While discrediting a political opponent is one of the most common tactics to prevent him/her from becoming popular among voters, the kind of language used and accusations hurled reveal a party's mindset. The way politicians go about discrediting women candidates is a prime example of such behaviour.
The latest woman politician to face such attacks is the new Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Ever since she was officially inducted into Congress, she has become an easy target for sexist leaders from the rival camp.
Her rivals' jibes are aimed at what she wears, how she looks, and how the combination of the two dim the chances of her success in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
The most shocking of these remarks came from BJP leader Mahesh Sharma, who is also India's culture minister and part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet.
Sharma, while addressing a public rally in Sikandrabad, Uttar Pradesh, said: "Pappu kehta hai ki pradhan mantri banuga. Toh Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, abhi Pappu ki Pappi bhi aa gayi (Pappu wants to become the prime minister, now Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Pappi have also joined)."
Union Min Mahesh Sharma in Sikandrabad- "Agar Mamata Banerjee yahan aa karke Kathak kare aur K'taka CM geet gaye toh kaun sun raha hai? Pappu kehta hai ki PM banunga,ab toh Pappu ki Pappi (Priyanka Gandhi)bhi aa gayi.Inse upar uth kar dekhna hai toh aaj humara sher Modi hai(16/3) pic.twitter.com/AQW6tCtRzZ
" ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) March 18, 2019
Some may argue that the 'culture' minister didn't name Priyanka. But did he need to? An even if the target was supposedly someone else, does this kind of misogynistic language behoove India's culture minister?
'Pappu' is a nickname BJP leaders have coined to make fun of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. It's a no-brainer (as the video above shows) that Sharma was referring to Priyanka Gandhi as 'Pappi'. It's not a coincidence that 'pappi' is the Hindi word for 'kiss', and that he was using the name with the clear intention of objectifying Priyanka in front of his supporters.
This is not the first time Sharma has been downright sexist. In 2016, he stoked controversy after suggesting that women foreign tourists shouldn't wear a skirt while in India. That Sharma held both the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism portfolios for another three years, and that he has been given a chance to return to the Lok Sabha as a BJP candidate from Gautam Budh Nagar in Madhya Pradesh, is simply bewildering.
Sharma is not the lone BJP leader to have made sexist remarks against Priyanka. Right after Priyanka was appointed Congress general secretary, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya claimed that she was brought into the party only because Congress needs 'chocolaty faces' to win the election.
"A Congress leader demands that Kareena Kapoor should be fielded from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. Sometimes, others talk about fielding Salman Khan from Indore. Likewise, Priyanka was also brought into active politics. The Congress does not have strong leaders to field in the Lok Sabha election. That is why it wants to fight the polls through these chocolaty faces," Vijayvargiya had told reporters in January.
BJP's Kailash Vijayvargiya: Unke paas leader nahi hain, isliye wo chocolatey chehre ke madhyam se chunav mein jaana chahte hain. Ye unke andar atmavishwas ke kami ko dikhata hai... Koi Kareena Kapoor ka naam chalata hai, koi Salman Khan ka, kabhi Priyanka Gandhi ko le aate hain. pic.twitter.com/GhVWrnuRbR " ANI (@ANI) January 26, 2019
Vijayvargiya's comments had come at a time when another senior BJP leader and Bihar minister Vinod Narain Jha had made a sexist remark against Priyanka.
This is what Jha, who holds the Public Health and Engineering portfolio in Nitish Kumar-led BJP-JD(U) government in Bihar, said just days before Vijayvargiya made his 'chocolaty face' remark:
"Except for being beautiful, I see no quality that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may be credited with. Nature has showered its bounty on her. But the Congress should remember that beauty does not garner votes..."
Dismissing your opponent's ability is one thing, but commenting on a person's looks is a whole new low. Even Bihar deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, doesn't seem to be far behind. The Bihar deputy chief minister had reportedly said, "An election is neither a wrestling match, nor a beauty contest, nor is it a competition of some other type."
Days later, Surendra Singh, BJP MLA from Rohaniya constituency of Uttar Pradesh, dubbed the Congress president "Ravana" and his sister Priyanka "Surpanakha" " the demons from Hindu epic Ramayana.
"We all know that before Ram and Ravana fought in Lanka, Ravana sent his sister Shurpanakha. It looks like (in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections), Rahul will play the role of Ravana, while Ram, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is making India proud across the world," Singh had said.
BJP MP Harish Dwivedi even took a dig at Priyanka's dressing sense. The BJP leader, in an attempt to dismiss the impact of Priyanka's entry into active politics, had told ANI that "Priyanka is a failure..." because "when she is in Delhi, she wear jeans and top but dons saree and sindoor when she comes to the constituencies".
Of course, such leaders exist even in the Opposition camp. During the Rajasthan Assembly elections, Sharad Yadav body-shamed then Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.
Replying to BJP leaders' diatribe on Priyanka's look, a Congress leader made a sexist remark against BJP leader and actress Hema Malini, terming her face "khurdure (rough)", as compared to Priyanka's 'beautiful' face.
Whenever politicians have nothing tangible against their opponents, they resort to sexism.
Wiht inputs from agencies