Smriti Irani: ‘Women, irrespective of religion, denied dignity on social media’

Smriti Irani: ‘Earlier there were monologues, now there is a voice talking back’

India News

I think those who are in the know of the politics and the mechanisms of how socially UP has evolved over the years, can ascertain for you a BJP victory in the forthcoming Assembly elections. My grandfather is from Moradabad, so my memories from the state are plenty. However, my political memories are also distinct. I’ve had the privilege of serving the Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi. I contested from Amethi in 2014 with just 20 to 25 days to contest. The BJP had never clocked more than 30,000 votes. But in those 20-25 days, our transition was from 30,000 votes to three lakh votes. For me, it meant as though there were people waiting for change. I’m grateful that my party considered me again as a candidate from Amethi, and we could bring victory to the party there.

On escalating polarisation in the campaign in UP.

I don’t know why you do not see polarisation when the Samajwadi Party leader speaks about seeing Lord Krishna in his dreams. Why you don’t see polarisation when you have Mrs Vadra go and pay respects at a mosque. I don’t see why you don’t see polarisation when Mr Gandhi wears a janeu over his coat. Why is the taunt of polarisation or the question posed only to a BJP leader? The foundation on which the UP election is being fought is the issue of development.

On whether polarisation could drown out other issues

I don’t think anything will deflect from the issue of development. Recently, the chief minister was in my constituency and we spoke about infrastructure, which was never built in a constituency which saw the Gandhi family for 50 years. The family had befriended every political organisation in UP — Samajwadi Party and BSP were extremely close to the Gandhi family and they were part of a coalition government. However, to keep the fruits of development away from people is something which is a matter of conversation among citizens. I don’t think you can deny that this election is as much about development as it is about the bad legacy of governance with regards to the Samajwadi Party or the Congress Party.

On political parties increasingly seeing women as a vote bank

Women as vote banks have been considered only by those who have suddenly discovered that women have been more than aggressive about their political opinions, or for that matter, their vote. It’s been heartening to see a PM who put women’s agenda at the top of his priorities in terms of governance.
On whether women are voting independent of how their families do.

One cannot disregard that there have been segments in our community where women have been compelled to vote in a particular way. But I think this new India is about women understanding their right to choose political parties on the basis of development.

On raising the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years

When I introduced the amendment to the Prohibition of Child Marriage, when I spoke about the need for women to have equal rights as men to enter into matrimony at the age of 21, there was support from across the nation, from women across all communities and all religions. The only naysayers were the men who were in that House, making that noise. I think that when it comes to such issues, we have seen women congregate.

On criticism that the Bill proposes to criminalise a large section of marriages

I think that is one of the greatest rumours that has been spread. Those who seek to disenfranchise women with regards to the right to equality are those who are propagating this falsehood… The fact that after 75 years of our country’s independence, women and men did not get to enter matrimony at the same age, is a matter of deep regret. That is why when I went to the House to introduce that amendment, I did so believing, and I do so again today, that it is the right to equality that manifests itself through the amendment.

On the targeting of Muslim women via apps

Women, irrespective of their religion, have been denied their dignity on social-media platforms. I’m grateful that the police are investigating this issue. I am absolutely confident that those who are guilty will be punished… But do women get explicitly objectified only through one app? No. As I came to this conversation, I had a world champion, Ms (Saina) Nehwal, who was demeaned for her political position by a so-called popular actor, a man who would have known better. So I think we need to look at the issue holistically.

On whether her book Lal Salaam reflects a shift of political focus on Naxalism

I didn’t look at the book from a political prism at all and especially not with regards to the transition that you so described today between Manmohan Singh and PM Modi. I think that the book has stemmed from a political television debate a decade ago, where one of the panelists was very off-handish about paramilitary forces who met a gruesome death during a Naxal attack. For me, the rage stemmed from the nonchalance with which the lives of our paramilitary forces were spoken of.

On the increasing polarisation in society

I think now there is a voice which is talking back. Earlier, there were voices which were in monologues. I think that is what has befuddled many. There were many who thought that they are the epitome of intelligence, now they are being challenged.

Those who recognise that the starkness of the polarity you speak about can be reduced if everybody is waiting or wanting to give a listen, I think that is when conversations can begin. Celebration of a true democracy is that irrespective of ideologies, we can come together, become part of a conversation. Celebration of a democracy is when we all agree to disagree.

On how her friends outside politics view her today

It is extremely essential for me as a human being to have conversations with people from all walks of life. When I spent two terms in the Rajya Sabha, I would have equal amount of opportunity of talking to D Raja, as I would have with Rajeev, who was a Kerala politician from the Left, and with Jairam Ramesh, Mallikarjun Kharge or Anand Sharma. When we come together under the Constitution, in Parliament especially, our cause is only one and that is India. For me, it doesn’t matter what your ideology is, as long as you’re respectful in your disagreement and you’re respectful of my Constitution and my country.

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