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

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Anil AnAnd

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

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