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Political uncoupling in the season of break-ups

AIADMK workers in Chennai celebrated the break-up with NDA by bursting crackers. This is the political equivalent of Princess Diana’s famous revenge dress

When Gwyneth Paltrow used the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ for her break-up with Chris Martin, it caused much mirth.(Getty Images)

By Nisha Susan

LAST PUBLISHED 29.09.2023  |  07:00 AM IST

I am finding it hard to believe it has been nearly 10 years since Gwyneth Paltrow used the phrase “conscious uncoupling" in a blog post to describe the end of her marriage to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Has it been so long since the post on her wellness site, Goop, set off a Mexican wave of giggles around the world?

As usual, though, Paltrow has had the last laugh. The phrase that she learnt from the famous marriage therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas is now part of a fairly earnest relationship lexicon.

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This has been the year of celebrity splits in the West—Reese Witherspoon from her husband, Hugh Jackman from his wife, Billy Porter from his husband, Justin Trudeau from his wife, India from Canada—all amiable separations. Sorry, sorry, I kid because I love. India’s break-up with Canada has been about as amiable as the late Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among these fragments of dozens of burnished works of art, only a few have the sharp shards of a break-up—like actor Sophie Turner’s break-up with singer Joe Jonas, for instance. These few have had the classic tabloid elements of snide quotes from nameless “friends", custody battles and well-placed photographs to establish who is totally over it already. You have drinks with a good friend of the preferred sex? I will have photographs of myself frolicking on the beach, laughing with a good-looking new character. Apart from these few exceptions, everyone else is keeping it discreet and gracious.

Why are all these Hollywood types breaking up? I have no clue but a celebrity lawyer in the US told People magazine her thrilling, totally winning-all-the-prizes theory—the empowering influence of female-driven media has made her female celebrity clients file for divorce. To quote this Laura Wasser, “They’re feeling their power by going to see Barbie and Taylor (Swift) and Beyoncé." In the US, where the American Sociological Association states that the majority of straight people divorces are initiated by women, experts and amateurs are always looking for explanations and ways to hustle women back into the happy institution. Wasser’s is as good as yours.

Never mind Wasser. I have to admit that I thought of Paltrow and the phrase she made famous in the context of a political break-up—a phenomenon usually guaranteed to be filled with acrimony and providing joy for no one, except the connoisseurs of schadenfreude. Recently, when Tory MP Nadine Dorries resigned, she wrote a resignation letter to her boss, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Among the other things she said were the sentences: “You took office a year ago, the country is run by a zombie Parliament where nothing meaningful has happened. What exactly has been done or have you achieved?" Having got this off her chest, perhaps she felt better? It seems unlikely.

How about Putin’s remarks about Prigozhin after his former ally met with a fiery death? “I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 1990s. He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life, but he achieved the right results." Brr. A Siberian chill just went up my spine. Goop on ice.

I was very interested in the recent political break-up initiated by the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. On 25 September, the AIADMK leadership, reportedly including MLAs, MPs and district secretaries, got together and announced that the party has broken up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to the Frontline magazine, the party’s statement said “the State leadership of the BJP, for over the past year has been systematically, purposely and with ulterior motives, speaking defamatorily against the AIADMK, (former chief ministers) C.N. Annadurai and J. Jayalalithaa as well as criticising our policies and programmes". Routine statement, yes? Yes, yes.

Anonymous quotes from the BJP say the party was not expecting it at all, much like several Hollywood celebrities who found out about the split from media or Instagram. A recent Singapore Management University study introduced me to their phrase PPDC, or Perceived Partner Dissolution Consideration, a term that desperately needs some gooping up but is otherwise quite useful. PPDC is one half of a couple’s ability to gauge correctly whether the other party is considering a break-up. Or if you want the version from the study’s co-author, Kenneth Tan, “the extent to which individuals perceive their partner is thinking about implementing steps or plans to terminate their relationship." The BJP had low PPDC about AIADMK. Okay?

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What I was more intrigued by was some of the other language and actions that immediately followed the break-up. For one thing, party workers in Chennai celebrated the exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) by handing out sweets and bursting crackers. This is the political equivalent of Princess Diana’s famous revenge dress. BJP workers, not to be outdone, are reported to have burst crackers in Madurai. No panache in imitation but sure, why not? We all do what we can.

A senior AIADMK leader, K.P. Munusamy, reportedly told the press that it was “not just for today, but forever". Oh, Mr Munusamy, I don’t know anything but something about that line worries me. Is it buried longing? Is it tempting fate? The unconscious might be coupling.

Nisha Susan is the author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories. She posts @chasingiamb.

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