Cat’s paw or sleeping tigress?

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Akhilesh Yadav’s attempts to retain political power catapults wife Dimple to an extraordinary place. Neha Dixit peers past the veils

ON JUNE 9, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav added to a robust portfolio of political misogyny. He warned supporters of the Women’s Reservation Bill: “You thump the Lok Sabha tables in applause now, but soon you will be able to thump only your charpoys (cots) at home.” Had Mulayam realized that just three months later he would swallow his words and field his own daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav, in Lok Sabha by-elections, perhaps he would have thought twice before trashing the idea of women in politics.

Dimple, 32, is the wife of Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh State President of the Samajwadi Party. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Akhilesh won Kannauj and Ferozabad. While he is retaining Kannauj, Dimple will contest the Ferozabad by-election.

The recent announcement of Dimple’s candidacy immediately evokes a number of stereotypes and paradigms of Indian women politicians. On one hand, images of ‘Indian daughters,’ like Indira Gandhi and Mayawati, who — be they dynastic daughters or self-proclaimed ones — captured political power while ensuring that deep sexism and pervasive social stereotypes could not hijack their individuality. On the other, Dimple contesting Lok Sabha elections also reminds one of ‘Indian bahus,’ like Sonia Gandhi and perhaps Rabri Devi, who struggle to maintain the public personas that cement their place. When asked if Dimple can live up to Ram Manohar Lohia’s socialist legacy while navigating the treacherous waters of UP politics, pat comes the reply from anyone in the Samajwadi Party: “She is the bahu of India’s first socialist family. She has adapted to the family’s values and culture.” The answer is thick with determined conviction; Dimple as an independent individual is, however, clearly unthinkable.

The mother of three children, Dimple Yadav is the SP’s answer to BSP’s Mayawati

Dimple Yadav is the second of three daughters of retired Indian Army Col SC Rawat and most of her family is from the Army. Let alone venture into politics, they have never gone near a political rally. As a child, Dimple followed her father from cantonment to far-flung army cantonment. Having grown up adjusting to new places has been an asset for her – Dimple is quick to adapt to new places, situations and environments. After completing her graduation in humanities from Lucknow University, 21-year-old Dimple fell in love with Akhilesh, then 25, who had just returned from Australia after studying marine engineering. After much opposition from Netaji — as Mulayam Singh is known in the party — Akhilesh and Dimple were wed in a lavish ceremony in November, 1999, with bigwigs like Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and President KR Narayanan in attendance. Since then, Dimple — who encouraged and mentored her younger sister when she wanted to join the Army — has quietly donned the mantle of a housewife, adapting to a household where stalwarts of the socialist movement have dwelled, along with their children and grandchildren.

Dimple’s actual personality is at odds with her cardboard public projection

Dimple’s children — an eight-year-old daughter and a pair of year-old twins — are touted as her biggest assets. Says Akhilesh Yadav, her husband, “Both motherhood and politics are built on sacrifice. I am sure motherhood will help her find her way in politics.” Sacrifice, here, is quite apt. Husband Akhilesh Yadav has refused to let Dimple speak to the press and speaks, instead, for her. When TEHELKA asked him when Dimple will speak to the media he replies blandly that the SP believes in avoiding undue media attention and therefore, his wife will speak only after the dates of the byelection are announced. Dimple Yadav as to position her as distinct from an “unmotherly” UP CM Mayawati, who is Mulayam, Akhilesh and the SP’s most dire political rival. Says Akhilesh, “Mayawati’s fetish for erecting her own statues reveals that her heart, ears, eyes and thoughts are all made of stone. She has no compassion for the people she represents – the Dalits. Thankfully, Dimple’s motherhood gives her empathy and the ability to connect with the masses.” For these patriarchs, when Dimple agreed to enter the political arena, she exhibited, satisfyingly, three fundamental attributes of an ideal Indian bahu – an ideal wife, an embodiment of sacrifice and, most importantly, a subordinate.

Arrayed With (from left) Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan
Arrayed With (from left) Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan

The electorate was disappointed and downcast when Akhilesh decided to vacate Ferozabad and retain Kannauj. Therefore, a joint decision was taken by senior partymen to field Dimple in the by-elections. Notes Akhilesh, “By-elections are the most difficult. Moreover, our own party insiders had rebelled and are competing against us.” Raj Babbar, famous actor and once a prominent Samajwadi Party member, is contesting Ferozabad on a Congress ticket. Fearful of the SP’s votes being preyed on by rebels and rival parties, Dimple, the daughter-in-law of the SP’s National President and wife of its UP State President was seen by the leadership as a strong candidate. Rumours say that Mulayam initially resisted the idea but later agreed. While some junior workers are disgruntled by her candidacy, calling the SP a ‘private limited company’ and lampooning Dimple’s complete lack of political experience, political analysts see an attempt at a shrewd plan: Dimple Yadav, a Thakur by birth, will consolidate Yadav votes while snagging a chunk of Thakur ones.

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Both motherhood and politics are based on sacrifice. I am sure that being a mother will help her in politics’

Akhilesh Yadav,

Husband and party state president

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When the idea was put to her, Dimple, initially, was scared. She relented when she was told that she was Akhilesh’s ardhangini (better half). A traditional, conservative husband Akhilesh comes alive: “When I am not in Ferozabad, she can represent me. It will assure the masses that I am around,” hinting at the rule-by-proxy Lalu Prasad enjoyed when he made his wife Rabri Devi the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1997. However, when asked what issues Dimple will contest on, Akhilesh the liberal, new-age life-partner appears: “How can I reply for her? All I can say is that she will uphold the socialism the party lives by.”

DIMPLE’S ACTUAL personality is at odds with her cardboard-cutout public projection of docile housewife, devoted mother and enthusiastic social worker. Known as as someone brimming with enthusiasm and energy, she is a talented painter and voracious reader. The party faithful feel that her youth will infuse new energy in the SP and, in a party where one of the few prominent female faces is Mulayam Singh’s sister in-law Premlata, a mere Zila Parishad chief, Dimple’s candidacy will help rid the SP of its anti-woman image. Party insiders say that Dimple is humble and earnest. She feels strongly about women’s empowerment and education, even though she has never voiced these sentiments on a party platform. During the Lok Sabha elections in Saifai, Mulayam Singh’s constituency, she visited each and every household to persuade women, old and young to come out and vote. “For her, everyone was Kaka-Kaki. She held each of them by hand and took them to the polling booth to vote,” beams Akhilesh proudly.

Will Dimple turn out to be just a dutiful bahu toeing the party line? Or is she, like our few (and always, initially understimated) women political stalwarts, actually a sleeping giant? Speculation aside, will Dimple Yadav abolish the practice of people speaking for her? When will she speak up and speak out?

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