Free Press Journal

Life Among the Scorpions: Memoirs of a Woman in Indian Politics by Jaya Jaitly: Review


Life among the Scorpions: Memoirs of a woman in Indian Politics

Author: Jaya Jaitly

Publisher: Rupa

Price: Rs. 595

Pages: 308

Writing a memoir honestly is not easy. It needs courage. And for a woman in politics it is much more difficult. Women in all spheres of life face discrimination in their day to day life. It is a sad reality of patriarchal system. Women in political parties are not exception to the sad reality. One needs to be brave and courageous to write honestly. Jaya Jaitly has written her autobiography Life among the Scorpions: Memoirs of a Woman in Indian Politics with an honest intention. She recounts how the going got tougher with her every success, perhaps because she was a woman.

The book narrates the fascinating and often tumultuous events that marked her political journey from of 1970s to 2000s. During this period country witnessed various governments and the period was of political uncertainty and of turmoil.

Jaya Jaitly was President of the Samata Party formed by her mentor George Fernandes. Nitish Kumar was a face and mass leader. She has worked closely with craftspeople since 1965 to sustain traditional livelihoods and preserve India’s crafts heritage. Her rise in Indian mainstream politics invited both awe and envy. Unfortunately, despite promises, she was never sent to Rajya Sabha. It happened thrice. Last time was in April 2005. The real boss of the party, JD (U), Nitish Kumar agreed to George’s suggestion. Accordingly, Jaya kept her papers ready to file. But, “On the morning of the very last day for filing nominations, just after the last flight had left Delhi for Patna, George Sahib received a call from the Chief Minister saying he could not give me the seat as he had decided to give it to ‘King Mahendra’ (Mahendra Prasad), a businessman who had moved from Congress to RJD to Congress and now JD (U),” writes Jaya in her book.

Even earlier experiences were sad. In 2003 then PM Vajpayee went to President APJ Abdul Kalam with 8 names to be nominated to Rajya Sabha. Seven names were announced except Jaya’s. George asked reasons of Jaya’s omission to PM three weeks later. Jaya writes,” He (George) was told the President had hesitated because of the allegations against me.” Some weeks later, George met the President on some defence matters as he was also the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces.  The author writes,” The President described how the Prime Minister had requested him not to sign my file as a senior BJP colleague had expressed reservations about attacks on me in Parliament. Apparently, the President had responded by saying his duty was to sign on the dotted line so he would do whatever the Prime Minister asked.”

Couple of months before this incident, Jaya had quit party politics as she was humiliated by her own colleagues and also because of Tehelka sting. The leaders of the Samata Party had decided to merge party with the JD (U). Top leaders of both the parties met in George’s drawing room. The decision was taken and Jaya was not taken into the confidence. Even though she was in the side room and busy with party work.

Tehelka sting ‘Operation west end’ allegedly involving Jaya Jaitley led to the resignation of George from the post of defence minister. L K Advani and Jaswant Singh advised George not to resign. The PM finally agreed to accept George’s resignation following pressure from few other party leaders. The author writes,” Apart from the message of PM accepting George Fernandes’s resignation, Jaswant Singh conveyed that Vajpayee had also wanted me to resign from the post of the president of the Samata Party since the BJP president, Bangaru Laxman, had resigned. I found it very odd that the request for my resignation should come from the leader of another party, however senior and important he may be.”

The author has narrated various incidences when she felt she was ignored because she was a woman. But, she says George Sahib was an exception. Cricketer Ajay Jadeja is son-in-law of Jaya Jaitley. Ajay was accused of match fixing. One fine morning IT officials rushed to Jaya’s small house thinking its Ajay’s. She was surprised with her colleague’s comment,” Nitish Kumar, our party colleague, and always holier-than-thou, publicly questioned my interest in cricket, saying, socialists and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia did not believe in such sports.” She is all praise of reformed-dacoit-turned-MP Phoolan Devi of Samajwadi Party. Phoolan Devi told Jaya,” We women must support each other. I know what a simple kind of person you are. I stopped them.” Phoolan Devi intervened and stopped discussion in the parliament against Jaya Jaitly.

The book is a delightful read and full of information.