By Parita Patel Dec. 18, 2018
A few months into a new relationship, I discovered the man I am dating is a Modi supporter. And I’m the textbook definition of a liberal. How were we going to make this work?
“He’s not that bad, you know.”
I was once again ranting about some stunt our poor version of the Dear Leader had pulled when the man I’ve now been dating for the better part of the year quietly interrupted me. It’s pretty much impossible to stop me when I’m trying to make a point, but he managed it easily. The horror took a couple of seconds to sink in, and not knowing what to do at that time, I quickly began to talk about my go-to topic to avoid awkwardness, the all-encompassing beauty of Roger Federer.
Our relationship is new, we’ve been dating for a couple of months only. I don’t remember which new government policy or claim had triggered me, but I remember when the words, “He isn’t that bad” were spoken, I did not explode like I generally do.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about it: The man I am so fond of is a BJP supporter. And I’m a proper little liberal. How were we going to make this work?
I met him on Tinder after plenty of left swipes. After a first date that lasted five hours, I found that he was unlike the many men I’d met, unlike boyfriends and husbands of friends – men who subtly try to run the lives of the women they claim to love unconditionally. Even though he’s never said it in as many words, I know he likes me for who I am, snot-faced and all.
As we’ve gotten to know each other better, I’ve come to realise that we are similar in a lot of ways, and so different in others. He’s the water to my fire, the calm presence my aggression needs. But I was still not prepared for our political differences.
Ever since I turned 18 half a lifetime ago and was eligible to vote, I have been a Congress supporter and, recently, an independent voter. While I acknowledge that I-am-who-I-hate isn’t the best way to identify with any political ideology, I also know that in India informed voters like me have to choose between the lesser of two evils. And that, for me, has been any party or individual that can keep a right-wing leader away from my constituency.
I have presumed right-wing supporters to be stupid, inconsiderate, inhuman, and intellectually and morally beneath me.
My political identity is a part of who I am, and it impacts all of my decisions. And after the Gujarat pogrom that took place under Mr Modi in 2002, I’d added one more point to my “perfect man” list: He could only mention right-wing politics in India as a negative; anything else was unacceptable. The personal had become the political. In my brief dating life since then, I’ve managed to happily be with only one man who was firmly on my side of the argument. Together we’d take on Modi supporters and criticise the BJP.
The Gujarat question has always been a sticking point between me and any BJP supporters I meet. Now that question was at my doorstep. In my own little hubristic bubble, I have presumed right-wing supporters to be stupid, inconsiderate, inhuman, and, since I’m being honest here, intellectually and morally beneath me.
But the man I’m with is none of those things.
Since that day, we’ve discussed his, and my, political leanings in much more detail — which have ranged from the mild to the highly contentious. His reasons for preferring Modi are related to his work. He works in the financial services sector, an industry that benefits from the development agenda often propagated by right-wing governments in this country. Mr Modi in power means a thriving workplace for him where companies are optimistic about growth and are bullish about investments.
That is an answer I can teach myself to live with.
His numbers-loving mind is also what he uses to rationalise a lot of the decisions the prime minister makes. When I speak of the haste with which GST was implemented or the depleting value of the rupee, he uses his knowledge of macroeconomics to calmly explain them away. My emotional responses are countered by financial statistics that shut me up, until I’m ready with my next set of arguments.
He also talks proudly about the prime minister’s flagship campaign, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. As he rightly says, all Indians have always wanted a clean country. But it is Mr Modi who made it an agenda and got people talking about it. We’ll know how much change it brings on the ground once a few years have passed and enough time has been given to collect data, he tells me when I bring up half-constructed toilets. But I see his point as far as Swacch Bharat goes: It’ll be difficult to find anyone who hasn’t heard of the Abhiyan in India.
Since he is largely apolitical otherwise, my gloating after the BJP was unable to come to power in three states last December didn’t have its expected effect. “Let’s wait for 2019,” was the concluding remark from both of us.
But with the general election here, I remind myself that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Just like I love my parents who, too, have a different political ideology, I can learn to accept his perceived “shortcomings” as well. He knows I’ll never stop arguing my case as I see fit and I know that he would never stop me from doing so. While I may get exasperated with him for not agreeing with me, he never does. And even as I – to my genuine shame – judge him sometimes for his political choices, I know he doesn’t apply the same logic to me. That shame has even led me to tell him to keep his choice of Mr Modi to himself in the presence of my friends who are firmly on my side of the fence. I recognise my hypocrisy because if roles were reversed, I’d have been aghast if he had asked me to do that.
That is why he deserves the same non-judgment and acceptance from me that I get from him. Because if I am unable to wholly respect his point of view and beliefs, it makes me an intolerant person – something the BJP supporter and I will have in common. And that is one thing I can never allow to happen.