Women in the ‘right wing’
The two women get along. They are patriots, they believe Hinduism is also a place, they deny they are right wing because ancient European labels do not make any sense in India, and they adore Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who follows one of them on Twitter.
Amrita Bhinder was until recently a tax lawyer with a corporation in Gurugram but she quit the lucrative job, she says, for health reasons. She has been a diabetic since early adolescence. But she has the swag of a healthy Punjabi athlete. “A fun thug,” she describes herself soon after she walks into the restaurant where servers in short black dresses are buzzing about this Sunday afternoon. She has snuck in her own wine in a plastic bottle. Bhinder tweets often and late into the night. She is a perpetual stream of news that shows a world ruined by liberals. Last year, journalist Barkha Dutt threatened on Twitter to sue her for sharing a link that claimed Dutt had helped terrorists in Kashmir. Bhinder, of course, made the most of it. Her response to Dutt’s threat received nearly 5,000 retweets.
The other woman at the table is a fiction writer and co-creator of one of the most popular Hindi films in the last five years. She did not wish to be named because, she said, she wanted to be “below the radar”, but the fact is that she did not trust me to show her in a good light. She is one of the many lady admirers of the male monastery called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). She is so awestruck by its most famous bachelor, Modi, that she does not take his name. She only refers to him as “Prime Minister”. “Say ‘Modi,” I tell her. “The Prime Minister,” she says.
There is a perception that the left is a natural place for any Indian woman, especially the urbane. The left, after all, is a late invention to tame human nature. It celebrates vulnerabilities, laments atrocities and flogs wounds. The right is chiefly preoccupied with the preservation of home and race, hence it rates order above freedom, which is a form of disorder.
Even though they do not realize it, most people are drawn helplessly to either the left or the right. Among the women I have spoken to, who are drawn to the right and are sane, there is a strong sense of home and community, but they also have respect for liberal values because they are beneficiaries of those innovations that have diminished the power of men. Also, in a generalization, they have not been colonized by the power and beauty of Western arts. Most of them did begin their adult lives with no strong political views but then two major factors appear to have tipped them. A crush on Modi, and bitter personal experiences with some liberals.
The screenwriter, in fact, was deeply affected by both. She was, initially, only curious about Modi. When an opportunity arose to see him at an air-conditioned hotel banquet, she ensured she went. In that function, which I too had attended, Modi said: If you are going to negotiate a land deal with villagers, don’t wear “suit and tie”; once, when he went to meet Manmohan Singh, “nobody spoke…then only I was talking”; on the border between India and Pakistan, the nature of the desert soil ensures that the fence keeps falling, so India must build a border made of solar panels. As she heard him speak, she thought he was not so bad at all.
A few days later, she was at a party at the home of Congress member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. She got chatting with an acquaintance, a humanities professor. When the screenwriter said she was impressed with Modi, the professor “began screaming at me, screaming. She tried to educate me. She was just screaming. It was humiliating”.
At the time, this was the screenwriter’s social set. She came to know of many women like her who found it hard to accept the fundamentalism of the leading liberals but chose to keep quiet, “because if you speak your heart, especially if you happen to like the Prime Minister, then suddenly you don’t have friends”.
For some, the drift towards the right began not because of a stray liberal but out of disgust for the Congress party. “My hatred started with Indira Gandhi,” says Bhinder, who comes from an army background. “She and her party always undermined the army. Always tried to humiliate it. So more than right wing, I am a Congress-hater and a Modi-lover.” She also despises the Congress for its appeasement of Muslims. She has read all the major versions of the Quran and believes that the holy book should be made mandatory reading for “all the citizens of the world” for reasons that Muslims would not be delighted to hear. But, she accepts, most Muslims take humanity more seriously than scripture.
At the moment, Bhinder is distracted by her phone. She chuckles, and shows it to me. “Your Apple ID is being used to sign into a device near New Delhi,” the message says. Such elementary hacking attempts occur five or six times a day, she says. She has lost control over her phone a few times. Sometimes she gets a call from a man who claims he is a policeman and is on his way to arrest her. Who is doing this? She says that Pakistani’s spy force, ISI, has set up a network in India to intimidate people like her, “even though I am a nobody”.
Shilpi Tewari, the architect and social media figure who was in the news last year after she was suspected of doctoring videos that showed Jawaharlal Nehru University students uttering seditious things, “knew nothing about politics” until the anti-corruption movement began. She liked Arvind Kejriwal, now Delhi chief minister, until he entered politics. “I now think he is worse than Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and anyone else in politics.”
This is a common reaction among Modi’s admirers. Some place in their subconscious sees Kejriwal as the real political threat to Modi. She, of course, is a fan of Modi. She was one long before this February, when she saw an image in which he was wearing a blue stole and tweeted that she wanted it. In a few hours, he had it delivered to her house. She is not among those women who would be terrified that Modi knows where she lives.
She says that the defining quality of women who support the Bharatiya Janata Party is that they are “practical and rooted in the system”. They are never surprised by India because their values belong here.
Elsewhere, there is a section of liberal women, most of them married, with children, who are changing. They tell me they have developed a contempt for the sexual revolutions of their single friends because they consider them phoney. They are amused and annoyed by those women who maintain public postures of strength, while pleading with men for love and marriage in private. One of them, who watches with no confusion as women in her neighbourhood stand in their balconies and throw rose petals over platoons of marching RSS men, has told me on several occasions that there are very modern and sophisticated women, including her, who are developing very conservative views about how young women should be, views that would bring a smile to the face of Sushma Swaraj.
Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist, most recently of The Illicit Happiness Of Other People.
The writer tweets at @manujosephsan