Is Nirmala Sitharaman’s temper working against Modi govt’s image during lockdown?

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Nirmala Sitharaman is India’s first female full-time Finance Minister. She has also been India’s first female full-time Defence Minister. But Sitharaman’s temper is becoming the central theme of all her public interactions. It’s a problem for the BJP and the Narendra Modi government, especially during a global pandemic. Even Home Minister Amit Shah has quietened down.

Optics require politicians to be at their compassionate best to alleviate fears and anxieties. Sitharaman’s media briefings, however, remain somewhat cold, unless she is taking the occasional dig at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Nirmala Sitharaman has the degrees for her job — a Masters from the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Economic Studies and Planning followed by an MPhil. She enrolled for a PhD in Economics with a focus on Indo-Europe trade, which was stalled because she had to move to London with her husband. She then went on to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a Senior Manager (R&D) in the UK. Forbes Magazine ranked her at 34 among the 100 most powerful women in the world in 2019. But every time she speaks publicly, Sitharaman’s temper is the topic of discussion.

Typical? Yes. That’s how women are always seen. A male politician is assertive and strong if he is angry — for instance, Arvind Kejriwal. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener’s long rants against Modi and co., and before that against ‘corrupt’ Congress, were often seen with much amusement. His huffing-puffing in early days, right after Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption campaign, made him the country’s sweetheart overnight. His temper sent out a clear message — he had the guts to take on the most powerful people in India.

But a woman politician with a temper is either ‘hysterical’ or doing ‘drama’— in other words, too ‘emotional’ to lead the country. Haven’t we heard this about Mamata Banerjee? In fact, members of the BJP, the party which Sitharaman belongs to, continuously poke fun at the West Bengal chief minister. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2014, made fun of Banerjee’s temper by saying, “These days, didi gets angry very frequently. Didi, so much anger is not good. You may fall sick.”