We could do with many more Didis in India, says Shobhaa De

Agreed, this is not the time to gloat. India is in the grip of a virus that is refusing to loosen its stranglehold. Even so, something exceptionally significant took place this week that will have a long-lasting impact on our lives. And it is okay to say ‘hurrah’ with loud cheers. A lady in a wheelchair successfully showed the door to a bully in a helicopter—it was a big, big win for West Bengal’s iron woman, the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee, and her All India Trinamool Congress party.

That she lost her own seat in Nandigram hardly matters, for she emerged as a superheroine, a one-woman army—feisty, ferocious and fearless, decimating foes and leading from the front. Well, staunch BJP supporters who had arrogantly written her off earlier and planned a victory parade for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah through Park Street, are busy mansplaining Didi’s whipping of the mighty party as a “woman” thing.

Imaging: Bhaskaran Imaging: Bhaskaran

Shall we give credit to Prashant Kishor for this masterstroke? Didi is being positioned as the ultimate champion of the good ladies of Bengal—a female political leader who cares for females. A feminist icon. The BJP spinmeisters went horribly wrong by ignoring this trump card. Worse, they stooped to insult a woman. Women across India retaliated to the provocative “Didi, o Didi” taunt—the prime minister’s biggest campaign faux pas. This one line will mark his failure to win West Bengal.

From a street fighter to a feisty feminist, Didi is a self-made woman who has created her own political grammar. Unlike other female political leaders, she has not emerged out of a mould as someone’s wife, widow or girlfriend. She does not have a male mentor or patron looking out for her. If anything, she is the dominant figure extending support to relatively docile men in her entourage. Today’s Indian woman admires and identifies with these traits. Didi’s obvious disdain for female frippery, the absence of vanity, and her complete control over her narrative, make her a huge contemporary hero. Her brand of politics be damned! Paradoxically, critics, put off by Didi’s aggro attitude and confrontational politics, shifted gear after watching her perform during the elections. Aggro met aggro, and Didi became Durga astride a tiger.

Let us face it—nobody expected her to win this big. In hindsight, Didi watchers are talking about her humongous and loyal female vote bank that believes in her and sees her as their saviour. But more than her pro-women policies, it is her belligerence towards male opponents that impresses other women. It is not just oppressed rural women who seek inspiration from Mamata’s personality and chutzpah, it is urban, working women, too, who gush over her. Discriminated against for decades and desperate to break out of the patriarchal trap, Didi’s unfettered life provides enormous encouragement to any woman who has been forced to compromise her principles, her ambitions.

Didi unapologetically owns her personal and political choices. When she threw the Khela hobe [Game on] challenge to the Modi-Shah camp, while being wheeled around with a leg in a cast, Didi became the brave, wounded soldier ready to fight till the last ballot was cast and the last bullet fired. Today, Didi is like an impregnable fort with the retreating armies of her opponents running for cover. She is readying herself to take on the role of her lifetime—as the prime minister of India. Nobody is laughing! She has set her sights on Delhi, and it no longer looks like a lousy Bong joke.

As for me… I am an amused observer. We could do with many more Didis in India. What is good for the women of Bengal is good for women everywhere.