Spouses can be political asset or liability. My wife watched the inaugural address of Donald Trump in Washington. Her first reactions were about the smart blue body-hugging dress that Melania Trump wore that, in her opinion, stood out, when compared to the sartorial choices of the well turned out Trump daughters, Ivanka and Tiffany. That does not mean my wife is a supporter of the new President of America and is quite annoyed by some of Trump’s cheesy comments about women in general over the years.
Ivanka could not be liking Melania, is what she said. “Why make your children go through such negative emotions by marrying and re-marrying.”
Barack Obama, of course is the most sorted guy, in her eyes, as among his many other gentlemanly qualities, he is spontaneously conscious and sensitive about Michelle Obama, who looks so happy in his company. Trump, obviously, is not having it easy in the first few days of his presidency. Angry women have taken to the streets in support of Hillary Clinton, which is also a reaction to his perceived misogyny.
The same women could happily ditch Clinton, who has her share of detractors, should the opportunity arise to back the Obama’s again, maybe, in the form of the naturally suave Michelle in the future. Trump needs to play the perception game better, perhaps by holding Melania’s hand often which should not be a problem, or at least wait for her as she gets off the Presidential vehicle from the other side, instead of vaulting off without her. He needs to get more women, apart from those in his immediate family, rooting for him on the streets.
Indeed, the soft power of a supporting spouse can make a difference. Here in India, there is already talk that Akhilesh Yadav has gained currency among women voters in Uttar Pradesh, across caste and class configurations, after wife Dimple Yadav has started to play a more active political role. News reports suggest that Samajwadi Party cadres are already clamouring for Dimple to address their constituency to gain confidence of women voters.
The same, however, cannot be said about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, whose husband Robert Vadra remains a controversial figure. Should Priyanka take the full political plunge to revive the sagging fortunes of the Congress party, Robert will be in the crosshairs of her opponents. In Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari did become a millstone for Benazir Bhutto. Priyanka will need to quickly learn from the ways of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi, who carefully nurtured her emotional connect with women voters, who remained her staunch supporters for most of her political career. In Tamil Nadu too, the late Jayalalithaa counted on the fairer sex to cobble the numbers.
It also goes without saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a consummate exponent of the perception game in politics, does make it a point to make it known to the world, whenever he meets his mother.
This is not to say that Modi does not love or respect his mother, or wants to use her as a tool to further his cause. However, a political leader displaying a softer, more sensitive side does add to the persona which Modi knows well.
And not without reason. There is evidence to show that women, anywhere in the world, exercise their own choice during elections, that may be different from the way the rest of the family, including the menfolk might have voted.
Factors that can impact include immediate family and personal concerns such as safety, health, nutrition or education. Chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, for instance, is aware that prohibition has the unqualified support of women, especially in rural areas, as they are the ones who face the brunt of a drunk and often violent husband.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have not met any woman and some men too who do not say that Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, is the most consummate man in the world to be father, husband and lover, as the case maybe.
Some think the same about George Clooney and also Shahrukh Khan.
(My new ebook Blogging the 40s is available here)