When the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi announced her choice for presidential candidate, it was hailed as a ?historic? decision in the sense that, for the first time a woman would be elected President of India, because the Electoral College had the numbers on the side of the UPA candidate. It is to be noted that the candidature of the said lady was proposed only after half a dozen other names (all male!) were considered and vetoed for one reason or the other by UPA allies. In the end, there was consensus among the allies only on the gender dimension of the candidate for President. The Congress, the Left and the DMK crowed aloud and claimed credit for the selection of the presidential candidate and hyped it as the first ever historic step towards the empowerment of women in India. These leaders, who could not ensure 33 per cent reservation for ordinary women in their own party power hierarchy, had made noises about 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament?a half-hearted promise that they and their parties preferred not to rake up in all these years.
During the pre-election process to the Presidency, the opposition led by the BJP compiled a series of well-documented allegations against the Presidential candidate, which completely exposed her antecedents and credentials to be dubious to put it mildly, and the wannabe President'sclaims about women empowerment would have been comical had it not been so tragic for the nation. In fact, a very significant section of socially important and legally savvy women were unhappy with her candidature. Nevertheless, as the numbers were on the side of UPA-Left combine, she was elected and sworn in duly.
Ironically, the hyperbolic claims to women empowerment notwithstanding, even as she was being sworn in as the first woman President of India, another woman, a well-known police officer, India'sfirst IPS woman officer in fact, was seen on all TV channels vehemently protesting being overlooked by the central government for appointment as Commissioner of Police, Delhi. The UPA government, which was bursting with pride about women empowerment, had done exactly the opposite in the case of Ms.Kiran Bedi, when it chose to ignore her legitimate claims of seniority and capability and appointed Mr.Yudhvir Singh Dadwal, her junior, as the Delhi Commissioner of Police. The Home Ministry, not surprisingly, denied any ?foul play? and there are reports that Kiran Bedi is likely to approach the court of law for justice.
Women'sempowerment by the UPA government took a similar beating a few months ago, when Mr. Shivshankar Menon was appointed Foreign Secretary, bypassing several senior IFS officers already positioned in the assembly line for promotion, including one woman IFS officer. Ms. Veena Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer approached the PMO armed with an RTI application but the PMO declined to part with any information about the process of appointment of Shivshankar Menon as Foreign Secretary. Now, this matter too is in the court of law.
Women'sempowerment during the UPA regime was carried to new and dizzy heights when Dayanidhi Maran, former IT & Telecommunications Minister & grand nephew of DMK supremo Karunanidhi, was forced to resign from the cabinet, due to internecine feud among family aspirants for claims to the power pie, and Karunanidhi decided to replace him in the union cabinet with a person of his choice, chanting the mantra of women empowerment. Never mind if his choice for women empowerment was a political novice and an even bigger political non-entity. The lady is better known in Tamil Nadu as the widow of a notorious gangster killed not long ago in an encounter by the Tamil Nadu police. The UPA chairperson and the Prime Minister duly agreed to the choice and she was inducted into the cabinet as the Minister of State for Home Affairs!
And very recently, as elections to the Rajya Sabha were imminent, the DMK president and Chief Minister Karunanidhi, whose self-proclaimed sole concern is women empowerment, chose his own daughter Kanimozhi for the membership of Rajya Sabha. Kanimozhi, hailed by party loyalists/sycophants as a ?poetess?, a claim uncritically endorsed by a mindless media, is again a political novice who has been elected to the Rajya Sabha only because she is the daughter of the president of a regional party which happens to be the government in Tamil Nadu today and an ally of the Congres at the Centre. She has been sworn in recently and as if to prove how committed the UPA is to women empowerment, particularly if the women so empowered are daughters of regional satraps, the Prime Minister broke all norms and greeted the empowered lady with a shawl ? an unprecedented gesture by a Prime Minister to a newly elected Member of Parliament. It would be churlish on our part to interpret this generous gesture as obligatory genuflection to an important ally in the shaky coalition.
Grand precedents to women empowerment had been set long ago when the widow of the president of the Congress party, notwithstanding the fact that she was a foreigner, breezed straight to the top in the party and set her eyes on ruling the people of a country not her own by birth or by descent. And how can we forget the UPA'sby far the most daring women empowerment measure?the advent of Rabri Devi as Chief Minister of Bihar? This is women empowerment UPA style?a glorious history of empowering, already much empowered women?ideally dubious or dynasty.
(The writer is a political analyst and can be contacted at H6/B5, Twin Roses Apartments, 68, East Coast Road, Thiruvananmiyur, Chennai-600 041.)