Do we really need to peek into the personal spaces of politicians to judge how they will perform their public duties?
Do you know what Narendra Modi’s kitchen in his Race Course Road residence looks like? Or even the one he left back home in Ahmedabad? Have you any clue what brand Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen stove or mixer-grinder is? Have Arun Jaitley or Rahul Gandhi ever given you a tour of their kitchens? Has Sushma Swaraj invited the cameras in as she rustles up a mean phulka?
Of course not. Our politicians would never dream of doing any such thing. You may well argue that this is because our politicians on the whole don’t have much to do with kitchens (unless you’re talking of kitchen cabinets). As is common in most Indian homes, the kitchens are probably the preserve of cooks and maids. And the reason they don’t show off their pots and pans is because they have no clue where they are stored.
And you are probably right about all of that. But that said, it is also true that private lives – and personal spaces, for that matter – of politicians are still treated as off limits by the Indian media. We may ask an actress or a model to cook spaghetti Bolognese for the benefit of the cameras. We may request a sportsman to pose with an energy drink in front of his refrigerator. But we hardly ever seek to peer into the homes of our politicians.
Well, consider yourself lucky. In the run-up to the UK elections, the poor British electorate has had more kitchens thrown at it than it knows what to do with. Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron kicked off proceedings by inviting the cameras into his kitchen at Downing street, where he was photographed combing his daughter’s hair to get her ready for school, while wife Samantha bent fetchingly over the kitchen stove in the background. He followed this up with an interview conducted in his constituency home, as he rustled up a salad and some cold cuts for the family.
So, what could the Labour leader do but follow suit? Except that, being Ed Milliband, he couldn’t help but start a controversy in the process. Ed and wife Justine Thornton were pictured standing awkwardly in a tiny, forlorn kitchen, bare surfaces all around, sipping on mugs of tea. Cue, much chortling about how Milliband’s characterless kitchen was a metaphor for his own personality, not to mention his campaign. To add injury to insult, it was then revealed that this was not the main kitchen of the Milliband home, but a tiny kitchenette used by their live-in nanny. Cue, many jokes about ‘Two-kitchens Ed’!
With Cameron and Milliband in the fray, how could Nick Clegg be left behind? The Liberal leader dutifully turned out for kitchen duty with his Spanish wife, Miriam Gonzales Durantez, each of them clutching a glass of white wine, while a pot of paella simmered away in the background. Probably not the best subliminal messaging but then this is Nick Clegg we are talking about.
To be fair to the British media, they have entered the personal spaces of politicians only by invitation. And that’s because every politician worth his sea salt wants to prove to the British public what an ‘ordinary Joe’ he really is. So, they all line up to show how they can fix meals in the kitchen, get their kids ready for the school run, supervise their homework, and then relax with a glass of wine just like any other knackered parent. I guess this is supposed to make people like them, to see them as ‘one of us’, to appreciate that they perform the same ordinary chores like everyone else. Except that they also run the country (or would very much like to run the country, if only people would see the light).
Honestly, are these staged photo-opportunities the best way to decide who is the best man for the top job? Does David Cameron become a better candidate for PM because he knows how to comb his daughter’s hair into a high ponytail and stick a scrunchie on it? Does Ed Milliband think he can endear himself to his Labour base by preening in a tiny kitchenette that they could presumably identify with? And does Nick Clegg… Actually, scratch that. I have no idea what Clegg thinks he’s trying to achieve – and it’s beginning to look as if he doesn’t either.
But what all of this malarkey does achieve is make me so very thankful that I live in India, where I don’t have the kitchen sink thrown at me every time a politician stands for election. I would much rather judge politicos on the basis of the soundness of their ideas rather than the softness of their idlis. I don’t need to know what kind of pressure cooker a politician uses to decide if he can stand up to the stresses of a high-pressure job. And I really don’t need to peek into his personal space to judge how he will perform in the public sphere.
As the saying does not go, if you can take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.