Stoking the coals
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In the midst of the furore about coal allocations, an interlude. At a kavi sammelan on Sunday, held in a Kanpur girls' college, Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal was moved to misguided metaphor. Speaking of India's recent win over Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, Jaiswal said the victory would soon lose its charm, much like old wives. Not surprisingly, this has drawn howls of protest. A social activist filed a case against him, women's groups and BJP workers burnt his effigies in Kanpur, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has demanded an apology.
Those aggrieved may take note that Jaiswal was only living up to his reputation for gaffes. Not long ago, he expressed confidence that Rahul Gandhi could become PM anytime, "even at midnight". He also felt if the Congress lost in the UP assembly polls, governor's rule would be the only option. The latest remark is crude and ill-considered. It betrays a strain of misogyny that persists in India's political culture, the same mindset that blames "figure-conscious" women for malnutrition in Gujarat or incidents of assault on the clothes women wear. But the episode also reflects how politicians of a certain vintage are increasingly out of step with the modern media, where the omnipresence of cameras means that a stray remark at a college function will resonate far beyond. This amplification is also responsible for the somewhat disproportionate fuss about a silly remark — including the alacrity that the NCW, usually slow to respond to most atrocities on women, has shown in wading into this issue.
Meanwhile, Jaiswal heads a ministry that currently faces fundamental questions about the way it functions. But in a surreal twist in the tale, the minister is being hauled over the coals for sexism, not coal.
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