Modi-Maneka In #MeToo Brawl
Political corridors of Delhi have been agog with rumours ever since Varun showed his disenchantment with his party leadership about the possibility of his joining the Congress
When Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi’s proposal to form a legal panel comprising of former judges of the High Court and senior lawyers to look into the legal and institutional framework inplace for handling complaints of sexual harassment and accordingly advice her Ministry on how to strengthen the mechanism did not find favour with the Prime Minister’s Office, it came both as a surprise and rude shock. Surprise for her fellow-beings, both inside and outside the BJP, and shock to all at large for the proposal had a merit and that she has been among the few Ministers who is a performer and steadfastly working on the issue of women’s right.
On the face of it ostensibly the proposal did not find favour with the highest quarters of the NDA Government as it had been mooted with now infamous MJ Akbar case of sexually harassing his colleagues when he was the Editor, as the focus. The #MeToo campaign and consequent pressure that it built in the society led to Akbar losing his Ministerial job. But the larger question remains as to why did Prime Minister Modi not accept WCD Minister’s proposal and instead decided to constitute a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and including two women Ministers Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and, of course, Maneka Gandhi.
Fact of the matter is that idea to set up a legal panel on such a sensitive issue was not a bad move when the credibility of Ministers’ driven GoMs has all along been questioned on two counts; one the Ministers are not domain experts, secondly given the past experience the GoMs are seen as part of a mechanism to delay or bury the particular issue and in this case give some leeway to Akbar who is still a Rajya Sabha MP of BJP.
Definitely, the setting up of a legal panel would have meant that the Minister concerned and in this case Maneka Gandhi would have been the boss. So, is there any political expediency behind rejection of her proposal and instead making the Minister known for her strong views and outspokenness a part of the GoM to keep her under check?
It is definitely the Prime Minister’s prerogative to accept or reject a proposal from his Ministers and on this count Modi is justified and no questions could be asked out of him. But, given the run up to the fresh election season with five states going to polls next month to be followed by Lok Sabha elections, it is but natural that both political friends and foes of the current regime would ask questions. The raising of political questions is also natural when Akbar has become first Minister of the Modi Government to have been forced to quit that too ahead of polls.
Is there a game plan of politically checkmating Maneka Gandhi behind rejection of her Ministry’s proposal to set up a legal panel on sexual harassment related issues? The game, in fact, was already on though indirectly after her MP
son Varun Gandhi systematically tried to distance himself from the BJP top brass. Ever since his exclusion from the party chief Amit Shah’s team of office-bearers in 2014, he had been expressing his displeasure in one form or the other form and even went to the extent of not turning up for a meeting of the UP MPs held in the same state ahead of its national executive meeting sometime back.
The rejection of Maneka Gandhi’s proposal of legal panel has also to be viewed in the backdrop her strong support to the women who narrated their experiences of sexual misconduct and named some high profile personalities that included Akbar. When most of the women ministers and MPs shied away from reacting on the issue, she very rightly took a stand suiting the Women and Child Development Minister. It might have a rattling affect in the quarters concerned thereby leading to a game of political checkmating.
Under the circumstances her bold statement, “More women should come out and address the issue of sexual harassment and narrate their experiences. I believe in all of them. I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint made by women,” could have acted as a catalyst for some reverse political thinking on the part of her party bosses.
Political corridors of Delhi have been agog with rumours ever since Varun showed his disenchantment with his party leadership about the possibility of his joining the Congress sometimes before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. So was this thought weighing heavily in the minds of the top leadership when his mother mooted the idea of a legal panel which, if constituted, would have looked into the politically sensitive case of Akbar as well?
There is a strong possibility that the GoM proposal of Maneka could have been seen by some as means of empowering her. Given her penchant for calling a spade a spade particularly on issues related to women’s rights, the skeptics in the BJP’s top echelons must have viewed it seriously and in consonance with her son’s political stand, and accordingly the rejection of the proposal.
With former Union Minister, a BJP founding member and close aide of ex- Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh’s MLA son Manvendra Singh joining the Congress, he had some time back resigned from the BJP, along with his family members, just ahead of the Rajasthan Assembly elections, some doubts, at least in the case of Varun if not Maneka Gandhi, could have arisen in the minds of politically more circumspect Modi and Shah. It will be interesting to see how fast the GoM works on the task given to and more importantly how Maneka Gandhi would act or react while being part of the proceedings.
PM Narendra Modi with Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi
Varun Gandhi, MP from Sultanpur, UP