“The victory of Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee means that India has three chief ministers who are women. They are single, they don’t have children and they are routinely represented in India’s print and electronic media as temperamental viragos. This tells us something about both the unselfconscious misogyny of our journalism and the toll that Indian politics takes of women who want to exercise power in their own right.”
Thus writes the academic Mukul Kesavan in the Hindustan Times on the morning after the Mysore-born AIADMK leader ended 44 years of political dominance of Muthuvel Karunanidhi, and the hawaii chappal-wearing Banerjee ended 34 years of Left rule. (Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati is the third woman Kesavan has in his mind’s eye.)
Leaving aside the sex woman part of Kesavan’s observation, the perception of Jaya and Mamata as “change agents” raises an interesting question. Which is, why do we prefer our leaders to be single?
Look at the panoply of people the media has happily elevated to the status of “icons” in recent times: former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, single; former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, single; Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, single (well, almost); Anna Hazare, who sat on a fast unto death recently, single; Medha Patkar, social activist, single, and so on. Obviously, not all of them are in the same league and not all of them are full of virtues (wink, wink).
Still, does being “single” put a leader on the fasttrack to sainthood in the eyes of the people? Is a bachelor or spinster seen to be less burdened by the demands of family for time and attention? Does an unattached leader appeal to our sense of sacrifice, an expectation that she might turn out to be less corrupt? Is that a single person has better focus to make it to the top?
Or is it just a silly accident of history of which we are making too much?