My father is a progressive man. Or that is what I would like to still think. I have grown up watching him prepare meals in the kitchen on a daily basis, share household chores, attend school events, and support and defend my sister and I in the wake of our not so conventional career and lifestyle choices in front of our largely conservative family. He cries easily, is not afraid of being vulnerable and is always ready with a cup of hot ginger tea at the end of a tiring day.
He is also a vociferous supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Before Narendra Modi was sworn-in as the prime minister of our country in 2014, my father and I never had many disagreements. It could be that I was still figuring out my politics or that I always found him lingering on the edges of any political discussion in the household. When provoked and prodded by my overtly political mother who wears her affiliations on her sleeve, he would often respond, “Well, this country needs a dictator. We are all doomed otherwise.”
My father wasn’t the only one with such yearnings to be governed or rather ruled by a dictator. Most men his age in our household and beyond believed in being governed by an iron fist, and that ‘too much democracy’ was the root cause of all that plagued our country.
Men of my father’s generation who are upper caste and middle class have largely lived a life of obedience – to their parents, to the government, to the market forces and to capitalism. Obedience is a highly revered virtue for them. Our families are built around the idea of obedience, which is necessary to keep the balance of power – power which resides in the patriarch. The first social lesson I learnt growing up was to respect all elders. Forget questioning them, just raising your voice in front of older male members was considered disrespectful. Our families are built on the notion of centralised decision making at the top, which discourages individual thought and action.
Our fathers’ generation epitomises this way of life. They were perhaps the first generation to be groomed to embrace and aspire for a neoliberal world where they were told that they could achieve anything if they worked hard. They were sculpted as parts to drive the machinery for the smooth running of capitalism where they could now own and accumalate things that their own parents could not. The American dream was now theirs too.
As they slowly climbed the ladders of wealth, they never once looked back to see who they were leaving behind as they actively allied themselves with the government and the big corporations – who have used them and are still doing so – to accumulate more and more wealth at the top. The corporations and the government very well understood that in order to protect their interests, they have to keep middle-class men just sedated enough and occupied with monthly EMIs in exchange for a house, education for their children and healthcare. Because if they can convince these men of considerable privilege that they don’t have a right to basics like food, clothing and shelter unless they work for it, they will never stand up for themselves or any less privileged than them.
My father’s generation of men have never once looked up and questioned the men in power, both in their personal and professional lives. They married within their caste and religion, had children when expected, stopped believing in unions, and truly surrendered themselves to the idea of a free market capitalist society where the worth of a human life is equal to the amount of economic value generated by it. They expected us to follow their footsteps and prepared us to live a life on EMIs. They now accuse us of being disrespectful and trouble-makers and reminisce about the good old days when they never raised their voice in front of their fathers.
Their relationship with Narendra Modi can be equated with the one they shared with their fathers, where they did not necessarily agree with them on everything but considered questioning them in contempt. That is why they scorn at protesting students because how dare they raise their voice against their ‘elders’. That is why they refused to sympathise with the protesting farmers because, “Bade jo karte hai, humare acche ke liye hi karte hai.”
That is why they refuse to question their supreme leader Narendra Modi, because they finally have what they always wished for.
My father doesn’t necessarily see himself as the father figure who wants to be revered and feared in the family. However, he truly believes that the nation needs to be in the hands of a man who should think, decide and act for all of us.
Bhawna Jaimini is an architect, writer and activist in making. She works closely with the residents of some of the most marginalised neighbourhoods to improve their built environment.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty