What right-wing women are not
Making a case for right-wing women, apropos Manu Joseph's column in Lounge last week
There are no meek “right-wing" women. Most are indignant, equipped with a sardonic sense of humour and with an abiding disdain for the victim card. Amrita Bhinder, tax lawyer, Shilpi Tewari, architect, and Advaita Kala, author, whose political leanings Manu Joseph’s last column classified as “a crush", shared their disappointment over a laugh, even as Twitter erupted.
Tewari later cornered Joseph, asking if, by the same token, he would categorize his own fanboydom of Arvind Kejriwal as a crush. Lathering is crucial to leftist response, which organizes itself as a collective. By contrast, the right spars at an individual level, creating adept swordswomen. Smita Barooah is a de-addiction counsellor and a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi. She campaigned for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 and was at the party headquarters when Kejriwal’s men led a rampaging mob to its gate. While everyone ran the other way, Barooah, a photographer, clambered on to the wall for a vantage view.
Probably the mildest right-wing woman is the soft-spoken Dimple Kaul. She’s just done a fierce factual takedown of Audrey Truschke’s Aurangzeb: The Man And The Myth. Nupur Sharma, the 35-year-old BJP spokeswoman, is the current darling of the “right-wing". When introducing her, former Infosys director Mohandas Pai referred to her as his personal hero. She is not someone you want to encounter in a blind debate. It’s hard to imagine any of these women getting carried away, no matter how charismatic the prime minister.
Narendra Modi is charismatic, even haters admit, and the only leader currently who can claim a fan following. It’s the card the BJP has relied on to win elections. But unlike Nehruvian Oxbridge obsessions, charisma is not the be-all for right-wing loyalty. From Edwina Mountbatten and inner-circle mythology, to a romanticized Tarun Tejpal circuit, Shashi Tharoor fangirldom, Obama-swooning, paeans to the worthy Raghuram Rajan, devotion to Rahul Gandhi, or the Stephanian Sitaram Yechury, the leftist module propagates hero worship. The right has fewer delusions about what constitutes perennial “youth" and seeks more “ground connect". In contrast to Gandhi’s eligible bachelorhood, Modi’s singledom is cast in the mould of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s—a spiritual sacrifice to the nation. Women are less likely to fantasize about breaking it and idolize, rather, his approachability.
The leftist beau idéal translates all into its own paradigm. Are there sycophants on the right? Sure, as in any political sphere, and no less than the left, as economist Rupa Subramanya points out. “But the genderized fawning is a leftist construct to suggest something pathological about Modi supporters. It seeks to discredit and caricature those they disagree with," she says. It also betrays a saviour complex vital to political messaging that projects Indian women as a sheep-like mass, in patriarchal control, incapable of progressive thought. In the left is sanctuary.
Like a deposed King Lear seeking to anoint his intellectual heir, the left too seeks worth in its spiritual inversion. But the quest is Nasreddin Hodja seeking his house key under the lamp post. The right is not its mirror image. It is less cohesive, less monopolized and more diverse.
Followers become “right-wing" for varied reasons. Some are drawn to Modi, others to the party, others to allies Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or regional allies like the Shiv Sena, all of whom disagree with each other. An Indic contingent seeks Hindu consolidation, and the PM is but the catalyst. On the economic right are those drawn by development. Many fall under one or more category or dissociate from any. Unlike the leftist “with us or against us" policy, right-wing women feel no obligation to agree with each other. As Tewari explains it, the left broadly falls into women in the media, academia and Communist cadres. The right has no such organization. The women neither work for each other nor in the same industry, therefore the control, and consequences of disagreement, are not an issue. “Unlike the left, where, for many, political analysis is a full-time job, and opportunities are shaped by agreement, women on the right do not define themselves by this," Tewari says.
Madhu Kishwar refuses to be called right wing. Subramanya dissociates from pro-BJP rightism, but self-identifies as economic right. Even Tewari departs from party views on women. Kala does not equate the RSS, on which she writes, with the entirety of the right wing. Nupur Jhunjhunwala (who goes by the Twitter handle @UnSubtleDesi), a businesswoman and Symbiosis graduate, was drawn to A.B. Vajpayee by her father’s association with him, and by her own concerns on national security raised by the German Bakery blast in Pune. “The right wing will not hesitate to bring down the BJP the day it feels its mandate is disrespected," Jhunjhunwala says. The right believes the left tries to counter every uncomfortable argument by labelling it trolling. The right welcomes debate, the left deflects it. Others are not so sure sycophancy won’t win, but find the freedom to personally dissociate from it, which is more than even a Sheila Dikshit may have the freedom to do.
What you won’t find amongst “right-wing" women is a love of the echo chamber. Right-wing women may not agree on what they are, but they agree on what they’re not.