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.
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!)