultural labour (not in cultivation). Women constitute 90% of the total marginal workers in the country. 11.10 % of rural households (16.67 million) are headed by women.

Last heard, I knew that in India they walked miles to draw water, farmed fields, raised children, tended gardens, protected forests, sent their girls and boys to school, fought feudal prejudices, capitalist displacement and state terror while some rural men slept, lay around, got drunk, raped other rural women, got into brawls (unlike most rural men, who, it has to be said, worked shoulder to shoulder with rural womenfolk to make a decent living in an increasingly harsh world.)

The Report on Women and Men in India, 2011 (13th Issue) of the Central Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Govt. of India states –

“Women work longer hours than men, and carry the major share of household and community work that is unpaid and invisible. According to the pilot Time Use Survey conducted in 18,620 households spread over six selected States, namely, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Meghalaya during the period June 1998 to July 1999, women spent about 2.1 hours per day on cooking food and about 1.1 hours on cleaning the households and utensils. Men’s participation in these activities was nominal. Taking care of Children was one of the major responsibilities of women, as they spent about 3.16 hours per week on these activities as compared to only 0.32 hours by males. Women’s Contribution to Agriculture – Whether it is subsistence farming commercial agriculture, when measured in terms of the number of tasks performed and time spent is greater than men. Most of the work that women do, such as collecting fuel, fodder and water, or growing vegetables and keeping poultry for domestic consumption, goes unrecorded in the census counts. “

If anyone said that the prime minister of a country was like a rural woman from India, I would read that as a (largely undeserved) compliment, because despite the insults, injury, structural violence and inequality that rural women in this country have to put up with, the fact that they survive, work hard (and keep the economy going) sing, laugh, make love and children, produce objects of incomparable beauty makes them super-heros in my estimation.

Clearly, Narendra Modi is not a ‘ dehati aurat’. He is a ‘shahri mard’ – an urban man. His followers are all urban men. Given the tropes that urban men in India have recently become known for – rape, assault and mindless violence, I think the tag of ‘shahri mard’ sits better on Narendra Modi than ‘dehati aurat’ does on Manmohan Singh. And who has heard of ‘dehati auratein’ committing acts of gross violence ? It can’t be an insult. It can even be an honorific. But under the present circumstances, ‘Shahri Mard’ can easily be seen to be one. And it fits NaMo well.

After I shared the above paragraph as a Facebook status update, I was not surprised to see a few carping comments that suggested that I was saying this because of my partisan status as a congress groupie. Modi supporters assume that if you are not with them, you must be with Rahul Baba, their limited intelligence  does not permit them to conceive of a more capacious imagination than theirs, which is populated only by ‘pappu’ (Rahul Gandhi) and ‘feku’ (their own caudillo).

I want to make something absolutely clear, especially to the Modi Brigade and the NaMo army, especially those who will want to leave their stink here. I (and many others like me who oppose Narendra Modi) think that the Congress led UPA government at the centre is an absolute disaster, it is corrupt and incompetent, and that Manmohan Singh is a complete failure as a prime minister. I think Narendra Modi and the BJP led NDA are not an alternative. Modi’s model of crony-capitalism, his kowtowing to the Adani-Ambani apparatus, is as corrupt as that of the Congress. His governance in Gujarat is absysmal and this is empirically demonstrable, (and has been done so on this blog in several other posts), and he is a fascist, and has not a single bright idea.

I refuse to be blackmailed into choosing one evil above the other. There is NO lesser evil. What the society we live in needs, and needs with a certain degree of urgency is the intelligence and the political imagination to go beyond the Congress-BJP binary. And yes, the old Left is bankrupt. We need a robust new left that is not wedded to nationalism, that is global in its imagination and that offers pragmatic and imaginative ways forward.

That is my preference. The fact that nothing on the Indian mainstream political spectrum answers to this precise description at the present moment does not mean we sit back, it makes the work of thinking new political alternatives all the more urgent and necessary.

And yes, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani ideally belong to the same block in Tihar prison, for the rest of their lives, and I think Rajiv Gandhi belonged there too, until history intervened, because, he like Modi, presided over a massacre. I hope that answers everyone.

Meanwhile, I think Narendra Modi owes the more than four hundred and five million women of rural India an apology. And then he could start thinking about Gujarat 2002, Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin and the bad odour he leaves behind him, wherever he goes.


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