Narendra Modi has been a busy man
for the last few weeks. And I’m frankly surprised that he hasn’t
lost his voice by now. His first stop on the lecture circuit was
the 29th annual general meeting of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO)
in New Delhi this week.
So who made up the audience? People from the grassroots level who
were trying to break out of the constraints placed on them by
tradition and society? Who needed to learn that they could play
the roles which their social milieu expected them to adopt — that
of wives and mothers — and also be economically independent ?
No, these were women togged up in
Satya Paul sarees, pearl earrings, perfectly coiffed hair, and
were involved (at least some were) in a business of their own or
with others. I might be making a blanket statement, but I can
pretty much bet on it that a negligible percentage — if that — of
these women would be making chapatis for their husbands at home.
Not while the subalterns were there to do so.
The problem when you make three
speeches in a day is that you forget to tailor your speeches to
your audience. That Modi is a great orator, who doesn’t need to
fumble through cheat notes is known. It is only expected that he
will speak without hesitation, crack a joke or two and not falter.
But what of the content? The keynote address was to be on women’s
empowerment. What was obvious 15 minutes into Modi’s speech was
that only the mother and sister amongst us should be empowered.
Bad luck if you’re a childless woman without siblings. This speech
wasn’t meant for you.
What is worrying is that a man who
claimed that the West views women in India incorrectly, assuming
that all Indian women are housewives, seemed to believe the same
thing. Analogy after analogy painted women out to be pining for
their husband’s affections and attention, spending hours trying to
make the perfect chapati and when burning their fingers pretending
that the burn was worse than it was when their husbands came home
from work. Following this analogy, Modi even asked the FLO
audience if they’d done the same thing. They giggled and agreed.
There was also a story about how mothers will desert a sari sale
to save their child from a burning house. The bizarreness of it
all, made you wonder if he knew what he was saying. Did he even
realise how brainless he was making women sound?
Modi also went on to say that in the
21st century, women are killed before they’re born. While this is
appalling, this really isn’t news. What he didn’t state was that
the highest instances of female foeticide in Gujarat have been
seen in the state’s urban areas.
We did get another analogy about how
families with four sons have been abandoned by their sons. And of
families where the eldest daughter has refused to get married so
she can look after her parents. The either-or, neither-nor choice
was a little absurd. The stated premise of stating these analogies
was that women must be protected and they are our future.
And while Modi’s love for the girl child might indeed be genuine,
ground realities belie what he said. Since he did give examples
from Gujarat for any ill he mentioned, you’ll realise that his
argument sounds a bit hollow. While he said that women should be
included in decision-making, look at how only 2 of 19 ministers in
his cabinet are women.
Also, under his rule, Gujarat’s sex ratio
has dropped even further —from 920 in 2001 to 918 in 2011. Yet
it’s not like Modi was averse to mentioning facts. He peppered his
speech with examples of the many achievements and measures Gujarat
has taken to empower women. All these were passed off as ‘chhota
nirnays’ by Modi. And all are indeed commendable measures.
He also seemed to be very pre-occupied with cooking and food. From
Jasuben’s pizza to Induben khakrato Lijjat papadto Amul milk —
almost all examples of entrepreneurship were related to food. By
the end of it, you felt that all that people in Gujarat did was
cook and sell food.
Also, poking fun at the Congress and its
build-up of the Kalavati incident is fine. But FLO members seemed
to think it was very funny when he said that Induben had died five
years back, because they burst out laughing. Nice.
You felt that at least when the ‘Q &
A’ segment began, the ladies would rise to the occasion. Ask him
why if he was all about women’s empowerment, he felt that he could
refer to Sunanda Tharoor as a 500-crore girlfriend and whysex
ratios in Gujarat had worsened. But no such luck. He instead got
asked the vital question: “You are such a strong personality and
so disciplined, what is your weakness?”
Then there was the bit
about how the Congress had left so many potholes in Gujarat, which
was repeated the next day in Kolkata, as Modi took a potshot at
It must be tiring to have to deliver
so many speeches in a span of 36 hours.
And, of course, there’ll
be spillovers. But if you can’t figure out what you need to talk
to your audience about, it’s better not to talk. While Modi’s
heart might indeed be in the right place when it comes to the
ladies, he would have done himself and his audience a favour if
he’d realised how irrelevant his speech was to the gathered
And how it drove home the fact that according to Modi a
woman’s identity is connected directly to home and hearth and to
the male members of her family. There’s no place in the Modi
scheme of things for all us brotherless spinsters who don’t cook.
The writer is