Five years back, in January 2014, Rahul Gandhi, President, Indian National Congress Party was interviewed by Arnab Goswami for over one hour. He used the word “women” at least 19 times.
The interviewee’s fixation with the phrase “women empowerment” appeared to send a signal to the electorate that the cause of empowering women was close to his heart. Moreover, it seemed that the leader in question sincerely believed that empowerment of women would solve a lot of societal problems. However, the mask was soon off.
The leader has been running a slander campaign, by repeatedly making gender-specific derogatory remarks on women colleagues, opposing social justice to women and providing sanctuary to sexual offenders in the Party.
It was a dark day for women in India, the land that is personified by none other than Bharat “Mata” herself, when the President of India’s oldest political organization, Rahul Gandhi said “ek mahila se kaha meri raksha kijiye”, brazenly implying that women are weak and ill-equipped to provide protection.
Rahul Gandhi has not only insulted every mother who protects the unborn in her womb, he has insulted strong women like Rani Lakshmibai who took the British head-on in the war field, Lakshmi Sahgal, former Indian Army officer, (who served a sentence in a Burma prison for her role in the World War II and went on to establish the Rani of Jhansi Regiment), Rani Chennama, who led an army rebellion against the British against the Doctrine of Lapse, Bhikaji Cama who fought for gender equality, Raj Kumari Gupta who was pivotal to the success of Kakori conspiracy during the freedom movement, and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the first woman to be arrested by the British.
This muckraking remark by Shri Rahul Gandhi not only reeks of prejudice, but it also exposes the disparaging picture of women in the mind of a man, who proclaims to endorse ideals of liberalism and gender equality. Lest the leader who feels less macho at the idea of being protected by women forgets, both, the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy recruit women.
It is revolting to acknowledge that the grandson of Former Prime Minister, Late Smt. Indira Gandhi, who was instrumental in the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, finds the idea of a woman Defence Minister subjacent. It would be helpful to remind Mr. Gandhi that the President of India is the commander-in-chief of Armed Forces, the Chair that was once occupied by Smt. Pratibha Patil (appointed by UPA).
Stoic Silence on Social Justice to Women
In January 2018, Rahul Gandhi outsourced matters related to social justice for Muslim women and Triple Talaq to party’s Rajya Sabha leaders, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma. Instead of using the opportunity to unequivocally stand with the Muslim women populace, the leader chose to use the issue as a plank to play politics. His blurred position on the issue is a bitter reminder of his father, smeared Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy, in which he overturned the Shah Bano judgment and denied maintenance to divorced Muslim women.
Rahul Gandhi has been caught demonstrating his limited perspective on women empowerment in the past as well. While campaigning for Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2017, he said “have you ever seen women in shorts working with RSS?” Belittling women representation through sartorial observations is disdainful and hypocritical, especially for a leader who champions the cause of freedom of expression.
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On multiple occasions, the leader has highlighted the significance of adequate representation of women at all levels. Like his other promises, here too his actions are a far cry from his words. On one hand, he rallies for 33% reservation for women in legislation through the Women Reservation Bill. On the other hand, only seven women found mention in the 51-member list in the new Congress Working Committee (CWC) i.e. just 13.7%.
Let alone his political and social stand on women issues, his own party headquarter, the All India Congress Committee Headquarter at 24, Akbar Road,does not even have a segregated sanitation facility for women.
Silence on Sexual Offenders in the Congress Party
Even before the deluge of names that were called out as a part of #MeToo campaign, cases of sexual harassment were reported against office bearers in the Congress Party. Mr. Gandhi feigned ignorance and it was business as usual, until I personally wrote a letter to the Party President and appealed him to take action against the offenders.
Fairoz Khan, former President of the Indian Youth Congress was alleged of sexual harassment. However, he enjoyed indefinite probe-free political shelter, till October 2018.
Chirag Patnaik, a member of the Congress Social Media cell was accused of sexual harassment by a team member. While the victim resigned and initiated legal proceedings, the accused continues to enjoy sanctuary. One of the members told me, that members of the team were under duress by the Congress Social Media Head, Ms. Divya Spandana, to give a positive testimony and ensure the accused is proven innocent.
A case of sexual misconduct was registered against former Kerala chief minister Oomen Chandy and Congress MP K C Venugopal in Kerala. The two leaders have still not been dismissed from the party until they are acquitted.
The gap between actions and words was never wider before. Moreover, it is comical, how a self-proclaimed liberal face stands exposed when faced with a strong woman colleague. Feminists stand debunked by their silent support to the hypocrite leader. From Shah Bano to Shayara Bano, the party’s duplicity and liberal views are busted, yet again. It will be interesting to see whether women in the Congress Party will defend their leader or stand with their own.