Book: Pandora’s Daughters
Author: Kalyani Shankar
Price: Rs 499
Amid a stormy and prolonged debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill that has seen the political class in India shedding tears over poor representation of women in Parliament — only 63 out of 541 in the Lok Sabha at present — it is rather ironical that a set of women leaders have managed to dominate the political centre stage in various capacities. Ahead of the 2014 general elections, eyes are now riveted on some of these leaders who may well hold the strings of the next government, be it AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa or Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee or BSP chief Mayawati.
It is against this backdrop that veteran journalist Kalyani Shankar has come out with a book encapsulating the political life and career of eight women politicians of India including former President Pratibha Patil, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, apart from the three leaders mentioned earlier.
Although the book may not have any fresh information or insight on these leaders, for those uninitiated in Indian politics, it offers a consolidated account of their life and careers. There is, for instance, a reference from a US embassy telegram (drawn from Wikileaks) stating, “One Lucknow journalist related a story in which a state minister was forced to do sit-ups in front of her (Mayawati) as penance for not first asking permission to call on UP’s governor.” While its veracity is difficult to confirm, it is not in dissonance with Mayawati’s public image.
Incidentally, Wikipedia appears to be one of the principal sources of information in the book, which turns out to be a studious and laborious collation of information about these leaders, as published in newspapers and books. The author does, at times, surprise you with interesting observations like her take on Jayalalithaa — “Despite her abstinence, she still remains beautiful...” Shankar has also got many eminent political personalities and journalists on record to come out with a painstaking profile of women politicians.