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A complex process of polarisation lies at the heart of Narendra Modi's politics and widespread appeal
As he struts across the national stage Narendra Modi is now clearly the most talked-about contender to be India's next prime minister. But our most polarising political leader is pulling tricks out of an old playbook used in Europe in the 1930s, one that exploits processes that lie deep in the realm of the irrational and unconscious. It's vital that we examine them if we are to better understand what such appeal means to our polity.
For instance, one particular erroneous conviction held by a majority of Hindus played a crucial role in the post-carnage 2002 Gujarat elections: the certainty that in all prior riots in the state, most of the victims had been Hindus. The success of Goebbelsian propaganda, like this, is not based on the establishment of facts through scientific data. There is little factual reality, for instance, behind the successful implanting in a sizable section of the Hindu community beliefs such as "Hindus are being persecuted in their own country", "Muslims have four wives and 64 children" or "Hindus will soon be a minority in India", all of which feed into old insecurities.
The intra psychic process of splitting and projecting on the "other" aspects of the self which cause anxiety and distress play a crucial role in engendering hate. Characteristically, the feelings of being "dirty" and "polluted" are intolerable and projected on to this other at a community level. Wilhelm Reich, writing on the rise of fascism in Germany during the 1930s, postulated that the suppression of sexuality leads to repression within the individual. This in turn has a crippling effect on both rebellious impulses and critical faculties, and could eventually lead to the development of a docile and obedient personality, one that is attracted to authoritarian order. This provides another pointer to the appeal of Hindutva. Along with suppression of sexuality, there is ample valorisation in Hindu society of brahmacharya and celibacy. For example, a deeply embedded cultural belief in the Indian subcontinent is that a drop of semen is the equivalent of thousands of drops of blood
Suppression of sexuality and repression in the psyche;India's arid education system;worries about employment;family pressures to marry, produce children and fulfill duties towards parents - all of these together leave little space for the development of an autonomous personality. The decisions that are considered "major" and "individual' in the Western worldview - those related to jobs, the times and partners for marriage and children - in Indian society are all taken predominantly by elders.
The end result is an amorphous personality, one that can take the shape of the obedient son, but who can also get pushed around in the workplace. This personality also has a converse, authoritarian side, most often manifested in the role of the "strict father" and "master-husband" who keeps his wife and children under rigorous control and sees to it that they serve his parents well. Fascism enmeshes with and appeals to both aspects of this personality. It offers a simple "good-bad" binary that removes the individual from the burdens of independent thinking, the usage of critical faculties, the formation of personal opinions and the exercise of choices that would bring with them responsibilities towards action. Instead of anxiety-causing complexity and uncertainty there is simplicity and certainty. Ambiguities are replaced with comforting moral clarities: Muslims are bad, Hindus are good. The individual is absolved from the taking of responsibility of acts of violence against the "bad" other.
The charismatic strong leader in effect says: "Go forth! Yes, I take responsibility". The Father-Fuehrer taps into unconscious feelings of emptiness, depletion and helplessness. Simultaneously, an idealisation takes place and the positive aspects of the self - feeling good and powerful, strong and effective are projected on to the leader. And as with the construction of the black male in white-supremacist discourse, in the Hindutva agenda the Muslim male is projected as an over-sexed, beast-like creature, lusting after and threatening Hindu women. The emotional core of the feelings towards both the mother and the motherland get used to great effect in mobilisation. The stereotyping of individual women into the categories of "whore" and "goddess" likewise contributes to women of other communities (Muslim and Christian) being considered amoral, unlike "dutiful" Hindu women.
The polarising process mobilizes both negative and positive feelings in the psyche. Positive feelings of belonging to a community, love for mother and motherland get evoked. At the other end of the spectrum anxieties and insecurities that are a part of human existence get stoked and magnified in the mind. The anger and rage gets directed at the enemy "other" - the repository o f all that is evil.
Perhaps it is time to recognise that the irrational in the human psyche influences not only individual behaviour, but also impacts mass psychology, voting behaviour and the broader canvas of events. The Modi phenomenon should be better examined. And the threat of fascism will always loom unless we initiate some acknowledgment. Learning to take responsibility for one's projections and taking them back at a collective level could be a possible direction for some form of community psychotherapy.
The writer is a Delhi-based psychotherapist
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