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It has been around five years since PM Modi boasted about his 56-inch chest. Of course, this wasn’t about his actual tailor measurements as much as it was about his need to be seen as a masculine and therefore a strong force. This chest size is once again being brought up before the 2019 general elections, as the ruling party tries to leverage the air strikes following the Pulwama attack earlier this year, to their benefit.

Machismo, or aggressive pride in what is considered ‘masculine’, has been present in Indian politics much before politicians started using chest measurements and other such shows of strength. In fact, even female politicians such as Indira Gandhi have used this display of military strongmanship as proof of their qualification to lead the nation. It is nothing more than representing the leader as a person who is strong, and therefore presumably able to lead. Physical strength, strong action against external threats such as terrorism or war, and a sense of bravado are some visible signs in politics. This kind of behaviour plays the role of reassuring a population who are already feeling fearful or threatened.

Throughout the 2014 and 2019 election campaigns, presenting the opposition as ‘weak’ has been a key strategy for the BJP.

PM Modi, whose popularity had taken a setback due to policies such as demonetisation and the lack of jobs growth, bounced back in the polls after his apparent strong action against Pakistan. Even as the ruling party was scrutinised for false claims, their mass popularity rebounded just in time for elections. The Prime Minister even went ahead and asked for votes in the name of the soldiers killed in the attacks. Throughout the 2014 and 2019 election campaigns, presenting the opposition as ‘weak’ has been a key strategy for the BJP.

What Is It That Makes Machismo So Appealing In Political Situations?

 Before the 2016 US presidential elections, Hillary Clinton’s illness during a 9/11 memorial service was used by Donald Trump’s team to show that she was a physically weak candidate, unfit to lead the nation. Worldwide, politicians like Rodrigo Duterte, Vladimir Putin, and many more have time and again have felt the need to make a grand spectacle of their masculinity, as a means to win voters. And their voters have responded to this show of strength by putting these people in power.  

Also read: Why Are We So Obsessed With The Personal Lives Of Female Politicians?

Machismo is intimidating, loud, brash, and attention seeking. It is, therefore, no wonder that masses respond to this, especially when they are convinced that a grave threat exists. This threat may or may not exist in reality, but as long as it is being perceived by many, it can be used by those politicians who have very little to offer otherwise. By swooping in as a strong protector or defender, a sense of action is created. Short-term distractions can never be the solution for long-term and persistent problems.

Machismo may have been attractive in the past, but there is no place for it if we truly want to develop as a nation.

Ironically, this political show of strength is easily threatened by those who doubt it. The government in such cases is equated with the nation. Anyone raising concern over any sort of failure of the government automatically gets termed as an anti-national.

As the general elections are going on, we must examine why we get so influenced by this show of power, and forget issues and actions that really matter. A lot of Indian voters may have forgotten the promises to eradicate corruption, and create jobs and development, as the BJP had initially promised. Their nearsightedness may even have made them ignore or forget the attacks on minorities, disregard for environmental protection, and curtailment of individual freedom. Nearsightedness and overzealousness may have temporarily blinded the voters, but we must remember that this is a five-year long commitment. Machismo may have been attractive in the past, but there is no place for it if we truly want to develop as a nation.

A show of power needn’t always be toxic. After the white supremacist terrorist attack in New Zealand, PM Jacinda Ardern took charge like no other leader in history. She shunned the terrorist’s name, wore a hijab to show solidarity towards the Muslim community, and led by compassion rather than strongmanship. She took measures that not only addressed urgent needs, but also made sure to discourage such attitudes and actions in the future.

Also read: Why Do Politicians Get Away With Sexist And Misogynist ‘Rants’?

Her actions were not hollow cries of power against terrorism, but actual effective change. By doing what no leader had done before, she showed us that there is in fact, no place or use for machismo in politics. She went beyond traditional politics, and was able to resonate with people watching from far away countries. This is because she acted as an empathetic and kind human being, rather than a powerful leader. And in this empathy, there was true strength. One can only hope that these are the qualities that voters and citizens, will start to look for in their leader, rather than the unstable machismo that benefits none.


Featured Image Source: Asia Sentinel

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