A headline in the Times of India of 17 May 2014, a day after the election results, said: ‘Amma and Didi keep home fires burning’. But the papers didn’t say the same about Naveen Patnaik or YSR or Uddhav Thackeray.
Implicit in the use of the term “home fires” is the assumption that it is a woman’s task to tend to the kitchen and home. That is her place. Even when as a seasoned politician she wins a difficult election, the State stands for her “home” where she has done her assigned gendered task. Not only does this belittle the women’s political achievements, it also reinforces the assigning of private space and public space to women and men. Besides, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha are routinely referred to in familial terms: Didi and Amma; their identities as politicians and individuals merge into their family identities and their presumed family roles.
The male politicians who countered the pro-Modi vote and kept their parties afloat or winning in their state, are not referred to in the TOI or the rest of the news media as having kept their “home fires burning.” They are men, with distinct political identities, whose rightful space is in the public domain (so the TOI assumes), which they regained mastery over in the elections.
This is also a reminder of many of the news reports and headlines of the 1970s-early 1980s, when Indira Gandhi’s cabinet of ministers was often called the “kitchen cabinet.”