Independent India has been cursed with a culture of political veneration that does little to burnish its democratic credentials. In the year before she clamped Emergency, D.K. Barua loudly proclaimed, “India is Indira, Indira is India.” One future president said he would sweep the floor if asked by her. In Tamil Nadu, weighty MPs prostrate before ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ and carry her picture in their shirt pockets. Across the nation, leaders big and small sail unabashedly in a surging sea of sycophancy. The hero worship is so deeply entrenched that it is no longer surprising to hear political leaders being equated with divinity, as Venkaiah Naidu did when he hailed Narendra Modi as ‘God’s gift to the country’. No doubt the voluble Union minister was swept up by the demands of the occasion, but even the PM must have been embarrassed to see the competitive chamchagiri that broke out: Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan called him ‘God’s divine gift to India’; another Modi, Sushil Kumar from Bihar, compared him to the Buddha, Lord Mahavira, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.
There is no leader, howsoever humble, who doesn’t crave to be told that he can walk on water, but such myth-building only serves to reveal the desperation of our minds, the bankruptcy of our thoughts. Naked obsequiousness, arguably a hangover of the colonial rule, is, in the contemporary era, only fit for countries like North Korea. In a modern democracy like ours, it smacks of immaturity and insecurity. Narendra Modi perhaps has sterling qualities that separate him from his peers and rivals. But when Kiren Rijiju, the junior home minister, believes that Nostradamus predicted (in 1555, no less) that Modi would rule India from 2014 to 2026, it is time to ask if all these worthies are helping or harming Modi’s cause by projecting him as an inevitable godsend. The fundamental principle of democracy is equality. That is undermined by placing humans on a pedestal and worshipping them as inviolable gods.