Communist politician KR Gouri Amma etched herself boldly into modern Kerala’s annals, but for the missed opportunity to stand taller in Indian politics. In rank perfidy that women in all walks may closely identify with, CPM signalled her chief ministership during campaigning in 1987 but backtracked once victorious, failing to grasp the historical significance of that moment. From first woman law graduate in the then backward Ezhava community to ranking among CPI’s first recognisable faces in electoral politics and ringing the death-knell of feudalism in Kerala by piloting the 1959 land reforms bill, she was a stalwart.
An able administrator who facilitated one of India’s first IT parks in 1990, her growing differences with the CPM hierarchy led to expulsion and consequent decline. The younger Gouri’s experiences of chilling custodial torture and troubled marriage with another tall communist – the couple finding themselves on opposite sides after the 1964 CPI split – augmented her aura in later years. Her difficulties with CPM’s male leadership parallel other towering women netas like Indira Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee. But unlike her, Indira and Mamata became roaring successes with their outfits Congress (I) and TMC.
In KK Shailaja, Kerala’s CPM has gained another phenomenally popular female politician in a time of crisis, but common banter is never far from recalling Gouri Amma’s 1987 fall in the same breath. Had India’s legislative assemblies and Parliament elected a lot more women, the destinies of individual women netas wouldn’t have elicited gloomy premonitions. A 2019 study found only 9% of 4,865 MPs/ MLAs were women. Even fewer bag executive organisational roles. After a catastrophic pandemic where political leadership has fallen short of competence, compassion and courage, India may look for change on multiple axes. Will gender be a key pole?
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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