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Storm in the family

Political discussions in our family are not only virulent but personal, with motives being imputed and our entire characters being questioned

The conversation started off in a cozy living room at my maternal grandmother’s home in Dehradun. “Why would you even bother supporting a party which doesn’t have a leader?” asked my cousin to the family members sitting comfortably on the couch sipping drinks.

His comment irked me because he was defending his inclination and not respecting mine. With a couple of drinks down the hatch, I was incensed as to how my loyalties were his business. Suddenly, one of my aunts barged in and took the cousin’s side, and that irked me more. I wanted to defend my political inclinations but I was outnumbered by a room full of people with a common political leaning. And a common goal — to defeat me in the discussion. I had no choice but to surrender, so I did.

Our political inclination speaks a lot about us. It speaks a lot about our personalities too. The way we see society, its growth, its story, everything becomes important in a jiffy when we start relating someone’s personality with a certain political affiliation.

The way we conceive ourselves has a lot do with the party we believe in because, in simple terms, that belief shows your vision of society, which is the vision the party presents to you.

My father, a right-winger, is always more interested in understanding the reason behind my political affiliations. Why? Because it makes him feels smart about the choice he made years ago. Probably that could be one reason for him to push for a unified vote before every election, Vidhan Sabha or otherwise.

It becomes funnier as the polling day comes close. He will try to put thoughts in my mother’s mind with a whole dose of wishful thinking. My mother, on the other hand, is not like me. She has never surrendered in a debate with family members when it comes to politics.

My mother has always been very clear about the party she believes in. One reason for that could be her awareness of politics. It would be quite a task to try change the political affiliation of a person who reads two newspapers and browses news channels just like we browse through apps.

Political discussions between my parents erupt as soon as they sit on the recliner sofa in our living room with a national channel (father’s favourite) tuned in. For some minutes, my mother will continue sipping her tea only to lose her patience the minute she catches a lie or when she’s alerted by fake news, about which she must’ve read in the newspaper.

She will try to get a hold on the remote control and switch to her favourite news channel. The result? An avid discussion on politics. Both will start counter questioning each other on their inclinations, but more than informing each other, it becomes a competition to project their respective parties as the smartest ones. Not only this, the discussion takes U-turns and gets personal, which results in their going out to cool off, and us kids choosing whether to order Chinese or North Indian for dinner.

What’s so interesting about these conversations is the sensitive issues they throw up. It always gets personal: One person judging the other person head to toe because of their political affiliation.

I remember how I judged my cousin brother on a very personal level when he turned out to be a huge supporter of a terror accused, and now an MP in Parliament. My WhatsApp was flooded with videos of her campaigns every day, along with a “Have a good day” wish. Not only did it annoy me, but it also led me to question his idea of what is wrong and right. From there it went personal. I started questioning his general behaviour and how it must’ve affected me all these years.

Most videos he sent were marked as fake on Twitter. Neither did he accept that they are fake, nor did he care enough to understand my concern. I felt that the way he blatantly disregarded the authenticity of those videos spoke a lot about him as a person, and his beliefs.

I muted our chat, and carried on. But he persisted with his antics to convert me to his side, demonstrating his desperation and also his ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Isn’t that the case with most of the supporters of the ruling party? Either you bow down or you’re called a fool who is living in a distant world and ridiculed for wishful thinking. I loathe how their adamant  desperation leads me to judge them personally. Can one help it? No. Their behaviour in these heated political debates not only makes you question their understanding of society but also throws light on their urge to be on a higher moral ground.

I remember how on results day, the same brother, doing the same round of antics, sent another video. Firstly, it was a horrible video, a shoddy job by a nut job who must be taking pride in the viral capability of his/her video. It was sent to make me more disheartened about the result. He was pretty aware of how much damage the video will do to our relationship, yet he sent it.

I couldn’t bring myself to reply to his calls/texts which followed after the video. While speaking on the phone too, he started relating the victory of the ruling party with his career choices too. The conversations came out as a bit pompous, and the repercussions were bound to follow.

The results day also brought thunder to my home, although I was not present when the comments flew thick and fast. I thoroughly enjoyed the recap which my brother gave over the phone.

Shots were fired at the incompetence of the leaders of both the parties. Instead, of keeping the debate about politics, it led to accusing each other of being gullible and not “following the right side.”

My father ridiculed my mother’s belief of seeing the opposition as victorious. Did that hurt my mother? Yes. The conversation was inconclusive, and ended only when my mother staged a walkout to cook dinner. Of course, she cooked what she wanted to eat that night. She needed some comfort food.

Brad Verhulst, a behavioral geneticist now at Virginia Commonwealth University once in an interview told The New Yorker that “People get passionate when they’re talking about these things.” He also pointed out, “It would be nice if it was less passionate, but political values really do have a profound impact on our daily lives, as do the personality traits we have. They are fundamentally striking at what it means to be human.”

The larger question here is: Do we understand that fine line?