Why Indian politicians will never support #MeToo

By Manik Sharma

Franklin D Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in politics happens by accident.” That statement feels wry, but profound nonetheless, considering its authorship has been disputed as much over the years as its validity hasn’t. As the wind of the #MeToo movement rafts through mores, shaking trees and bruising rocks, the silence coming out of our political establishment is damning. To understand this, we must also listen to Machiavelli who wrote: “Politics has nothing to do with morals.”

Those waiting on the government or even opposition parties to put their weight behind the cathartic moment that is at the throat of India’s waking state right now, look elsewhere. Ideological and moral battles are to political parties what innuendo is to language – sparkly, but futile in the long run.

The demand for the resignation of Minister of State for External Affairs and former editor MJ Akbar, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, has been met with silence from the government. In fact, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj chose not to respond to a question from a journalist about Akbar. There must surely be a can of worms that each political firmament sits on, and risks being uncorked out in the open in a comically self-regarding disaster, should they speak up.

The second reason – and perhaps the one that makes all the more sense for this quiet – is because political parties find moral battles unworkable to their advantage. #MeToo will never affect their vote shares. Like a good poem, it might seize the heart for a bit, but it doesn’t do much for electoral wherewithal, which to those even modestly pragmatic is really all that matters.

In a way, most men and women within political circles have surrendered enough of their will, to not express surprise when it is suppressed.

There’s a delicious kind of irony though, in the very public lip-service that is paid to campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao or the Muslim woman-saving Triple Talaq conquest. Beyond sliding the ruler on sex ratios and atomising gender issues to questions on life and death alone, politics deals with women the same way it deals with its soldiers – relevant only in the time of war and social media. And guess whose war is this? Anyone’s but theirs. Politicians are trained in schematics, in bafflingly purposeful approaches to mundane things – like inaugurating buildings and declaring yojanas. How can they then contemplate something that has evolved of its own force, its own momentum, and most crucially without franchise or personality that can be bundled into something expedient? Which is why, when shopping for issues to throw around, netas don’t rush to the moralistic core of India’s problem. They pick up what is tried and tested in the front, ready to be packaged.

But why blame just India? The silence of India’s politicians isn’t unique: The US senate didn’t exactly rush to the support of women accusing Harvey Weinstein or stop the swearing-in of Brett Kavanaugh, despite the elaborate sham of a hearing where his victims were completely ignored.

Political parties, whichever you might support, are just as male-driven as any other institution in most countries. Female voices are regarded as extraneous, there to ratchet up important numbers, fill reserved seats. Add to that the fact that the very fabric of a political matrix is power. In a way, most men and women within political circles have surrendered enough of their will, to not express surprise when it is suppressed. But perhaps what makes moral battles like #MeToo unworthy of their attention is their inability to see political upturns in it.

Imagine for a minute if this #MeToo moment had instead been a Ram Mandir issue or another scam that could be wrangled one way or the other, spokespersons would have been hiving around primetime slots like bees, having prepared quotes from women authors they would neither read nor give the “permission” to write. There is also the inevitability of risk here. Largely, because unlike a ghotala or a communal conflict, audible denial isn’t an option and sexual harassment is as black and white, as say Hindu-Muslim. It is preferable, therefore, to watch the forest burn from afar, safe in the knowledge that on this side, each leaf and shrub knows their strict place.

A #MeToo movement within politics, is further than we might anticipate even though one gets the feeling the graves of harassment and sexual predation, in the annals of politics go much deeper than we’d think. While some in the government and even outside it may enjoy the way liberals have been found naked in their own barn, the horses are yet to run their last damning race.

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