|Happy Republic Day!|
A charismatic leader is always an asset but idolizing him or her like a demigod has no place in a democracy. While patriotism or Desh-bhakti is non-negotiable, idolizing a leader or Wyakti-pooja , as is so often done in our country cannot be good for democracy. In devotion there is an abject surrender and blind following, and while this may be all right in religion, though I am not very sure it is, it certainly has no place in politics and building of a democratic nation. It is not unethical to seek praise for one’s work but to seek it in ways which reek of sycophantic gestures is undoubtedly an annoyance, leaders should avoid.
Dr. Ambedkar was truly wary of the blind faith and excessive adulation the people of pre independent India had for Gandhi ji and very poignantly pointed out that “there is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness”. Even after independence he could see the enormous prestige that men like Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel commanded. The years they had spent in jail and the lifelong services to the country they had delivered gave them an iconic and almost divine halo. And Dr. Ambedkar rightly wondered whether their actions or ideas were immune from critical scrutiny? Was their record of patriotism enough reason for the ordinary citizen to follow them implicitly and unquestioningly?
Jawaharlal Nehru himself was not unaware of the dangers of blind adoration. In November 1937, the Modern Review of Calcutta carried a profile of Nehru, which spoke of “intolerance of others and a certain contempt for the weak and inefficient”. It noted that his conceit was “already formidable”, and worried that soon “Jawaharlal might fancy himself as a Caesar”. It was later revealed that the piece was written by Nehru himself, under the pen-name of Chanakya.
Smt.Indira Gandhi however was a prisoner of her own halo which she had acquired after abolishing the princely states and winning the 1971 war, by which she thought that she created Bangladesh! By her dictatorial attitude she demanded that citizens venerate her and those who dared to differ were not treated kindly as the infamous Emergency later showed. She managed to cultivate her own personal admiration society of congressmen, writers and artists. M.F. Husain portrayed her as Durga. Deva Kanta Barooah, a poet of considerable distinction in his native Assamese, famously said that “India is Indira and Indira is India”. This blind devotion to Indira Gandhi led to as Ambedkar had warned, “degradation and to eventual dictatorship”, as manifest in the jailing of her political opponents and the promulgation of the Emergency.
Regional leaders too in India have acquired this devotional halo from time to time. Shivaji Maharaj and Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra, M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalitha in Tamilnadu and N.T. Rama Rao and Y.S.R. Reddy in Andhra Pradesh have been elevated to a sort of superhuman status. While our countrymen in South India bring their celluloid adulation to the political arena almost seamlessly, a new devotion has now crept in which Dr. Ambedkar could not even think of. We now have allegiance and devotion to political families and quite naturally the head of the family acquires the devotional halo and his/her successors shine in his/her reflected glory! Thus we have Gandhi, Laloo, Mulayam, Thackeray, Y.S.R, Karunanidhi, Patnayak who happen to be our new age cult heroes, competing for our devotion. And, ironically, there is even a posthumous cult of Ambedkar himself.
And now we have newly emerging cult of Narendra Modi. This is a new phenomenon for the B.J.P, which had till now, steered clear of ‘wyakti puja’. Even till recently L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all of whom were accorded equal status in party propaganda. After Vajpayee became prime minister he was elevated above the rest, but only marginally —he was first among equals. But Modi, the most successful B.J.P. Chief Minister for 13 years, single handedly won the 2014 election and signaled the start of a new cult. He has been presented as a Superman who will clean up government, grow the economy by 10 per cent a year, take on Pakistan and China, and make India a Great Superpower. His hero-worship club, particularly its cyber wing, is neither tired of praising him nor tired of abusing those who do not subscribe to the Myth of the Great Messiah.
The advantage with Modi is that he is invariably compared to a silent Manmoman Singh, who would let unelected and non-constitutional bodies take policy decisions. As a complete opposite today there is a growing political culture of concentrating power in the hands of a single-leader alleged to hold the key to all solutions. Even if there is collective leadership, it is not very apparent. Modi is visible on television, in press releases and on Twitter on Facebook, in the radio and to his credit, it must be added, he keeps on asking for suggestions to improve his performance. The problem is not with him, the problem is with his devotees. As Ambedkar had famously said ‘Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship’.
Cult leaders can succeed in countries which are not democracies – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Chairman Mao in China, but not in India. Here the Prime Minister has to work with others, be able to compromise, plan ahead and see the big picture. He must be willing to accept reality and do what can be done, not waste his energy trying to accomplish the impossible and he must be thick of skin, because no one gets out of this job with his popularity intact. He must be ever vigilant, because those who pretend to support you are always ready to stab you in the back, his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi learned it the hard way!