Origins – The forming of (political) opinion

In the November of 2017, the below political coordinates test had gone viral among the various whatsapp groups that I am a part of. I have shared a screenshot of the results that the test threw up back then. Do try it, if you haven’t.

https://www.idrlabs.com/political-coordinates/test.php

political leanings

I was not very surprised with my coordinates. Would any one be? I am certain that of the people who would have given the test, most would already know what their coordinates would be, and would wear them like a badge of honour.

I did spend some time wondering how I got there. Have you ever wondered – when did you form your political opinion? When did you develop a political leaning? Has it always remained the way it was when you first started having an opinion or has it changed with time? Can you draw a timeline to the forming and changing of your opinion? If you are interested in politics, it would be an interesting exercise to take – journaling the journey of your political opinion. That is, if you believe that your political opinion and leanings have changed over time and could change in the time to come.

Once we form an opinion, do we ever spend time in evaluating that opinion, or are the rest of our lives dedicated to finding reinforcements to bolster that opinion?

I wonder how much time people spend before forming a political opinion. I don’t think much. But once we do form one, rest assured, we are committed to that opinion. At least the ones who have strong opinions are. Our relationship with our opinions is often very similar to our relationship with a close friend, a lover, a spouse.

It might have started off as a casual interaction, possibly a chance encounter. But with time, it grows stronger. And we rarely ever wonder what got that relationship started in the first place? With opinions too it is like that – it is almost as if many opinions are sprinkled as seeds into our brain, a few of them pop up as saplings, a few takes roots in our brain, grow big and then systematically eliminate any other thoughts/opinions that would challenge them.

Do our thought processes determine our opinions? Or do opinions formed casually take roots in our unsuspecting minds, and then aggrendise themselves, in turn also shaping our thought processes?

In the summer of 2007, my first company posted me in Coimbatore for a two-month training. There was a whole bunch of students from my engineering college, the girl who I was nuts about in college included, posted in the town. But as luck would have it, I was put up in a hotel with students primarily from other campuses, and only 2-3 guys from my own college.

It was the second Sunday of July, a month into the training, and incidentally the birthday of that college girl (also my brother’s birthday, but that’s even more irrelevant to an already irrelevant post). In those days, I for some reason, expected the entire universe to come together to make things happen for me, especially in matters that concerned the heart. That the essence of success lies in being pro-active, in putting yourself out there, in making things happen, was still a few years away from dawning on me. Maybe it still hasn’t – for instance I write about it, but spend days together lazing, typing aimlessly, purposelessly. Like I am now.

Anyway, back to Coimbatore. A lot of guys from the hotel in which I  was put up had gone to Ooty that day. I do not recall the reason behind my not joining them, but I am guessing it would be because I was hoping that the universe would pull a few strings and organise a birthday party.

Anyway, I do recall walking into the TV room on the ground floor that evening, a little disappointed with the Universe, only to find a colleague from work watching the Wimbledon men’s singles finals. The match had just begun. I had stopped watching tennis after Sampras had retired in 2002 (I didn’t watch much of it then either) and was only vaguely aware this player named Federer, who everyone drooled over. I didn’t know anything at all about Nadal.

I had actually walked into the TV room hoping to watch a movie, and contemplated going back to my room. But the tie-breaker for the first set had just begun, and I pulled a chair. I didn’t have a favourite. Federer won the tie-breaker 9-7. My heart went out for Nadal, it always does for the underdog. The match lasted for three hours. I was firmly in Nadal’s corner by the time he lost the last set 6-2.

2007 wimbledon final

Watching Nadal play – win, lose, win again, get injured, get written off, make a come back, win again  and prove the naysayers wrong – has been an important part of my life, for the last 11 years.

Sometime in the middle of 2014, Nadal experienced a period of self-doubt coupled with injuries, and he was not able to win a Grand Slam for almost 3 years. During this period, I religiously followed every single of his matches round-the-year. It probably affected my performance at work too.

I wonder, if Nadal would not have lost the  first set, would I have supported him in the match? If he had not lost that match, would I have been so firmly in his corner ever since?

I can vividly recall a morning in 1995 when a classmate was telling me how much she liked Agassi, and what a brilliant player he was. She had lost her father to kidney failure a few months back, and I remember feeling very attached to her back then (I recall her telling me about it a few months back when we were in Std IV, us staring out of the classroom windows, and me not knowing what to say. I still suck at condoling people, seeing off people.) I had happened to have read about the tennis tournament (Wimbledon) on then, and barely recalled the name Sampras. Just to sound intelligent, I said, “But Sampras will win the tournament.” And he did. And for the next seven years, I must have watched every Wimbledon semi-final and final. I have to be grateful to Doordarshan (India’s government channel), that it telecast the semi-finals and finals of Wimbledon year on year. That’s how we start having our favourites, don’t we?

And it’s not just with choosing our favourite sports person. That’s how irrational and not-thought-through a lot of the big decisions of our lives are. Big decisions, like the person we decide to go and sit next to on the first day of school/college – the person who ends up becoming our friend for a long time to come. That’s how we decide, who we walk up to have lunch with on the first day at work – and that person then becomes our drinking buddy for many years to come.

And so it is with our political opinions too. I was a fan of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s former prime minister, back in the ’90’s. I vaguely recall having been moved, as a 14-year old, on hearing his no-confidence motion speech, a motion he went on to lose, amidst pandemonium, by one vote. That was the first time I had a political opinion.

I didn’t think about it much. At the back of my mind, the BJP was the better party, which had been brought down through deception in 1999.

It was only in 2006, when a concerted campaign called  India against reservation reached our engineering campus, that having a political opinion became relevant. I remember being asked to put on a black t-shirt in support of the campaign. I remember certain students from my batch, my department – which I represented in the Students’ Body- telling me off, for supporting an insensitive campaign without understanding the nitti-gritties of reservation

That was the first time my political ignorance had been questioned. I recall having spent hours in the computer room in my hostel that evening (which we also called the Orkut room back then), brooding about the reservation system in India. I distinctly remember being embarrassed for having put on that black t-shirt without trying to understand the issue. I distinctly remember being embarrassed for having asked a naive question to a Professor, as a Students’ representative, during a meeting about not allowing any anti-reservation activities on campus – a question which just made him smile and say, “You will not understand.”

reservation

For 22 years of my life, I did not have a strong political opinion. That week I was in the process of forming one. If at that point in time, a close friend would not have asked me to read up about reservation, and if I had not chanced upon all those articles that Google threw up highlighting how reservation is important, I could have had a starkly different political leaning and opinion today. And I am not saying that would have been wrong.

A few weeks later, in another friend’s room, I came across a lot of content, possibly propaganda, that showcased a certain Narendra Modi’s complicity/inaction in the 2002 Godhra riots (the link to one of those videos is below). This person’s name had not occupied any space in my mind till that day. And then I saw the below documentaries.

I was shaken. I spent the weekend digging up his speeches made in rallies following the riots. I could not digest the amount of vitriol he had spewed in the political rallies in the aftermath of a riot in a state in which he was the Chief Minister. I could not believe that my favourite Atal Bihari Vajpayee had allowed him to continue as the Chief Minister. I did not try to find counter-opinions. I did not bother reading what the courts had to say about what the documentaries had alleged.

Over the past decade, I have spent a lot of time slaving a political opinion formed over a weekend.

My political opinion is at odds with most of my extended family, it’s at odds with at least 50% of the friends that I had made prior to 2007.

Interestingly, it is completely in sync with most of the friends I have made, the women I have loved, the flatmates I have lived with, ever since 2007. I have not been actively involved in politics so far, and from where I am sitting I don’t see even a remote possibility of any involvement in the future.

And yet, has that political opinion formed over a weekend, played a role, howsoever small in determining the kind of people that I hang out with more, the kind of conversations I have, the kind of stories that I read, and hence the kind of person that I become?

Think about the strongest opinions you have, not just about politics. Think about how you ended up forming them. Think about how they could have shaped your life. And then, add an ‘if’, and think again.

It is an interesting exercise, for  the wanderers.

PS: I read through the piece, and it sounds a little naive, trying to find meaning behind the forming of an opinion, trying to connect the dots in a life which itself could be just the Universe’s shot in the dark at trying to understand itself.

 

Categories Longread, Personal Story, PoliticsTags , ,

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