On December 16, Rahul Gandhi is slated to take over the presidentship of the Congress party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi. Hers was perhaps the longest tenure as president of the party. Taking over the reins of the Congress party was something that was in the making for a long while, after all, he had been appointed vice president way back in 2013, and oversaw the election campaign for the 2014 general elections, which had the Congress decimated and the BJP take over the government.
But it is a changed Rahul Gandhi one sees today when compared with the Rahul who campaigned during the 2014 general elections. He seems to have come a long way from the hesitant, seemingly befuddled young man who was interviewed by one of the most vociferous television anchors one has, and seemed to have a standard response for every question posed to him.
His words are sharper now, he seems more confident in his public appearances. He doesn’t seem to hesitate in throwing his punches.
Ra Ga called the NDA government a ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ in April 2015. He, who had studiously been off social media, had a twitter account finally opened by his office soon after. His public appearance at Berkeley University created quite an impact, his responses to touchy questions on dynasty seemed to have hit the right note. What also did change perceptions a tad were the tweets being sent out from his account, which were sometimes sharp and acerbic, at others humorous. If the battle for perception is being fought on social media, Rahul Gandhi was slowly and steadily upping his game. A lot of, folks would say, thanks to his new improved social media team. But it was a definitely a change of perception, Rahul Gandhi was creating a bit of a stir.
And then, he went and scored himself a self-goal. It happened during the ongoing campaign for the forthcoming elections in Gujarat. In a speech addressing a rally in poll-bound Gujarat, he wanted to make a point about the numbers of women in the RSS. He asked the crowd if anyone had seen women in shakhas wearing shorts. Incidentally, the khaki shorts he referred to, were no longer used by the RSS. The organisation had shifted to long pants a while ago.
He added that in the Congress women were visible at every level of the party. But even if they had not, the reference to the shorts was rather unwarranted.
As women struggling to make our voices heard in the patriarchy that dominates Indian society, clothes have always been one of the ways in which we are policed. Just today, a politician spoke about how men won’t prefer to get married to a woman who comes to the mandap dressed in jeans. Clothes are how women are bracketed, dismissed, victim shamed and put down. To have women reduced to what they wear, whether as part of the uniform of a political party or not, is downright dismissive of their abilities and skills. This is not what women of the country want. Shorts or sarees, every woman would want safety, guaranteed literacy, medical facilities, equal pay for equal work, and so much more in terms of being able to live on equal terms with men.
To have women reduced to what they wear, whether as part of the uniform of a political party or not, is downright dismissive of their abilities and skills. This is not what women of the country want.
When Rahul Gandhi equated political participation of women in an organisation to clothes, he revealed a casual sexism we've all faced and combated. Women, we realise, still have a long way to go in this country. No matter how much we speak about women’s rights and empowerment, and all that comes with it, nothing changes until the casual sexism is called out. No matter where or from whom it comes from. Perhaps only then, will we have the next generation of girls free from it.
Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV