UP Elections: Sex and the Sanyasi

UP Election Rally BJP

How is it that even as Uttar Pradesh  goes to the polls, even as desperate youth go on a rampage to demand employment, their Chief Minister remains focused on evoking violent fantasies around the ‘M’ of the Mafia.  How is it that the facts of Kairana matter so little when Adityanath evokes the “Kashmir-like” Hindu exodus?  How is it that the CM’s followers on twitter express their adoration with descriptions of their “mazaa” – enjoyment – at the UP police lathi charge against anti-CAA protestors? [1]

The lethal absurdities of national politics that have liberals and progressives tied up in knots of despair do not belong to the territory of rationality. As we scramble to understand the appeal of Hindu nationalist leaders like Yogi Adityanath, in this article, I would like to draw your attention to the ‘psyche’ as a lens through which to understand the pull of ideologies embodied by such leaders. Might the lens of the psyche also help us consider whether followers of such hardline leaders are ‘zombies’ (as suggested by NDTV’s Ravish Kumar[i], whose fan I am, too) are not as different from us on the liberal or progressive end of the spectrum as we might want to believe?  Might it be, that the extent of difference between the progressive “us” and right-wing “them” is that they stand a much greater chance of enjoying that enviable and rare mix of safety and adventure so elusive in our lives?

Love, Sex Aur Politics

Walk with me for a moment into the territory of sex and love, another part of our lives where rationality seems to lose its grip. Our inability to exit ‘bad’ relationships or tendency to reproduce those patterns despite the long list of reasons we know we must stop; or the ability of our sexual fantasies to turn us on and disgust us at the same time; or any such messy everyday reality of our sex and love lives, bear testament to the power of the psyche at play.

Psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchel, in his book “Can Love Last”, claims that our desires and actions within the realm of love and sex are driven by the friction between a need for security and a need for adventure. The combination of safety and adventure appears hard to come by. According to Belgian psychotherapist Esther Parel, the reason so many of us have affairs outside of a steady primary relationships or marriage is from the yearning for a mix of safety and adventure, which a part of us believes cannot be accessed in the same relationship. The long-term partner embodies the search for security, warmth, predictability, and comfort, while the yearning for adventure, risk, thrill, and passion seeks fulfilment in the lover.  Each relationship promising (fulfilling is another matter) either security or adventure – never both.

Similarly, in the realm of sexual fantasies, 30 respondents to my anonymous online survey on sexual fantasies expressed feelings of inner conflict about these fantasies which seemed to go against principles of mutuality, dignity, rights, and consent. The fantasies were highly varied in themes, settings, desires, as can be expected, but all of them broke norms related to When, Where, Who, What and Why of sexual acts – not only those set by mainstream society but also by liberal and progressive values. While sharing in generous detail their fantasies, they expressed versions of this feeling – ‘How can it be?’ that someone like me has a fantasy like this!

For instance, a respondent identifying as a gay man wrote of guilt about his fantasies about working class men, given the “immense gulf in privileges”.  A heterosexual woman expressed a deep sense of conflict between her fantasy involving giving up of control and her self-image of being “the independent woman”. The most uncomfortable fantasies were ones that seemed to go against ideologies like feminism, as though there was an absence of permission at play.

How understanding the psyche helps us be less judgemental of our own selves is a topic I have written about elsewhere[ii]. For now, I propose that we take that as a given and then turn our gaze from this location to understand the aspects of politics we find bewildering. While sex, love and politics may appear strange bed fellows, might connecting with bewilderment in matters of sex and love help lessen the bewilderment evoked by politics today?

For me, this exploration begins with the feminist mantra ‘personal is political’. It is a mantra that has animated millions of feminists around the world, helping us see that personal experiences are strongly influenced by larger social, economic, and cultural factors, and in that sense, are political. It also means that we go to great lengths to sync our personal lives to our political values. While the mantra is compelling, despite the arguably false binary between personal and political, to the extent it is possible to separate the two, it has so far invited us to look at the personal from the location of the political. What if we were now to look at the political from the location of the personal? What if our politics were to reckon with the messiness our own most forbidden desires, sexual or otherwise? What if we could see our own and other peoples’ political praxis as a constant navigation between pulls of security and adventure?

As a warning against the limits enlightenment thinking, which believes “that we can, with sufficient persistence, simply drive the cobwebs of unreason away”, psychoanalyst and feminist Jacquline Rose, in her book ‘Women in Dark Times’, calls us to draw upon the personal, the “sexual undercurrents of our lives where all certainties come to grief”.  If we don’t, she writes, we too will find ourselves “lashing out against the unpredictability of the world”. She proposes an alternative – of “confronting dark with dark”.

Looking at politics from the location of the personal points not only to the limits of reason, but also provides us a framework of safety and adventure with which to better understand it.

Sex and love can help see that the adventures offered by politics may involve that which is taboo, that which involves the thrill of the forbidden.  “Prohibition eroticizes” – the words of psychoanalyst Bruce Fink apply to sex and love but also to politics. Breaking norms of human rights and humanity in politics carries an erotic charge too. The realm of the personal also helps see that adventures may not look like adventures at all.  Fear and aggression are laced with the feeling of adventure even if they don’t look it at first glance.  Perhaps there was a thrill in being caught playing holi in my convent school, or in refusing to get my father a glass of water in my early teens, or as I must confess, posting messages on social media that bordered on aggression aimed at fellow feminists whose views are different from mine, even by a few shades.

The personal can also help see the play of security in politics.  The ruptures and messiness in the realm of the personal alert us to the importance of continuity and certainty in politics in creating a sense of safety.  The personal shows how safety has much to do with our relationship with authority, particularly the one that sets the rules of what is forbidden, or what Lacan calls ‘the big Other’. Psychoanalysts believe it starts with the parent in childhood, but can take different forms – as the teacher, boss, police, social norms, even language. Drawing upon this, in the context of politics, might the big Other be the leader, the cause, the ideology or party. The question of whether the big Other seems to be granting us permission to engage in the forbidden becomes key.  In the context of sexual fantasies, we saw a lack of safety in desires that appeared as though they may be prohibited by ideologies like feminism.  Standing in this difficult place, could we look towards politic to see whether the converse might be true with ideologies such as Hindu Nationalism who may seem to grant permission to engage in the forbidden.

Let’s look now at the play of safety and adventure in politics, as embodied by Yogi Adityanath and his followers.

The Safety in Politics

The year is 2017 and Yogi Adityanath has just come to power as Chief Minister. In the courtroom-esque set of Aap Ki Adalat, the longest running show on Indian TV, the host Rajat Sharma is meant to adopt a lawyer like style of questioning. Despite the performativity, the only purpose of the ‘interrogation’ is to allow Adityanath ample room to for self-aggrandizement and to wax eloquent about his decision to become a sanyasi (monk) and commit himself to seva (service), to criticize the previous government on its failure to fix potholes on roads etc. An hour into the show, Sharma brings up foreign media reports about the infamous speech Adityanath made in Azamgarh in 2007.

This was the speech to a hooting, whistling crowd, in which Adityanath says “Hum logon ne tay kar rakha hai. Agar vo ek Hindu balika ko le jayenge to hum kam se kum 100 Muslim balikaon ko… le jaenge,” which translates to “We have decided. If they take one Hindu girl, we will take a hundred of theirs.” The jubilant crowd join in unison in the refrain about picking up ‘their’ girls and shouted “le jaenge”. It has the look and feel of a rock concert. Adityanath continued, “If they kill one Hindu, we too will kill a 100 of them.”  Once again the Hindi lent itself perfectly to the deadly refrain.  The crowd completed his slogan “Agar ek Hindu ko marenge to 100 ko hum bhi…” by shouting “marenge”.  He is not talking about preventing a problem, he is not protesting, he is not calling for a tit for tat punishment either. The solution he demands was one that would more than make good the loss—if they take 1 of ours, take a 100 of theirs. He goes further to say, “Hum byaz sahit vapis karenge.” Saying that we will give back with interest is nothing if not excess.

Back in the studio in 2017, one may expect that coming into a position of responsibility as Chief Minister, Adityanath would tone down the warrior rhetoric. Yet, upon mention of the speech, he responds somewhat differently. Listening to Rajat Sharma reading out his words, Adityanath smiles. Then, with arms raised and palms outstretched in perfect symmetry he says, “Vo to conditional bayan tha.” The audience bursts into applause: jubilation and whistles here, too. Perhaps what he means by“conditional bayan” was that “our” response will depend on “their” action. Whatever the audience made of the words, they loved his response. After all, here was a leader who, in the face of very serious accusations made by the media, including international media, did not feel the need to defend or justify himself. He continued smiling. In life where so much, too much, change, perhaps his smile offers security in continuity.

During the interview, Adityanath makes another offering of continuity, this time with respect to a question on how to deal with ‘crime’. “Jo baat se nahin manega vo doosri tarah se zaroor maan jayega aur doosra tarika hum log apna rahe hain.” Declaring that with those who do not understand the language of words, other means will be used, he raises his arm and firmly but smoothly slices the air sideways.  The smile remains and the audience once again bursts into applause. Sharma rewinds from this ‘post becoming CM’ moment to quote Adityanath as having said in a ‘pre becoming CM’ moment, “Laton ke bhoot baton se nahin mante,” the saying in Hindi which recommends kicks for those who don’t understand the language of words. On hearing this, Adityanath spreads his arms out and says, “Usko apnane ka samay aa gaya hai.” It’s time to follow that rule. Here is a man who says what he means and does what he says. It is not only in his words that continuity and certainty are communicated.  It’s in his slight but constant, supremely self-assured smile. His hands and arms move in symmetry to each other.  The body language is not melodramatic, but definitive and firm, almost calm, in contrast to the content which is far from peaceful. All these are clear signs of the security and continuity on offer for those who find themselves on his side.

What might it feel like for a supporter to witness electoral democracy itself failing to restrain Adityanath? Not just a sense of awe and respect perhaps, but also of the security of certainty in a context of extreme uncertainties?

From the hooting, cheering audience of the Aap ki Adalat show let’s move to the dark suits and silk sari clad audience at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit of 2017[iii].  Shashi Shekhar, editor-in-chief of Hindustan, begins the interview by ‘challenging’ Yogi Adityanath with the fact that the National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice against him for the rise in encounter killings in UP. Yogi Adityanath smiles. The shining skin, for some reason looks rather pink. The smile as he listens to the interviewer recount ‘allegations’ is not unlike a smile that indulges the complaints of a lover.

The smile continues as Adityanath says about certain accused persons who were targeted – ‘Mujhe to lagta hai kuch dharti par nahin hain’. In saying that they are no longer walking on earth, no longer alive, he looks almost playful.  The tone of the interviewer too is playful when he asks whether the rest who are alive but in jail will also be climbing a stairway to the skies. Adityanath responds by talking about how ‘we’ (presumably Hindus) are by our nature kind to all creatures, including ants, in whom we see god. A rather long exchange ensues between the interviewer and the Chief Minister about the divinity or otherwise of dogs and cows, including how many cows Adityanath has, whether he has time for them for not, after which we finally return to the humans who have been killed. Quite literally, dehumanising humour. The interviewer, continuing in a teasing manner, says to Adityanath that the number of encounter killings are three times more than the number of days he has been in power. To this Yogi Adityanath replies and says “Haan, ye honge.” Yes, these will continue!  At this point, the camera zooms in on a member of the audience and in the middle of chewing her gum, she smiles. [iv]

To me she does not look merely impressed or charmed. I see adoration. I wonder if she feels safe, protected. It’s not only Yogi Adityanath’s smile but also hers that speaks volumes.

I refrain from judging or jumping to call her evil or monstrous, as we’re often tempted to. I am struck by the flow of power, not only that exercised over her as though she were a puppet, but the power in that interaction—in what he said, how he said it, and what that might have meant for her through her ability to respond to it by her own smile. Would she have seen the India Today report on the encounter killings that highlights the possibility of extra judicial killings and complaints made by families of several of those killed in the encounters, that were almost immediately followed by criminal charges against them, including of gang rape. How much would the facts put out in the India Today report matter to her.[v] How much would even the tears and the wretchedness of the old man in the photograph, the father of one of the men killed, matter to her?

In the many interviews that I watched, I was struck not just by what Yogi Adityanath says, but how he says it. It’s his smile that I kept coming back to. Though he doesn’t crack jokes, his smile while extremely serious allegations are made against him works as evidence that he is not disconcerted. The smile embodies continuity before and after he became Chief Minister. His smile is what sets the terms. It normalises even as it excites; it asks ‘why not’ and answers, of course. Of course we should take 100 of theirs and kill a 100 of them. Of course violent means need to be used with criminals. (The slide from criminals to Muslims is smooth) [vi] [vii]. It’s a smile that reassures us that it is okay to laugh at violence. The smile, the confidence and power it embodies, offers a sense of security. A leader who can hold his own, can surely hold us.

The smile also denotes playfulness and humour. It secures the terms of debate by communicating that it’s not just OK to do what others might condemn but that it’s desirable.  He offers a taste of the deliciousness of being able to laugh along with him about men who would rather commit suicide than face police violence. The idea that anyone accused of a crime deserves a hearing and a fair trial seems distant and irrelevant.  That the police may have been trigger happy, rather than killing in self defence becomes a remote, irrelevant possibility, given the mirth going around the hall when he speaks. Avoiding interviews or walking out of them is not Adityanath’s style.  He smiles through whatever he is asked, asserting his own power over these questions and reinstating that sense of security within his followers.

Witnessing the responses of audiences during these interviews after his becoming Chief Minister I’d like to underline the question of what it might it feel like for a supporter to witness electoral democracy itself failing to restrain Adityanath?  A sense not just of awe and respect perhaps, but of security in the continuity and certainty? Might the need for a leader who says what he means, does what he says, be stronger than the interest in facts?  Might it be that more than the head or the heart, more than facts and emotions, it’s the appeal to the psyche that matters?[viii]

Adventures in Politics

It is not safety alone, Yogi Adityanath also offers adventure aplenty to his followers. We can see and hear this – in the hooting and whistling of the jubilant crowd in Azamgarh, the laughter and clapping in Aap Ki Adalat and the smile on the face of the bubble gum chewing young woman at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. These were responses to talk of abduction, beating and killing, things that basic humanity, if not doctrines of human rights prohibit. Adityanath and the ideology he embodies grants permission to enjoy the most tabooed of all desires. Unlike respondents of my survey whose felt unsafe and judged by their liberal and progressive ideology for their taboo fantasies, the followers of Adityanath seem to enjoy that rarest of rare mix of safety and adventure.

Fuelling this sense of adventure, intertwined in the sense of security Adityanath evokes is the evocation of insecurity, a strong example of which can be seen in the construction of the idea of ‘Love Jihad’, of which Adityanath has been one of the strongest proponents. The passion being evoked is not only about punishment, but also about constructing a fantasy that by taking away ‘our’ women, in a way ‘they’ have stolen ‘our’ enjoyment. The usage of ‘our’ is to underline the logic of Hindu Nationalism which speaks from the very specific identity of the Savarna Hindu Man, who not only see women as being ‘property’ meant for their ‘enjoyment’ but also as to be protected from the possibility that someone else may enjoy her, or worse still, that she may enjoy herself.

The fantasy of stolen enjoyment, embodied by Love Jihad, is built upon another fantasy, that of the virile Muslim man, someone who is having all the fun while ‘we’ are denied it. Unpacking this fantasy from a psychoanalytic lens, in his book, The Saffron Wave, anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen shows how it built on the idea that while Hindu women are “uncovered by purdah” and thus “exposed” to Muslim youth, “Muslim women are covered and inaccessible to the gaze of the Hindu man”[ix]  The anxiety about Muslim men’s virility is constructed around fantasies of their excessive sexual desire, expressed in castigation combined with envy about having too many wives, too many children and easy divorces.[x]

The fantasy of stolen enjoyment carries a powerful psychic charge, and according to psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar, the ones who steal our joy become “convenient repositories” for rages and hateful feelings for which “no clear-cut addressee is available.”[xi]  According to Hansen, such targeting “condenses a larger and more fuzzy anxiety.”[xii]

This larger more fuzzy anxiety may have its roots in the childhood fantasy of one-ness with a primary caretaker, typically the mother in a patriarchal context, which was stolen from us. Psychoanalytic insight shows that all desire in adult life is driven by a formative ‘lack’, that which we feel we had but lost, that which that we spend our lives searching for and try to get back not only through love, but also through violence[xiii] [xiv] [xv] While adult life holds no possibility to get back the (imagined) lost one-ness one, the lure of the ‘stolen joy’ fantasy is that we can touch that suffering, and even get to blame someone for it, rather that reconciling with an inevitable fact of life.

But was anything ever stolen from us? Was there a great nation? Was there a nation at all? Was there always a singular identity? The truly troubling one, did our women ever desire us? And to top it all perhaps, was mother ever only mine?[xvi]

According to the Lacanian model of psychoanalysis, no.  Because we never had that which we feel we lost. We were never whole. There was no oneness with the mother. Yet, we search for it everywhere.  In politics too communities never possessed what was allegedly stolen from them.  Hansen writes, “The only “secret” of the community is that there is no substantial secret to protect, but that “it,” nonetheless, belonged to us.”[xvii] Hansen also draws upon the Slovenian political philosopher Slavok Zizek in The Saffron Wave. “Zižek argues that the essence of the nation-community qua enjoyment can ultimately only be expressed through the narrative of its loss and impossibility, ascribing to the “other” (nation, group, community) an excessive enjoyment, which “steals our enjoyment” and prevents a community from fully enjoying its particular way of life.”[xviii]

Constructing the other as the one who steals our joy also makes possible the fantasy that we can get back that which was stolen from us.  Insecurity loops back into security.  The promise is that the lack can be filled, the rupture can be healed.  Not only this, the adventure of punishing the other who dared to steal our joy is ever at hand. In the case of Adityanath, the promise of taking back and the threat of punishment is many times over the ‘theft’ (recall the Azamgarh speech in which the taking back and the punishment were a 100-fold more than what Hindus are suffering.)

The adventures of accusing the other of stealing our joy and then punishing them are never ending.  Just as the lost object can never be found, and the search for fullness an endless one, the other can always be accused of stealing our enjoyment.

Love jihaad was one kind of stolen enjoyment Adityanath invoked, there were many others, including in the realm of development. In the run up to the elections in 2017, he accused the previous government of having discriminated against Hindus to give Muslims more electricity. One of the many detailed ‘facts’ he offers is that Devasharif got electricity for 24 hours but in Mahadeva there was no electricity even for 4 hours. In Dev Patan the Muslim shrine had electricity for 24 hours but the temple did not get electricity for even 4 hours.[xix] About education Adityanath said, “They said that they will give a scholarship for girls but they did not give it. Instead, they said these scholarships will go to only Muslim girls.”[xx] The fantasy of discrimination against Hindus that Adityanath evokes extends to death. “If there is land given for kabristan (graveyards), there must be provisions for shamshaan ghat (crematoriums).” [xxi]  Offering a double whammy when he says that if Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party come to power, it will mean that public money will be spent on Islamic shrines and graveyards.[xxii]  The rhyming, rhythmic ‘Karbala and Kabristan’ evoke the fear that our land is being snatched away from us. The fantasies are also dual – those who are stealing from us are those who also betray us. Their loyalties lie outside the country. And yet their dead take up our land.

The fantasy of the other as the one who steals ‘our’ joy has been evoked over time and space and continues to be evoked – it is just that who the Other is changes. The Muslim man is of course not the only ‘other’ who has been accused of stealing our sexual joy.  The other has always been accused of being over-sexed and depraved, the one from whom ‘our’ women need to be protected, be it the lascivious Jew or the virile black man. If it’s not sexual joy, it is jobs that the other is accused of stealing, like the East European migrants whom Brexit will keep at bay from the UK or the Mexicans from whom the wall will protect North Americans. Jobs and ‘our women’ are often what the other is accused of stealing from us, but the sky is the limit given our inexhaustible need to feel that someone has stolen our joy.

The magical mix  of safety and adventure has continued through the course of Yogi’s term as CM. In a previous article I wrote for Kafila, there was ample expression of enjoyment, “mazaa”, by Adityanath’s followers, around the punishment meted out to anti-CAA protesters in UP. Triggered by an ANI video clip on twitter of the UP police hitting protestors with lathis, the tweets in response became increasingly delirious in their fantasies of wanting to see the protestors being attacked not just with wooden lathis but plastic lathis, with cannons spewing not just water but ice, with flame throwers and rifles[xxiii]. Twitter was also abuzz with Adityanath’s fantasy of Abba Jan stealing ‘our’ rations[xxiv]. Fast forwarding to the present pre-election moment in UP in 2022, unsurprisingly, we find Yogi Adityanath continuously evoking fantasies of stolen enjoyment.  In a series of newspaper advertisement entitled “Phark saaf hai” (The Difference is Clear), on one side is the pre 2017 depiction of the rights of the poor being snatched away. The original Hindi expresses the message more powerfully in the words “hak mara jata tha”, rights were “killed” not just stolen. On the right side of the advertisement is the post 2017 scenario in which a man with a stubble, evoking perhaps a stereotype, which claims that those who snatch away rights are now in jail.[xxv] In a recent speech Adityanath reminded voters of how the previous government had created a “Kashmir-like” situation in Kairana, forcing the exodus of Hindus at the hands of gangsters, who are claimed to be mostly Muslim[xxvi].  The persecution fantasy allowed Yogi Adityanath to then claim that the BJP had put a stop to the exodus.  The magical mix of safety and adventure on offer, yet again!

Fantasy vs Fact

“Ultimately, both our sense of home and our sense of quest entail, in some measure, an act of imagination,” writes Stephen Mitchell, and who knows this better that Yogi Adityanath. Despite the innumerable factual challenges to the assertions of discrimination[xxvii], confronted with such facts by NDTV’s Srinivasan Jain in 2017, Adityanath says, “Stop quoting data”. What counts, he says, is public opinion.  “People’s anger is evidence. When people come on the streets, no evidence is necessary,” he insisted. [xxviii] in a sense he is right: what matters is the anger that he evokes, not facts.  Anger that is animated by fantasy. Facts are either unimportant in the face of fantasy or they are deployed in the service of fantasy.

Despite being one of many activists who has spent decades writing parchas and leaflets with myths on one side and facts on the other, I would wager that reason, which we claim as our weapon against the darkness of unreason, is exactly that which is failing us in our sincere, rigorous, passionate, and increasingly risky efforts at getting the ‘fence sitters’ to come over to our side. We seem to be running out of ways of understanding, let alone addressing the dangers that are crashing down, with threats no less than genocide waiting to erupt.

To see continuities between ourselves, i.e., liberals and progressives, and the proponents of ideologies we abhor is neither pleasant nor easy, to say the least. Yet, when we stand in the middle of sexual and romantic messiness, we can clearly see the serious limits of facts and reason in the face of fantasies. In the case of the political, more specifically, these are fantasies of persecution and stolen enjoyment at the hands of the hated ‘other’. Might it be time to step away from the safety of rationality to see that when fantasies are at play, facts don’t stand a chance?

Might learning to face the messiness of the personal help us look anew at politics?  Might feminism play a key role in showing us the limits of reason in our efforts to understand politics?  After all, as I like to say it, ‘The personal is political is personal’.

Some reflections on the implications of the psyche as a lens for our struggles against authoritarianism

The activist in me would like to be able to conclude on a note of certainty regarding what seeing politics through the lens of the psyche implies – what is it that needs to be done?  I cannot.  This will remain a fantasy.  I would however like to recall the obvious. In order to engage with any phenomenon, we need to understand it to the best of our abilities.  In the case of politics, excluding the dimension of the psyche is the obverse – a fundamental error. The lens of the psyche makes possible a more complete understanding of politics, which is necessary and valuable in and of itself, even in the absence of any insights that may or may not follow as to what needs to be done.

Having said this, I would like to share how I think the lens of the psyche may help us in our response to the current political situation.

The lens of the psyche can alert us to the dangers of believing that if we try hard enough, sincerely enough, we can, in the words of Jacqueline Rose, “drive the cobwebs of unreason away”.  It shows the limits of facts and reason as a counter to political ideologies such as Hindu Nationalism.

The hope is also that the lens of psyche will reduce bewilderment.  Bewilderment about why political leaders are adored despite their dismal failure to deliver on development and much else. Bewilderment about why their followers grow more and more violent in their words and deeds.  Less bewilderment matters. It matters that we are not thrown or startled by every such new move.  Our energies are needed to counter the efforts to damage the state of India’s democracy.

Even as such bewilderment doesn’t help, what may help is bewilderment turned inwards.  Might being more open to uncertainty may help us listen better to others in the spectrum of liberal and progressive individual and communities; encourage movement rather than statis in our politics and release energies that may have gotten stuck, towards the emergence of fresher insights and stronger solidarities.

Perhaps those of us engaged in countering injustice could look at the play of safety and adventure within ourselves? Might seeing the fantasy of certainty as a source of safety for followers of Adityanath help us see whether the fantasy of certainty is at play within us too? Might seeing the adventure of the deliciousness of attacking the other help see when we too might enjoy the deliciousness in attacking the other within the larger liberal and progressive community.  Not that fierce disagreements or challenging privilege are not desirable or needed, but surely the psychic, almost erotic charge of aggression aimed at others amongst ourselves can only weaken us.

There is of course a need for safety.  Unlike the illusory safety on offer by political leaders like Adityanath, based on the evocation of lack of safety, there is the real and present possibility of seeking safety in the recognition that that we are not alone, in India or even at a global level.  The powerful mix of safety and adventure is being offered by ideologies of hate in different shapes and form the world over. This is terrible beyond words but also a source of hope. Global solidarity as not just a transnational but transcendental source of strength for us all and deserves more of our collective energies.

I seem to be falling into my familiar activist, prescriptive mode.  Perhaps all I should say is that although turning the lens of the psyche towards politics is challenging because it means having to see much more clearly the workings of hateful othering, in allowing us to see the limits of reason and the power of fantasies, it can only strengthen our struggle against authoritarianism.  The lens of the psyche offers hope also because it invites us to hold space together to stay a while in the place of uncertainty, with a greater openness to difference, towards stronger solidarities and newer insights about what is to be done.

Acknowledgement:  Apeksha Vora, friend, comrade and theatre practitioner, for helping to explore and articulate these ideas. 

Note: This article was first published in Kafila on 12/02/2022

Jaya Sharma is a researcher and activist based in New Delhi

Notes and references

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYVnEfCIL4Q&feature=youtu.be

[ii] https://kohljournal.press/politics-of-fantasy

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJOVlqdl6xQ

[iv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYrPYGf18mY

(4.05 minutes)

It was interesting that I found the same visual on a website called Postcard, on a clip from the same Hindustan Times Leadership Summit interview as part of a glowing article on Yogi Adityanath. The article and many others on the website might read like a spoof to a liberal or progressive person. The About Us section states “Our website supports libertarian politics and journalism that is free from the burden of liberal bias and political correctness.“ https://postcard.news/dont-give-the-count-of-gangsters-killed-in-encounter-give-the-count-of-the-remaining-ones-yogi-adityanath/

[v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J83ZFEa-6rQ

[vi] In all 1,478 encounters have taken place in the state out of which 70 per cent were Muslims, 15-20 per cent Dalits and the rest have been reported to belong to Other Backward Classes (Garg, 2019)

Madhu Garg. Encounters’ of Minorities & Poor under Yogi Raj in UP’. People’s Democracy.Vol.XLIII No. 18


[vii] A report by Neha Dixit  shows how the National Security Act—a law in the statute book—permits the swift disposal of cases. “Its stated purpose is “to provide for preventive detention in certain cases and for matters connected therewith,” came into force on September 23, 1980. It empowers the Central and state governments to detain a person to prevent him/her from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of India, the relations of India with foreign countries, the maintenance of public order, or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community,” she writes. On January 16, 2018, the Adityanath government issued a press statement in which it said the UP police had invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against 160 people in order to control law and order. Dixit points out that the NSA has been used mostly against Muslims. https://thewire.in/rights/in-adityanaths-up-the-national-security-act-is-latest-weapon-against-muslims

[viii] Not everyone in the audience was enthralled, certainly not the lady in silk who was snoozing.

[ix] Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Chicago,  pg204

[x] This is also something that has been traced historically in rigorous and accessible way by Charu Gupta in her book Sexuality, Obscenity and Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India. New Delhi: Permanent Black. 2000.

[xi] The colors of violence: Cultural identities, religion, and conflict , Kakar, Sudhir , University of Chicago Press, 1995 pg 244

[xii] Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Chicago  pg 217

[xiii] There is always a gap between identity and existence which relates to the gap between the symbolic and the Real. This gap is the object petit a. This is why the project of achieving fullness of identity is never-ending.

[xiv] See Note on Object petit a

[xv] The jouissance of the Torturer in Zero Dark Thirty and the Enjoyment of the Unacceptable, Juliet Rogers, PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, July 2014. pg 5-6

[xvi] Thomas Blom Hansen draws upon Zizek “What is concealed by this construction of a “theft of enjoyment” is the fundamental “lack,” namely, that the community never possessed what is allegedly stolen from it. Or to put it in the terms referred to above, the only “secret” of the community is that there is no substantial secret to protect, but that “it,” nonetheless, belonged to us.” Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Chicago  pg 210

[xvii] Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Chicago  pg 210

[xviii] https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/bjp-hails-triple-talaq-bill-women-activists-call-it-political-move_in_5c259bcee4b0407e90811b0b?utm_hp_ref=in-Triple-Talaq

[xix] “Devasharif mein 24 ghante bijli, mahadeva mein 4 ghante bhi bijli nahin. Aap chale jayiye Dev patan mandal mein dargah sharif mein 24 ghante bijli devi patan mandir mein 4 ghante bhi bijli nahin hai.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHqLkizLgvo (7 minutes into the video)

[xx] “He was criticising, what the BJP has alleged to be, selective implementation of the scholarship scheme, which the SP government has introduced as an affirmative action measure to promote education among the girls from poor families. While around 40% of the scheme funds was reserved for minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, Adityanath portrayed it as a scheme only for Muslims but could not back his claim with any evidence.”

https://thewire.in/video/bjp-Hindu Nationalism-adityanath

[xxi] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/what-facts-public-opinion-counts-says-bjps-yogi-adityanath-1662241

[xxii] https://thewire.in/video/bjp-hindutva-adityanath

[xxiii] https://kafila.online/2020/01/14/the-yogi-and-the-erotics-of-violence-jaya-sharma/

[xxiv] https://thewire.in/politics/adityanath-makes-communal-and-false-claim-about-ration-card-distribution-in-up

[xxv]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHdT4lwRwg4 at 3.08 minutes

[xxvi] https://indianexpress.com/elections/kairana-kashmir-uttar-pradesh-election-yogi-adityanath-7737061/

[xxvii] For example “While around 40% of the scheme funds was reserved for minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, Adityanath portrayed it as a scheme only for Muslims but could not back his claim with any evidence.” Facts are not where it’s at. https://thewire.in/video/bjp-Hindu Nationalism-adityanathJab

[xxviii] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/what-facts-public-opinion-counts-says-bjps-yogi-adityanath-1662241


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