Looking for the Potent Hindu Male?

Sometimes, words are impotent when they shoot in the dark or do not serve much purpose. Yet, they seem to attract a lot of attention. How potent is such impotency then?

"I want to ask him this question that you claim to be such a strong and powerful man and wish to be the PM, and you could not protect the people of Godhra. Some people came, attacked and went, and you couldn't protect. Are you not a strong man?...Our allegation is not that you get people killed...but that you are napunsak (impotent)."

These words by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid were aimed at Narendra Modi.

The reactions have covered a wide range, from questioning Khurshid’s education to the insult, to other candidates and back to the accuser’s own ‘manliness’. The Faking News had a rather hilarious pictorial depiction of the minister in varied machismo avatars.

However, as the one reproduced here shows, the assumption in that potency/manliness is associated with beefcake – big muscles, big build, big attitude. This is the archetype and has nothing to do with potency, which literally is the ability to perform and (re)produce. A male who is not physically well endowed might deliver quite adequately, even well.

The portrayal of Khurshid is, of course, parody. Tittering about his manliness does not denote the manliness of his target, though. Is there really an issue with the language here? The minister is often not the best spokesperson or face of the Congress party. But is ‘impotent’ the wrong term here? In fact, he is giving Modi the benefit of doubt by conveying that he is helpless, for no one chooses impotency. It is just there.

But, where sexually-loaded language is concerned these words would invariably be seen as a slur.

Rather interestingly, just the other day, Modi had found an unusual niche for his leadership claims – bachelorhood. Singles don’t have to worry about families, he said.

Most people reacted to this with humour, and the opponents quoted examples from other political parties, including Rahul Gandhi.

There is a problem here and it is not restricted to the gentleman who made the statement. It has been said before too by those in positions of power or committed to a cause. I would understand if the individual had taken sanyas and had no strings attached. However, not getting married does not mean you do not forge relationships. Or cannot. But, he was on a different trip:

"Mere liye na koi aagey, na peechhey. Kiske liye bhrashtachaar karunga? (In have no family ties. I am single. Who will I be corrupt for?)…this mind and body is totally devoted to the nation."

He is in effect saying that men become corrupt for their families, they want to accumulate wealth for their wives and children. The impression is that essentially men would have led pretty much clean lives had it not been for the demands the family makes on acquiring things. The signal given out is that of one focussed on the task of changing India without any personal ties. What happens to the larger family of greedy party workers? Why did he feel the need for a makeover? Will he accept it if other politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists turn around and say that all the scams are because of pressure from their families? How would that explain the hoarding by godmen?

The idea of the single man and his assumed celibacy is a potent one. Think Mahatma Gandhi. Think the RSS pracharaks. The allegiance to an ideology imbues them in the public imagination with ammo. In the case of Modi and his tireless campaigning it also gives an adrenaline rush to his followers. It is like an orgy.

Therefore an accusation of “did nothing” is deemed an insult for one who sweats it out. Here, it is not restricted to language, but perception and symbolism.

Does the single man not go against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s new mantra to protect Hinduism? As its leader Ashok Singhal said:

“Hindus should not restrict themselves to two children per family. Only when they produce five children will the population of Hindus remain stable.”

The Sangh is looking for the potent Hindu male. (It is another matter that population is a problem for India.) Modi’s strategy will be to act as the shepherd who will supposedly lead the people to this stability where conversions by missionaries and over-production by certain others will be curtailed, while at the same time urging them to develop and finetune their natural instincts for the nation. In that, his focus could be seen as potential without any performance anxiety. Also, power without responsibility, due to no ties. Detachment can be potent for it allows a person to spread himself thin while appearing to be self-contained.

© Farzana Versey


Images: The Faking News


  1. It seems like the public would be better served if these people became clowns and tried to entertain people with their stupid lines. At least people can laugh at them or with them and they would be truly serving the public. Now these guys are our rulers or will become rulers, which explains the mess we are in.

  2. Sai:

    Much as there is to complain about current political discourse, the fact is that traditionally the world over sparring has been par for the course. Reading history, the one thing to miss sorely is the wit. Had there been intelligent jousting, it would make for interesting debate. The job of the opposition is to call out the opponent, and even needle on occasion. 


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