The Gandhi family’s outrage over CBSE’s blatantly regressive and misogynistic passage on women and parenting has brought back faith in the idea of politicians, opposition leaders and lawmakers taking up issues that matter and need to be highlighted, even if they are not electorally beneficial or sensational enough to dominate news space for days.
The trend in Indian politics over the last decade or so has been such that only those issues that can rake up popular sentiment and yield electoral dividends are raised by political leaders across the board. Anything else is considered either tricky or not glitzy enough and has been therefore relegated to the periphery.
Concrete but less seductive issues are rarely a political talking point and Sonia Gandhi’s spirited stance in the Lok Sabha against the abhorrent CBSE passage is one such rare instance in recent times. It may seem like a minor issue, but for a woman politician — and the chief of the main opposition party — to throw her weight behind a cause like this on the floor of the House, knowing perfectly well it has no mass or electoral resonance, has symbolism that demonstrates what the opposition, and by extension India’s political class, should actually be doing.
The crass writing
To call the passage in the CBSE Class 10 exam obscene, regressive and steeped in patriarchy would be euphemistic. That CBSE ‘dropped’ the controversial passage isn’t the end of the matter. How such writings are able to make their way in, in the first place, is what needs to be probed and fixed.
The passage, which suggested that the “emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over the children”, has absolutely no place in any sensible and empowered society, least of all in an examination paper for children of impressionable age.
Sonia Gandhi is right in terming the writing as “atrocious”, “condemnable” and “nonsensical”, and even more right in using the floor of the House to raise this pertinent issue. While the Congress president brought this to Parliament’s notice, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also tweeted about it, terming it as “drivel”, as did Rahul Gandhi.
Unbelievable! Are we really teaching children this drivel?
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) December 13, 2021
Most #CBSE papers so far were too difficult and the comprehension passage in the English paper was downright disgusting.
Typical RSS-BJP ploys to crush the morale and future of the youth.
Kids, do your best.
Hard work pays. Bigotry doesn’t.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 13, 2021
The CBSE soon issued a statement withdrawing the passage. If not for the Congress raising it in a big way, the entire fiasco may have just been buried in the sixth page of newspapers.
The rare instance
Of course, there is no denying that the Gandhi family’s intention of condemning the CBSE had defined political tones, with Rahul Gandhi even naming BJP-RSS. But the fact remains that Congress and these leaders know this isn’t what is called a ‘mass issue’, with any potential to hurt the Narendra Modi government ahead of crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states.
The role of political leaders, and especially the opposition, is to speak up for the marginalised and the less empowered, even if that doesn’t lead to electoral gains, media virality or major embarrassment to the government. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, Indian politics has become only about rhetoric, projections, sensationalism and votes.
Make no mistake, winning elections is an indispensable part of democracy and I have often argued how Congress is doing a great disservice to itself by not focussing enough on that aspect, and that power is central to politics. But what is equally important to democracy is to raise issues that matter, and not only the ones that are ‘vote-catchers’.
Religion, nationalism, secularism versus Hindutva, corruption, farmers, fuel prices, controversial laws, health systems, welfare schemes, etc. are issues that find immediate voter-connect, and hence, are what dominate our political discourse. That is why the buzzwords before the 2019 Lok Sabha election were Rafale, Balakot, Ujjwala, rural housing, Hindutva, Ram temple and so on.
Perhaps, it is because of the kind of political era that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have heralded — in which nothing matters except electoral victories — that our political discourse has become very loaded and opportunistic.
Very rarely do politicians take up issues in which they do not read electoral gains. And the CBSE passage, for one, definitely has minimal mass resonance. It may seem like just one passage in an exam paper, but the implications of letting something like that pass are immense, and the damage huge. It shows what we as a society are okay with, and how indifferent we are to the various regressive ways of defining women’s roles. By making it an important agenda in Parliament, even if it doesn’t matter in elections or has a media/social media shelf-life beyond a day, Sonia Gandhi has ignited a glimmer of hope that politics can go beyond such madness of winning elections.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)