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Meet Candidate Rahul, Love Guru Aka Rahul Baba

What makes so many Indians so afraid of love? So scornful of it that they prefer lynching?

This is Rahul Gandhi as Love Guru, said Kishwar Desai after the Congress President spoke at the launch of Karan Thapar’s memoir, Devil’s Advocate, on July 25. She couldn’t have been more apt. Only in the India of today does love make everyone feel uncomfortable. Gandhi himself noted this when he said at the launch: “Now when I go to Parliament, BJP MPs take two steps back when they meet me. They’re afraid I will hug them.” Sure enough, it merited a homophobic response from the BJP today, when BJP MP Nishikant Dubey said: “Yes, we do fear hugging Rahul Gandhi as our wives might divorce us after that. Also, Section 377 hasn’t been scrapped as yet. If he gets married, we will hug him.” And also, presumably, hold hands with him in public as most men, single or married, are accustomed to doing in India?

What makes so many Indians so afraid of love? So scornful of it that they prefer lynching?

Ira Mukhoty, writer of Heroines and Daughters of the Sun, essays on women in history and mythology, says it wasn’t always so. Indians were used to many kinds of love all through myth and history. Whether it is Meerabai’s love for Krishna which made her leave her home and the material world; Humayun’s love for the women in his life–their singing, dancing, banter and wit; Radha’s “illicit” love for Krishna; or Jahanara Begum’s great love for her brothers, the unfortunate Dara Shikoh and the man who engineered his death, Aurangzeb, there were many manifestations of love.

It is a point echoed by Madhavi Menon in her book, Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India, when she says: “(We have) cross dressing gods. Men hold hands freely. Women frequently sleep in the same bed. This is a country that is deeply homophilic even as it is often superficially homophobic….Consistency is not the favoured mode in India, especially in relation to desire. We have very strict rules about What Must be Done: (heterosexual) marriage and producing children are flourishing businesses. But equally, we have long histories that valorise celibacy, and goddesses who model childlessness. So which one is the “real” India? The answer is “all of the above”.”

The problem in contemporary India is that we can only think in binaries now. Our default setting has only two options now–pro-BJP and Nation First, or anti-BJP and anti-national. If you are not with us, you are against us. If you eat beef, you are not a Hindu. If you love and marry a Muslim and change your name, you are a non-person. If you’re a stranger entering a village you’re a child lifter. If you speak against misogyny, you are an open invitation to an assault.

What better way to counter the politics of hate than the message of love in such a situation, right? The problem with this is that the idea of love has become deeply tainted in contemporary India, perhaps because of inherited Victorian notions of prudery.

Love has become feminised, sexualised, even objectified. And being feminine is never a good thing in the Age of the Reinvented Hindu Male, who thinks nothing of assaulting innocent people on a mere suspicion of what they eat or who they worship. Being feminine is seen as weak, a great irony in a culture that has worshipped female strength. Hence Mr Dubey’s dubious comments on Rahul Gandhi’s jaadu ki jhappi. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs world leaders, it is from a position of one who boasts a 56-inch chest. If Rahul Gandhi does it, he’s a wimp.

“Aap logon ke andar mere liye nafrat hai, aap mujhe Pappu aur bohot gaaliyan dekar bula sakte hain, lekin mere andar aapke liye nafrat nahi hai (You people have hatred inside your hearts for me. You call me Pappu and abuse me, but I harbour no hatred for you),” Gandhi said in Parliament on July 20, shortly before hugging the prime minister and winking at his colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia. Thus compounding his alleged sins–not only of loving his enemy but being playful about politics.

Rahul Gandhi’s refashioning of himself as Love Guru just in time for the 2019 General Election is clearly influenced by Buddhist philosophy which his sister has studied as well. Buddhism emphasises the many dimensions of love–maitri (kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy) and upeksha (freedom). All of them entail empathising with one’s antagonist. It is a message the Great Mahatma Gandhi underlined by actually living it. In the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma next year, it is fitting that it Rahul Baba, aka Love Guru, is channeling that spirit.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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