The TOI has an interesting response to Sarah Palin’s nomination: the examination of political tokenism of women in India.
“A patriarchal ethos dominates both the societies, American and Indian, but they operate in different ways. In India, despite the patriarchal ethos, powerful women leaders have emerged,” says political scientist Imtiaz Ahmed.
The most famous examples are BSP chief Mayawati and AIADMK head Jayalalitha. Both emerged from the shadow of iconic godfathers, to establish themselves as leaders with grassroots support.
It is not enough to be someone’s wife, sister or mistress in Indian politics. Neerja Gopal Jayal, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s centre of law and governance points out that “Even at the panchayat level, we have had women from the member families being nominated. But the first time, patronage may work but not the second time. And this is true at the national level too.”
I myself have often wondered how, especially in the super-conservative state of Rajasthan, female leaders have established themselves. (See today’s article about Sonia Gandhi criticizing “the corrupt and inefficient [Vasundhara Raje] government.”)
Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research says, “What is unique to India, is the fact that women have the space to grow as leaders. Maybe, it has to do with our cultural ethos, where women are worshipped as goddesses.’’
I’m not so sure about the goddess worship argument, considering the low status of the majority of women; I think it could be more likely the ethos of ‘Mother India’ and the self-sacrificing stereotype of mothers/women.