Only sons rise? But Misa missed her catch

Among the many tantalising "what-ifs" that bookmark the India story, the all-season favourite is "what if Indira Gandhi had a brother?"

By Rasheed Kidwai and Our Patna Bureau
  • Published 21.11.15
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Nov. 20: Among the many tantalising "what-ifs" that bookmark the India story, the all-season favourite is "what if Indira Gandhi had a brother?"

For the answer, look no further than Patna, some say.

In the Bihar capital this afternoon, Tejashwi, Lalu Prasad's eighth child and second son, was sworn in as the deputy chief minister.

At 26, Tejashwi is the youngest deputy chief minister the country has ever seen. Keeping him company in Nitish Kumar's cabinet will be his elder brother Tej Pratap, 27, the second MLA from the Lalu Prasad family in this Assembly.

Misa Bharti, the first born whose first name is a testimony to the Emergency-era law that her father Lalu Prasad fought tooth and nail, could not make it to the oath-taking dais and was in the VIP enclosure.

Unfair, say others, who point out that the first-born did get her chance first when she was fielded in the Lok Sabha elections.

They say it does not make sense to accuse Lalu Prasad of gender bias, pointing out that he went to the extent of alienating his most trusted lieutenant, Ram Kripal Yadav, to give the ticket to his daughter. But Misa lost the election - to Yadav, who switched sides and is now a central minister.

The sons have been given only the second chance, not the first, these sources say. (Lalu Prasad has picked Tejashwi, the younger of the two sons, to be deputy chief minister because he is said to be more "political" than Tej Pratap).

So, where's the gender bias? Lalu Prasad has simply followed a gender-neutral primogeniture policy.

Evidently - and reportedly - Misa thinks otherwise.

The daughter was all smiles today as she led the family in cheering its return to power after a decade, but sources in the RJD and the state government said Misa had wondered aloud last night why she was being excluded from the new ministry.

Although Misa is not an MLA, a person can be made a minister, provided he or she is elected to either the Assembly or the Legislative Council (Bihar has a bicameral legislature) within six months.

The sources said Misa asked her father why she was being left out although she was the first among the siblings to take the political plunge.

By then, it was decided that Tejashwi will be designated deputy chief minister. Today, he was allotted the important portfolio of road and building construction while Tej Pratap got the key health department.

Misa was so angry that chief minister Nitish Kumar had to be informed and he intervened to calm her down with the help of his campaign strategist Prashant Kishor, an RJD source said.

No one at 10 Circular Road in Patna, where the RJD's First Family resides, was willing to speak on the matter.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, too, Misa had insisted that she be made the candidate for the prestigious Pataliputra seat, which led to the desertion by Yadav and her defeat.

The loss of an election need not be a disqualification to become a minister. Arun Jaitley lost the Amritsar Lok Sabha election but is the finance minister of the country now.

Like Jaitley, who is a Rajya Sabha member, Misa can also nurse hopes of entering the Bihar cabinet through the Legislative Council door. A trusted aide of Lalu Prasad, Bhola Nath, is an MLC but he has been elected to the Assembly. The council seat Bhola Nath vacates could well go to Misa if her father so choses, the sources said.

Misa, 40, had topped her MBBS degree exam with a distinction in gynaecology from Patna Medical College and Hospital.

Back to the original "what if".

Indira's aunt Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, who was present in the household when the future Prime Minister was born on November 19, 1917, had recalled that the Scottish doctor who was attending to Kamla Nehru announced to Jawaharlal Nehru: "It is a bonny lassie, Sir!"

But Mubarak Ali, the trusted munshi and major-domo of the family, kept addressing the infant as the "grandson" of Motilal Nehru.

But Motilal told his wife Swaroop Rani and the others present: "Have we made a distinction between our son and two daughters in their upbringing? Do you not love them equally? This daughter of Jawahar's, for all you know, may prove to be better than a thousand sons."

Both Indira and Sonia remained partial towards grandson Rahul even as Congress ranks of all shades have been rooting for Priyanka as a leader of the present-day party.

When Sonia formally joined politics in December 1997, she was repeatedly asked about Priyanka and each time Sonia used to add Rahul's name, saying it was up to her children to decide about politics as a career. In 2004, Sonia said Priyanka was playing a "more meaningful" role as a mother raising two young children.

Priyanka herself had said in an interview in 2009 that Rahul was Indira's favourite. "My brother was absolutely, let me tell you, her favourite and the idealising granddaughter would be kind of marginalised for the favourite grandson."

In most other political dynasties in India - like the Badals, the Scindias, the Abdullahs and the Karunanidhi family - women's entry has come as an exception or they had to share the political space with their brothers.

The year 1996 was crucial for Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba as polls in Jammu and Kashmir were being held after a gap of many years.

Current chief minister Mufti had returned to the Congress and needed someone who could contest from Bijbehara in south Kashmir.

In Mehbooba's own words, her father's ideal choice was son Tassaduq Hussain, but he couldn't qualify because he was underage.

"So I stood by my father," Mehbooba had told an interviewer with a broad grin. Last week, Mufti hinted that his daughter is capable enough to succeed him.

The poetry of Kanimozhi, the daughter of DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, reportedly helped her earn her father's affection and a political role. But Kani's turn came after her half-brothers, including M.K. Stalin who represented the DMK in Patna today, were projected as political heirs.

But Kani's political fortunes changed after she stood by her father when Karunanidhi was arrested in 2001 by the AIADMK regime. In 2009 she was the DMK's star campaigner. Karunanidhi saw in Kani a counter to Jayalalithaa.

Domestic and political battles between Rajmata Scindia and her son Madhavrao helped daughter Vasundhara shape up as a politician. Madhavrao used to trace his feud with Rajmata to 1972, the year he left the Jan Sangh to join the Congress.

Rajmata fielded daughter Vasundhara, now Rajasthan chief minister, to keep alive the family legacy. Vasundhara's first brush with politics came in 1984 when she was made a member of the national executive of the fledgling BJP. Her younger sister Yashodhararaje, now a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan ministry in Madhya Pradesh, entered politics in 1994.

The Abdullahs of Kashmir had a woman member in Parliament. Farooq Abdullah's mother Begum Akbar Jahan kept the National Conference flag flying high when husband Sheikh Abdullah was jailed and Farooq was away in London. Called the madr-e-meherban of Kashmir, Begum Akbar Jahan represented Anantnag and Srinagar in the Lok Sabha from 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989.

The Thackerays of Maharashtra, the Patnaiks of Odisha and the Reddys of Andhra have largely struck to male dynasties. Sharad Pawar did introduce daughter Supriya Sule in politics but he did not have a male child.

Mamata Banerjee, too, opted for her nephew although she has an older and accomplished niece.

But gender bias is by no means limited to politics alone. You don't have to look at Patna or politics alone to spot something that is visible in almost every other sphere.