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Decoding The End Of Modi Personality Cult

| Updated: June 23, 2024 11:04

A new haze of normalcy has settled down on the national capital. At least, for now. There are no Narendra Modi visage staring down at you from every petrol pump station. The ubiquitous reminders of a cult leader are gone; though the bookshop at Terminal 3 still displays in its “new arrival” shelf at least seven Modi books, obviously penned by the cunningly calculating authors much before the voters decided to deny his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a clear parliamentary majority, writes journalist Harish Khare in The Wire

A truncated prime minister is not entitled to any personality cult. Simple. The first and foremost democratic task before the nation is to honor the voters’ preference and dismantle the Modi Personality Cult.

The Modi cult that got institutionalised these last ten years had three elements to it.

First and foremost, Modi has built for himself a reputation of being a great communicator, one who can mesmerise any audience with his demagogic prowess and sell them any slogan or jumla, if you like; he was declared by many to be the invincible vote-catcher. The ultimate measure of a leader in a democracy.

Second, with this reputation — very often exaggerated — Modi was able to convert the entire BJP into a tamed house-cat. Senior leaders were packed off into some exotic advisory role. None of the remaining leaders — neither Sushma Swaraj nor Arun Jaitley nor Nitin Gadkari nor Rajnath Singh — were allowed to get into the picture frame; everyone had to walk a few steps behind him. He could change chief ministers with the same ease as he changed his kurtas; and, no one in the party dare raise his or her voice at Saheb’s choice or decision.

Not just the BJP, Modi used his “popularity” to browbeat those self-important men in Nagpur into submission, even tactical surrender. The all-powerful sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat was happy to be palmed off with a “z plus” security and an occasional use of the Vigyan Bhavan auditorium. The middle rung functionaries were made to make their peace with the new Shenshah in exchange for contracts for the “viksit” Bharat.

Third, a basic ruthless, unheard of and unemployed before, to knee-cap all sources of Opposition and Resistance – the Congress and other parties, civil society, and other assorted dissenters. The coercive powers of the state were unleashed against those who refused to fall in line. The same rough hand was shown to the media and was given a choice: my way or highway. Revenue calculations by the media barons and careerism compulsions of the editors won over professionalism, and, public duty.

For ten years, the Modi cabal used the tax-payers’ money to manufacture a Personality Cult around the man. And the Modi coterie used the aura of that personality cult to use the governmental paraphernalia to elevate him beyond questioning, criticism, or critique; never had the country been subjected to such a comprehensive exercise in mass hypnosis. Suddenly we were a nation of one- hero-worshipers. A civilisation that takes pride in having the luxury of choosing from as many “84 lakhs devis and devatas” was now being asked to worship only one god.

This was too much for this ancient land, with its new god under the Constitution — the voter. Modi thoroughly exposed himself on the campaign trail.

A man whom the aspirational Indians thought was a leader of maturity and sagacity turned out to be unworthy of our collective respect, leave alone reverence. He thought he had the license of his cult: that he can say anything — distort facts, fabricate history, deliberately mis-quote and misread the others — and people will still believe him and vote for him. And, then, when he finally claimed to have had a kind of a non-biological birth he came across as totally unhinged.

The voter saw through Narendra Modi, a man who could not be respected as a statesman or a wise ruler or a dharmic king. The voter has taken away his ball — his invincibility as a vote-catcher. Modi himself barely made it in Varanasi.

Of course, it would be useful to remember that these last ten years the Modi Personality Cult has developed an infrastructure of vested interests as well as created its own ecosystem. The Modi cheerleaders are pretending that nothing has changed or will change; they are betting that the truncated prime minister will continue to use money power and the danda to climb back into our national esteem. This is elitist arrogance, already rejected by the voters.

A Personality Cult is the very anti-thesis of a democratic constitutional arrangement. But, sadly, the judiciary seems to have settled for a strange jurisprudence that any questioning or criticism or even insult to the prime minister was a crime against the nation and that the offender had to be put away in jail. This judicial indulgence has perhaps been the source of deepening of this Personality Cult in its most unhealthy manifestations. The democratic forces would devoutly wish that the judicial leadership will have the sagacity and the courage of Article 32 to heed the voter’s yearning for an accountable governance.

More than the judiciary, it is for the 200-strong Opposition in the Lok Sabha to insist that the prime minister will answer questions, on Wednesday in the Lok Sabha and, on Thursday, in the Rajya Sabha. Parliament is not a forum for any prime minister to demonstrate his rhetorical skills nor a place for his party men to shout “Modi, Modi.” The Opposition benches must see to it that the Parliament again becomes the supreme national institution of accountable governance — and, not a podium for a demagogue.

Though Modi has returned to the South Block as a truncated prime minister, he has lost his most precious asset: his trustworthiness. For now, he has surrounded himself with familiar faces, who want to reassure him that the old order has not changed. And, then, there is the compromised media displaying advance stages of Stockholm Syndrome.

The former Tribune Editor-in-Chief writes, after ten years of false narratives, fudged statistics, and forged “achievements” a kind of national emptiness overwhelms us. A decade long infatuation with the Leader-knows-the-best has petered out into a glorious uncertainty. A country of one billion people cannot achieve any national greatness just on One Leader’s whims and fancies. Undoubtedly, as a nation we have the inner resilience and the civilisational certitude to rebuild our collective elan, and, use the democratic energies draft an inclusive future. That task cannot even begin unless we start the process of dismantling the Modi Personality Cult.

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