Minority Report | The politician’s wife


Minority Report | The politician’s wife

Sunita Kejriwal, the wife of Delhi’s new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, works with the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). Few people knew this, not because it was a secret but because nobody cared. Through the roller coaster ride of all the satire, opinion, attack, accusation, disbelief and support in the last year or so and finally a thumping, never-before mandate extended to her husband and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) he leads, never once were we curious about Sunita Kejriwal.

The man we know as “Kejri” himself is aam (common), what use did we possibly have for an aam wife? Wives in riveting story telling material aren’t made of regular stuff after all. Not being interested in anything about her was an error of omission for social commentators, but it happened largely because we are used to ignoring the spouse in Indian politics.

Suddenly, last week, when the AAP came back to power in the Delhi assembly elections and Kejriwal warmly hugged his wife, introducing her by her first name and thanking her for “always being there”, some publication noticed that the joyous lady wore a “printed salwar kurta”. Barely a detail but at least some noticeability crept in. Hindustan Times called it a “strong political statement that would change the political culture of Delhi.”

A premature reasoning perhaps, but a welcome one should it happen. Never has an Indian political couple become popular for the way they behave as a “couple”. As man and wife who go out for dinner or hang around at home doing things, forget hugging. Indian politicians resolutely resist such gestures. Quite surprisingly, they would rather be seen frothing at the mouth as political animals than regular men and women who would hold hands with their spouses while getting off a flight, à la Michelle and Barack Obama.

Male politicians prefer their emotional graph to be only visible in passionate or venomous campaign situations (or while arguing their guts out in television studios) while the husbands of women politicians stay at a carefully carved, but unsure distance. I always think of former Indian president Pratibha Patil’s husband, Devisingh Shekhawat, a restrained gentleman, but who could never figure out in public situations whether he should be a shadow of a husband or a man of substance. Nor has any official hostess at the Indian President’s house over the years stood out for who she is as a person—a woman whose wardrobe, art or cultural interests or her choice of words could provoke interest. I don’t even have an immediate visual memory of President Pranab Mukherjee’s wife—I have to Google to find one. Wives do emerge during election time, their sari pallus wrapped around them to portray a perfect picture, but it’s more like a flash of a trailer than a full picture. So the most we have as a ready reckoner is 500 different ways of folding hands in a namaste that could describe spouses in Indian politics. Not to mention the absolute absence. What about Zubin Irani, human resource development minister Smriti Irani’s husband? Or the spouse of Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of state for commerce and industry? No clue. We know how these men and women smile and smirk at work, but we have no idea how they laugh or scowl at play.

Even good-looking pairs like Sachin Pilot and Sara Abdullah Pilot, who would make a glamourous cover for a glossy, haven’t been seen raising a kahwa toast or dining at Delhi’s hoity toity Bukhara. I am not talking of invasion of privacy but the fact is that we know very little of our politicians as human beings, as fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, or sisters.

So if Kejriwal, the ordinary looking, muffler wearing, broom wielding man is going to be the role model of a political Valentine, a man who hugs his wife, revealing his emotional quotient instead of just political potential, it is a refreshing idea. Look again at the photographs—political statement or not, Kejri hugging Sunita is a warm gesture, not a forced formality. It is public and personal in a good balance even though this couple is not our ideal for a glamourous romance. Unlike model-singer Carla Bruni and her husband, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who drew attention because of Bruni’s glamour. Or the tall, statuesque and articulate American first couple, Michelle and Barack Obama, who are made to be photographed, their holding hands is a fairy tale in progression, I mean, come on, they can’t not hold hands, those two.

Kejri then has surprised us in many ways. Acknowledging his wife and giving her a pride of place in his achievements is one such moment. For me, these two were the Valentine couple of February 2015. Sunita Kejriwal, here’s raising a toast to you as the “new” politician’s wife.