More presidential elections

India’s presidential elections are a couple of weeks away (on the 18th of this month), and a woman, Pratibha Patel, is contesting. This is, of course far less interesting than the U.S presidential elections and Hilary Clinton, since the Indian president a) isn’t elected by the public and b) has very little power to do anything anyway. Our current president has spent much of his time writing execrable poetry and motivational texts.

Since they don’t actually have much of a role to play, the choice of president is often an exercise in tokenism. We have had presidents from minority/disempowered castes, religions, etc before, and though they have been quite good ones, one suspects that their real function was to prove what an equal society we are. I have heard people say smugly of India that the fact that we have a Muslim president, a Sikh Prime Minister and Christian power-behind-the-prime minister proves that we are a diverse and egalitarian country (it also gives the Hindu right wing something to feel oppressed about) regardless of what normal Sikhs, Muslims and women may experience in day-to-day, nonpolitical life.*

It also makes things far easier to pick a president when no one wants to vote against a particular candidate for fear of being seen anti – *insertminoritygrouphere*ist. The ruling coalition is currently accusing the opposition of being anti-woman for…er…opposing Patel’s candidature.

And now all sorts of sinister things about Patel’s past have been raked up, and various blogs are carrying an anti-Patel banner, and it’s all gotten very interesting.

I’m not really that interested in who finally becomes president (though if the allegations about Patel are proved true I’d really rather not have her as nominal head of my country) but I find her candidature rather interesting in the wake of a lot of the debates over Hillary Clinton and the question of whether feminists should vote for her purely because she is a woman. A lot of the arguments don’t apply to Patel, for obvious reasons. The only one that might is the idea that having a female president will somehow normalize the idea of a woman in power for a lot of people – that we need more female authority figures so that people can stop seeing it as an extraordinary thing. (We did have Indira Gandhi. I’m not sure how her years as Prime Minister have improved my position as an Indian woman, though I’m extremely thankful I wasn’t alive during them)

I don’t know. It’s not like I get to vote on it, anyway.

* Patel claimed a few weeks ago that her being nominated was proof of Indian society’s respect for women. The newspaper I read chose to quote her on the front page. Unfortunately they also chose to print various rape reports a couple of pages later.

(Hello, Feministe readers!)


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5 comments for “More presidential elections

  1. July 2, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Hi, Aishwarya, great post. I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with Indian politics as I should be, but I remember a few years ago a lot of the discussion about India in western news sources was about the rise of Hindu nationalism and the BJP, and concern about what this would mean for India both domestically and internationally, especially vis-a-vis Pakistan. Did that surge of Hindu nationalism peak when the BJP lost the general election in 2004? Was concern about the belligerence of the BJP overblown, since they pursued peace talks with Pakistan? Or is Hindu nationalism still a major and somewhat frightening force in India? Not that you have to answer all or any of these questions, of course, but another interesting parallel between India and the US is the rise of social/religious conservatism over the past little while (in the US, I suppose this really began at least as far back as the mid-70’s, and (one hopes) peaked with the current administration), and, of course, the way that conservatism has dealt with terrorism and been perceived to deal with it. But, anyways, great post.

  2. July 3, 2007 at 1:30 am

    The Indian presidential elections are important because a sympathetic president can be quite helpful (to his/her supporting party/faction) if the next general elections result in a hung parliament. Going by the last 5 elections, hung parliaments are a norm in India (the last UP assembly elections came as a huge surprise). That’s why everyone has their own lobby to get their person in the presidential seat.

  3. Catherine Martell
    July 3, 2007 at 5:33 am

    Great post. I think India has actually been ahead of the game in terms of having women present in political life. There were women in cabinet ministerial positions, women governors of provinces, and women ambassadors right from the day of independence. Nehru’s pro-feminist credentials were remarkably solid.

    I’m not exactly stoked about Pratibha Patel, either. Though I can’t believe you don’t adore Kalam’s poetry. The lyrical affectations? The semi-mystical Stalinist odes to the glory of industrial development? The frequent use of the double exclamation point? The occasional foray into mild homoeroticism?

    Only the vision will ignite the billion souls.
    It has entered into me ; The ignited soul compared to any resource is the most powerful resource on the earth, above the earth and under the earth.
    I will keep the lamp of knowledge burning to achieve the vision – Developed India
    If we work and sweat for the great vision with ignited minds, the transformation leading to the birth of vibrant developed India will happen.

    But there is more. So very much more.

  4. July 3, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Jeffaclitus – Eek. Difficult questions, all of those. The BJP has a lot of links with Hindu nationalism, but it’s also very much linked to the interests of the (Hindu, conservative) middle class and can be quite pragmatic when necessary. And then there was Godhra and what happened after it.
    I don’t know how threatening Hindu nationalism is, to be honest, because those who advocate it are usually not taken seriously by what passes for a liberal media here. Hindu dominance is pretty strong when it comes to social and legal codes and such, but that’s also because Hindus remain in such a huge majority.

    Tejaswi – The last UP elections really were a shocker, weren’t they? I was reasonably pleased.

    Catherine – I said Kalam’s poetry was execrable. I didn’t say i didn’t enjoy it! ;)

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