INDIA GOING FOR A STAG PARTY


 The Economic Times
 

Unmarried politicians: Can Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi achieve anything from virtues of singlehood?

 


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The real Indian difference though on this issue could be that politicians here don’t just shrug off their unmarried status, but assert it as a positive virtue.
The real Indian difference though on this issue could be that politicians here don’t just shrug off their unmarried status, but assert it as a positive virtue.
If Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi face off at the next general election it will make for an abstruse bit of election trivia. It will be one of very few times where two single leaders have fought for leadership of a major democracy. The only other comparable case might be from Canada back in 1930 when Conservative leader RB Bennett defeated the Liberal PM William Lyon Mackenzie King, and then five years later fought King again, but lost.

Neither man ever married and some of their quirks may have stemmed from this. Bennett cultivated a tough, unfeeling public image, but was said to stay up at night reading appeals for help from the many Canadians suffering from the Great Depression, and sending them small sums of his own money (he was one of Canada's richest men). King, who became Canada's longest-serving prime minister (in all, 22 years), regularly consulted occult mediums, seeking to contact spirits including his mother, his first predecessor as prime minister and his many dogs over the years.

Both of them benefited from the last trails of a trend. In The Age of the Bachelor, an engaging study of unmarried men at the start of the 20th century, Howard Chudacoff links them to the sophisticated urban culture of the West from the 1880s, which created support systems of clubs, restaurants and serviced apartments that enabled many men to live alone. Sherlock Holmes was a fictional example of this trend. It perfectly suited a certain kind of ambitious personality like Bennett and King, and Arthur Balfour, who was PM in the UK, who were able quite literally to wed themselves to their work.

Shades of Singlehood

Yet a reaction set in after World War I. Ambitious male politicians like these, disconnected from the daily concerns of most people, were held partly responsible for the carnage, and the entry of women into politics further made single men suspect. Chudacoff writes that "so despised had bachelors become that by the 1930s, historian Mary Beard could assert that dangerous leaders and power-hungry political groups like Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi Party had arisen from a society that harboured excesses of unmarried men".

Being married, at least at some point, became almost imperative for Western politicians even if, due to reasons of divorce or earlier death of their spouse, some were actually single at the time they took the top post. The rare ones, who never married, like Edward Heath in the UK, always had distinctly mixed reputations. Voters seemed to be instinctively suspicious of such solitary souls, or perhaps bought into the notion of the nation as a family, which required a suitably parental couple at its head.

But India seems to be an exception. Apart from Rahul and Modi, there are several high-profile and powerful single politicians like Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Naveen Patnaik. The circumstances of their singlehood vary. Rahul has that Spanish girlfriend in his past and there is the strange, sad story floating around of a woman who may be Modi's wife, but is now confined to a small village in Gujarat. Both these women, if they exist, have been firmly discarded and now cannot dent the unmarried aura.

The stories of the women politicians differ a bit, reflecting a current trend for women in top positions to be single. An earlier generation of women politicians, like Margaret Thatcher, frantically balanced lives as wives and mothers with the demands of their job, perhaps to counter the criticism that the jobs would diminish them as women. But a new generation sees no reason to keep up such pretenses, and many women politicians like Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (twice divorced) and Park Guen-hye of South Korea (never married) have opted to remain without the complications of a First Husband.

The Issue of First Spouse

It is true that many of these women, in India and abroad, have had male mentors to give them an initial boost, but it is still remarkable how they have managed to build on this and maintain their positions in fairly patriarchal societies which place a high premium on marriage. But in India the job was made easier by the fact that our top leaders have never had to flaunt their marriages in the way of the West — the unintended consequence perhaps of our having a widower PM for our first 14 years as a country, to be soon followed in the same post by his widowed daughter. It is actually surprising to note that it was only 37 years after Independence that we got a First Spouse to draw much attention, with Sonia Gandhi in 1984.

Before her Lalita Shastri was known a little, but few would remember the names of the wives of Morarji Desai and Charan Singh (Gajaraben Desai and Gayatri Singh respectively). And after Sonia again, most prime ministerial wives hardly registered — you will not get much name recognition for Rani Sita Kumari (VP Singh), Duja Devi (Chandra Sekhar) and Chenamma (Deve Gowda). PV Narasimha Rao was another widower PM, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was famously a bachelor.

Apart from Sonia, only Sheila Gujral and Gursharan Kaur have made some impression as First Spouses of India, which is really not much over 66 years. This lack of scrutiny clearly benefits bachelor politicians in India. Everyone loves gossiping about "close female assistants", but nothing is ever investigated or written about, and so effectively does not exist.

This also means that one big reason for single politicians to get married in the West doesn't apply here. When William Hague was rising in the Conservative Party in the UK, there was much talk about his possible homosexuality and perhaps it was just coincidence, but the year he became party leader he also got married — inside the parliament no less. (Perhaps it is also coincidence that Hague has written a biography of William Pitt the Younger, the most notable unmarried British PM, in which he makes light of rumours of Pitt's homosexuality).
This is one thing that might be changing in the West as homosexuality becomes increasingly accepted. The neighbouring cases of Belgium and the Netherlands are good examples — Elio Di Rupo, the Belgian PM is openly gay and single, but while the usual rumours have swirled around Mark Rutte, the Dutch PM who is also single, these are usually dismissed on the grounds that he would have no problems if he came out as gay, so he probably isn't! Such rumours certainly persist around a couple of unmarried Indian politicians, but given lack of scrutiny, and the low profile homosexuality has had here, it has never become an issue. It will be interesting to see if, hopefully, this lack of concern will continue as homosexuality becomes more visible in India.

Nephew Bias

The real Indian difference though on this issue could be that politicians here don't just shrug off their unmarried status, but assert it as a positive virtue. This was a tactic used by the first eunuchs to stand for political office, like Shabnam Mausi, who drew a contrast between their childless condition, and that of other politicians who lavished benefits on their kin. It is more than slightly bemusing then to find the same arguments being trotted out for mainstream politicians like Rahul and Modi. But the limitations of such arguments against nepotism are shown by the origins of the word.

Nepotism derives from the Latin for nephew, and was first used in the context of medieval popes who may have been unmarried and without children (though some had those too), but who simply passed on benefits to their nephews. Many nephews became prelates themselves — the cardinal-nephew was a common concept and created long lineages of preference independent of marriage. Rahul may well be sincere in not wanting dynastic benefit for his children, but what is stopping dynasty-demented Congressmen from looking to his sister's children? (Though the idea of the First Father we would land up with then might even give them some pause).

Original Hermit

Perhaps the most nebulous Indian benefit attached to bachelorhood is that of being a brahmachari, with the supposed attached spiritual benefits. This is particularly spoken of in the context of Modi (and the RSS), since it usefully appears to link to deep Hindu traditions. Yet these values may not really run that deep. There is, of course, a long Indian tradition of people turning their backs on all worldly matters, including marriage and going to the mountains to meditate. But the operative point is that they give up all worldly things, whereas the way in which brahmachari is being used with Modi involves deep involvement with worldly matters, while yet claiming the benefits of detachment.

This would seem to run counter to the way the concept has been used in India and, in fact, lies closer to the Christian and Buddhist concept of monks and unmarried priests — and it can certainly be argued that the 19th century Hindu movements that created the monastic orders that groups like the RSS claim as inspiration were looking more at the success of these religions than anything intrinsic to Hinduism. The Hindu model for an active, unmarried person lies more with Bhishma in the Mahabharata and, as TK Arun has pointed out in ET, he is far from being an automatic role model. In recent popular representations like Amar Chitra Katha comics and TV serials Bhishma is shown as the embodiment of wise selflessness.

Yet as Irawati Karve pointed out in Yuganta, her path-breaking book of analysis of the Mahabharata, this is not necessarily how he is shown in the texts. The Bhishma of the original texts can also be seen as a man somehow unfulfilled, yet made arrogant by an aggressive sense of his own virtue. Yet this same virtue also saw the Pandavas humiliated, Draupadi stripped and, finally, most of his Kuru clan killed while he just looked on. "Had Bhishma accomplished anything by keeping his vows? The question remains," wrote Karve, and that question will remain with Rahul, Modi and all Indian politicians who claim their lack of marriage as a virtue.
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ANOTHER STORY?

Rahul Gandhi girlfriend Veronique Cartelli

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We don't know many details about Rahul Gandhi girlfriend just that she is Spanish architect. Before that relationship he dated with a Columbian girl Juanita.
 http://kalimpongonlinenews.blogspot.in/2013/01/when-will-rahul-gandhi-marry-someone-i.html



C'mon Rahul, marriage isn't kid stuff

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HAPPY ALONE?: Gandhi wishes to spare his future progeny the angst of living in the political eye

Renunciation seems to have become the mantra of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. First, Rahul's mom, Soniaji, famously renounced the prime minister's gaddi in favour of Manmohan Singh. Now, Rahul has done a double whammy. He's reportedly said that he might not only renounce PM-ship (who's he going to get as his Manmohan stand-in ? the question is already being asked) but that he'll go one better and also renounce the institution of matrimony and remain single. Why this vow of bachelorhood, if not celibacy? Apparently it's because Rahul believes that, if he were to get married, his conjugal state would inevitably result in his fathering children, whom he would then, out of natural paternalistic instincts, set up in positions of political power, thus perpetuating the dynastic line of succession in the Congress party. So, Rahul plans to remain unmarried - and childless - all for the sake of intra-party democracy. A noble thought.
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