Stand by your man

Monobina Gupta , TNN
03 December 2012, 11:12 PM IST

You may expect Shweta Bhatt, the valiant wife of the police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, to break into ‘Stand by your man’, a popular 60s’ country song. The homemaker wife has rushed in where political stalwarts fear to tread. Resonating with the spirit of those cloyingly sweet and jarring lyrics, Shweta’s act of bravery is meant to aid her husband Sanjiv and his fight against Narendra Modi. The verdict of the forthcoming uneven electoral face-off is virtually a foregone conclusion. But hold that thought. You could instead choose a different strain of music, for instance, Harry Belafonte’s ‘Man smart/women are smarter’ and ask: Who is the smarter one in this case? Shweta Bhatt or the Indian National Congress?

A political greenhorn, leveraged by a dispirited Congress, Shweta is about to take on the ‘roaring Gujarati lion’ in his seemingly impregnable den. If that doesn’t qualify as reckless political bravery, nothing does. But reckless valiance is not always a bad thing to experiment with. Especially in dire situations like this one – when you simply have nothing to lose. What you need perhaps is to make a symbol out of your defeat, to send out a hollow message of courage or honour in the face of yet another imminent calamity. That could be the Congress’s desperate game plan. But in this bizarre Modi vs Bhatt episode, that’s not the only idea at play. A devoted wife suddenly taking the political center stage, with husband by her side, who ends up speaking much too often on her behalf, also reinforces the traditional idea of Indian womanhood.

As Shweta herself has said, victory is not the essence of her contest. In other words, the politics of this high-pitched election has already been pushed aside. At the centre of all the buzz is the unexpectedness of a housewife, deciding to brave the dirty political world, if only for the sake of her embattled husband. Remember Lalu Prasad, who at the height of the fodder scam found succour from his politically novice wife Rabri Devi? Forced to give up his chief ministership, Lalu anointed Rabri as his successor, sidelining party heavyweights. Till then confined to the house and the kitchen, Rabri was pushed to the nerve centre of politics, not just of Bihar, her state, but also the Delhi darbar.

In this case, much is to be said of the conduct, or the lack of it, of the ruling Congress, Gujarat’s main opposition party. Languishing on the sidelines of Gujarat’s stormy political theatre, the Congress has systematically allowed its adversary to walk all over it. The party’s continued listlessness is inexplicable, to put it mildly. One would have expected the Congress to work itself into shape, especially in the aftermath of the 2002 riots and build for itself an identity that Modi would find tough to reckon with. Not just that, even on the chief minister’s much publicised development model, much was to be said as well as exposed. But the Congress played truant. Most of the stark revelations pointing to the gaping holes in Modi’s development project came from academics and stray journalists. Not the opposition party. The Congress continued to hibernate till it chanced upon a face-saver in Shweta Bhatt.

Interestingly, the Modi vs Bhatt case raises questions about not just party politics, but also gender politics. The BJP has grabbed this opportunity to point fingers at Sanjiv Bhatt and decry his charges against Modi. But just for a moment put politics aside, and Shweta could easily become the BJP’s brand ambassador promoting the image of the ideal Indian woman. As a party, which hardly ever misses an occasion to celebrate the sati-savitri cult, the

BJP should be proud of Shweta’s contribution to fortifying this patriarchal idealism. But that’s not the only contradiction. Shweta’s unexpected electoral foray must surely be a dampener for Modi and his professed masculine politics, his macho aggression, his inability to apologise. Imagine all that being wasted on a political neophyte like Shweta Bhatt.