Elections 2019 Verdict: A Subterranean Gaze


The massive verdict of 2019 in favour of muscular nationalism and for a brave ‘chappan-inch-chatti’ – 56-inch broad chest thumping ‘roaring lion son of Bharat Mata’ in the shape of celibate Narendra Modi, compared to an emasculated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2014 and a toffee faced privileged dynast Rahul Gandhi in 2019, is overwhelming. The fact that economic factors like increasing unemployment, farmer’s distress, hardships caused by demonitisation and GST, seem to have got trumped in one stroke by surgical strikes and Balakot bombing, impels us to look at possible dynamics at play.

Social phenomena have many dimensions with economic, social, cultural and psychological factors at play. Akin to the cones of a prism which reveal a spectrum of colours of the apparently white light, the psychoanalytical angle of viewing is not an attempt to put forth a single factor explanation, but to add a perhaps hidden dimension of the psyche to the nature of the possible dynamics at play which may have contributed to the landslide victory. There is a worldwide trend of the rise of aggressive triumphant leaders like Trump who go after enemies. Each society will have certain facets which feed into the appeal of the virile strongman. The present is an effort not to single out India, but to turn the gaze inwards in an exploration towards teasing apart possible facets of our society.

The phallic demonstration and symbolism of surgical strikes and penetration into the very womb of the enemy are hard to miss. The tremendous impact of the actions is there for us to see in the 300+ seats for the BJP on its own in the 542 member Indian Parliament! The appeal of phrases like ‘dushman ke ghar mein ghus ke mara’ (‘entered the home of the enemy and anhiliated’) taps deep into Indian male psyche with its bubbling cauldron of anxieties, inadequacies and fears as well as feelings of helplesness. In an intra-psychic process of splitting and projection, we may feel powerless ourselves and project all greatness and strength onto an idealized leader. The process is akin to the feelings of followers towards their Guru often articulated as ‘we are but like dust of your feet’. Simultaneously, the greatness of the leader and the Guru also gives us a glow through part identification with him. In addition, the underpinning of invaders like Taimur, Changez Khan, Babar in the past attacking and violating ‘Mother India’ lends a synergy to the high of the surgical strikes into Muslim Pakistan. And the ‘Hey Presto’ magic of the strong charismatic leader attacking and striking fear in the ‘enemy’ transforms anxieties, inadequacies, and helplessness into potent feelings of power, greatness and potency.

Anxieties, insecurities, feelings of smallness, littleness and helplessness are a part of human existence.  There is a universality to feelings of inadequacy – White supremacist ideology portrays Black males as extraordinarily virile; Nazi ideology portrayed Jews as dirty degenerates out to rape ‘our’ women; Muslim males may often be internal objects in the psyche of Hindus as rapacious  violators of ‘our’ mothers and sisters. As these feelings are distressful and unbearable, as a defense we may often not acknowledge them in our conscious, but the emotions remain lurking in the unconscious. An everyday example of how the feelings in our unconscious can be tapped, offers pointers as to the nature of these anxieties. Pamphlets stuck in men’s public toilets across the country succinctly put down the insecurities of the Indian male. Carrying titles like “Sex Power+Obstacle” the pamphets lists – ‘Small/Crooked/Thin penis; Sins of Childhood, Low Sperm Count and Looseness in sex. The hakims, pirs, fakirs and sundry sexologists offering their services, have an instinctual grasp of and encash the anxieties of the Indian male.

Many a young man about to get married experiences a high level of anxiety about potency and performance and is to be found flocking to Pirs, dargahs and marginally in the waiting room of psychotherapists. Doctors are frequently consulted with symptoms of weakness, slowness and dullness by recently married men due to beliefs about getting punished for the ‘sins of childhood’ and getting debilitated due to loss of semen in sex. As Joseph Alter in ‘The Wrestler’s Body, Identity and Ideology in North India’ puts it ‘A wrestler must not only abstain from sex, he must build up his stock of semen and ensure that once built up it is as potent and strong as it can possiby be’.

In sharp contrast to the Oedipus myth of the son killing the father, in Mahabharata, the patriarch Bhishma embraces brahmacharya (celibacy), so that his father can fulfil his desire of marrying a beautiful fisher-girl. In a similar vein, King Yayati is cursed by Sant Shukracharya to become old in his youth. The only way out is if his sons give him his youth. The elder sons refuse, while the youngest one exchanges his youth and is accorded honour and inherits the kingdom. Interestingly A.K. Ramanujam points out that in Hindu myth, literature and folklore” generally “the son willingly gives up (often transfers) his political and sexual potency”. Speaking of Oedipal myths in Sanskrit epic literature Goldman speaking of good sons who are rewarded and bad sons who are punished, writes, “In neither case are they actually aggressive to their father, nor do they ever gain unimpeded access to the goals of maturity, independence and the free expression of sexuality.”

The subservience of the sons who are rewarded for their passivity has an impact on the overall development of the personality and leaves an individual ill equipped to deal with life’s ambiguities. Women as custodians and transmitters of culture play the major role in shaping the psyche of the individual. Women’s predominant identity as mothers of sons and the close ‘mother-son’ bond creates difficulties of individuating from the mother and has its role to play in the development of a personality in search of a person, who will tell us what is right and wrong and take responsibilty for our actions. Women, of course have voted for Narendra Modi in large numbers, however, an exploration of the factors at play in the female psyche is outside the purview of the present article.

A conscious acknowledgment and processing of anxieties about powerlessness and virility, obviating the need for giving up potency for father are possible areas of exploration in the Indian context. This in turn may help move towards greater autonomous- independent functioning as individuals with agency and make us less prey to our unconcious fears, the pining for a powerful leader and to make rational choices in elections.

Advocate Rakesh Shukla has more than three decades of engagement with law, constitutional jurisprudence, human rights and justice melded with training and practice in psychodynamic therapy. Explorations in the interface of law and psychoanalysis are a major area of engagement of work.


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