|Asia Foundation Blog Post|
Photo by Karl Grobl
Banerjee's feisty and emotional politics have captured international attention, but equally notable is J. Jayalalithaa's win in Tamil Nadu. A famous Tamil film star, she transitioned into a successful political career and is now serving her third term as chief minister of the state. She has been dogged by charges of corruption and extravagant living (including the rumor she once took 48 suitcases for a 3 day trip to Delhi, which seems so ridiculously extravagant that it's probably not true, despite being published by BBC).
What's interesting to me is that we're seeing women from a variety of backgrounds coming to prominence in Indian politics. Mayawati comes from a disadvantaged background, Banerjee a lower-middle class background, and although Jayalalithaa comes from a good family, her career started outside the world of politics. Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress and currently considered one of the world's leading female political leaders, was drawn into politics after the assassination of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv's mother, of course, is none other than Indira Gandhi. Indira, despite several missteps in office, is still recognized as one of the most important politicians in Indian history. Yet would she have been elected if she wasn't Nehru's daughter? Perhaps not. Would Sonia Gandhi have become involved in politics if she wasn't the daughter-in-law and wife of two assassinated Indian prime ministers? Most definitely not. Although India has a history of electing women to prominent positions, it's nice to see that today's female leaders are making their own way. Which may be why their idiosyncratic, strong personalities often place them at the center of controversy.