EVER thought of an all-women cabinet, not 10 per cent among predominantly male ministers, but all of them women? Imagine one. A compelling reason for this obviously ambitious exercise is that the men have messed it all up. And, women leading their teams of men have not fared much better either.
A TV ad that repeatedly distracted one from the sports fixture in progress could be credited for this unusual recourse to sublimation. “Select your team and win a prize,” it urged myriad eyeballs and ears with monotonous regularity to promote an app. Assembling cricket or football teams is, of course, old hat. Why not stitch up team, Indian or any other, with an acutely political purpose.
Despite its essential backwardness, South Asia has produced Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, together with the two strong-willed ladies from Bangladesh who have had their shy at power. But they were mostly circumscribed by male colleagues in a heavily patriarchal format. How could it be any other way in our regressive milieus, not that the more advanced countries of the West have fared greatly better?
The current Indian prime minister is a robust man who doesn’t shy away from flexing his maleness — projecting a 56-inch chest, for instance. He reshuffled his cabinet recently and added seven more women to make a team of 11 women in a team of 77. As far as one knows this is the highest number of female ministers in an Indian cabinet, the previous high being 10 in each of Manmohan Singh’s two innings.
Sample an all-women shadow government in India, one that promises to bring social cohesion, peace, equitable prosperity and justice for everybody.
The Lok Sabha starts its monsoon session next week, and a reworked team should help move the focus from an unapologetic government in need of masking its massive failures. The health minister was dropped and a new information minister inducted. A strong hunch suggests a purpose — to deal with as yet critical sections of the media to refurbish the prime minister’s sagging image.
A cursory glance around the world offers encouragement and hope for women leaders particularly when men like Donald Trump have mostly messed things up. The one person preparing to leave gracefully after a long tenure of applause and charisma is a woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Unsurprisingly, the rare person in the saddle who draws unqualified respect and affection around the world is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Staunchly humanist, brilliant and caring women are also fighting at the barricades for justice and equality in several parts of the world, even as they bring dignity and brilliance to academia and parliament. Anahita Ratebzad had put Afghan women’s education at the top of the agenda before two reactionary men, Ziaul Haq and Ronald Reagan, jointly put the country back into the mediaeval age. Joe Biden’s heart supposedly bleeds for Afghanistan, but he is determined to desert its women.
Interestingly, there are more women in the lower house of parliament in Pakistan than in Lok Sabha in percentage terms, which reveals a less spoken narrative about the aloof neighbours. Sixty-nine women out of 342 members add up to a little over 20pc in the National Assembly of Pakistan against 79 women in the Lok Sabha out of 545 members, just over 14pc. India’s lower house has two Muslim women MPs too, both notably from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. That must add to the BJP’s grudge with the eastern state.
Sample an all-women shadow government in India, therefore, one that promises to bring social cohesion, peace, equitable prosperity, and above all justice for everybody. The team mustered here represents women of proven calibre, and knits an opposition that is otherwise in disarray.
Read: A woman’s place
Welcome Mamata Banerjee, a street fighter, an artist and a popular Bengali author as a leading candidate for prime minister. Doesn’t take salary. Lives in her own small house. She is competent and staunchly secular, while being a good Brahmin to boot.
For home minister in the dream team, welcome Ms Mayawati. A lawyer and a Dalit leader, she could shepherd India towards Ambedkar’s dream of a casteless society, a socially cohesive society. She faces corruption charges, which is a good sign. Everyone accused of corruption is curiously always on the wrong side of the powerful corporate cliques that run the show. Figure that out.
Not many may have noticed the low profile MP from Maharashtra, Supriya Sule. Listening to her informed interventions in the Lok Sabha is so reassuring. This Maratha woman fits the bill as defence minister. Consider Priyanka Gandhi as foreign minister. She quoted the Buddha on the dubious Rafale deal. “You can’t hide the sun, the moon and the truth for too long.” She can return India to its Nehruvian glory.
The matchless parliamentarian Mahua Moitra from Bengal as shadow finance minister brings a treasure of experience from being a successful banker in New York. She strongly speaks up for secular democracy. How about a veteran journalist as minister for information and broadcasting? Tavleen Singh or any other equally formidable journalist.
For law and justice, the experienced teacher of law Sudha Bharadwaj, currently in prison over unproven claims of Maoist links. For health portfolio, consider K.K. Shailaja for her exemplary management of the first wave of Covid-19 in Kerala.
Keep the agriculture portfolio for Harsimrat Badal from Punjab’s Akali Dal. Former bureaucrat-turned-social activist Aruna Roy is ideal to manage the panchayati raj ministry, just as tribal rights activist Dayamani Barla from Jharkhand fits environment and forest affairs. Alana Golmei from Manipur, campaigner against racism, should be terrific as minister for north-eastern states. If the idea seems unreal, which it probably is, include movie actor Urmila Matondkar, trolled for her Kashmiri Muslim husband. How about minority affairs for her, particularly after she migrated from the Congress to the Shiv Sena in December? Strange things are known to happen, particularly when they are least expected.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2021