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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 22, June 1, 2024

Narendra Modi, Authoritarianism and ‘God Complex’ | Ram Puniyani

Saturday 1 June 2024, by Ram Puniyani


Democracy is a system of society won after long and intense struggles. The preceding society had mostly Kingdoms. A typical kingdom was an alliance between the Feudal lord-King and clergy. While clergy was representative of the religious power, the king was presented as the son of God whose decisions and actions had the sanction of clergy. Clergy very cleverly cultivated the concept of Heaven (Swarga, Jannat) and hell (Narak, Jahannum). Those obeying to the king-clergy combo were doing Punya, Sawab, virtue and were adding to their positive points for deserving Heaven, while the act of disobedience to these twin authorities were getting negative points, paap, sin, gunah. The sum total of negative and positive points determined whether one deserves heaven or hell.

With democracy coming with lots of hiccups, the Kings were replaced by the elected leader, who is bound by the set of laws, mostly outlined in the constitutions. There is a lot of variation in the process of transition from kingdoms to democracy. Democratic process is not static and there are many factors which can reverse the process with the head of state assuming total powers and at places getting legitimacy from the religious authority. This needs a brief recall as in some of the countries globally and particularly in South Asia, the hard won democracy is being replaced by authoritarianism laced in the language of religion (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and India). At places the Supreme Leader assumes the twin roles of head of the state and chief priest both, as being seen currently in India in particular.

There are no uniform patterns. We earlier saw Indira Gandhi being hailed as Goddess Durga, when she led the country in 1971 war against Pakistan, which led to the formation of BanglaDesh. She herself ignored this ‘honor’ being bestowed upon her. Divinity was not on display in her pronouncements or actions.

Narendra Modi the present Prime Minister is very different. To begin with he is a Hindu Nationlist, a trained Pracharak of RSS which has the goal of Hindu nation. Such sectarian nationalisms have the avidity for dictatorships under the cover of religion or race. The promotion of a great image for the top leaders is part of the religious nationalist project. Such nationalisms do preferably need a charismatic leader, whose position is made above questioning due to the aura created around them. As Narendra Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the exercise of creating charisma around him began. On one hand APCO, an image creating firm, was hired to create his powerful image. On the other his childhood was also glorified to back up his image. A comic book was published, ‘Bal Narendra’. In this the story was elaborated that while as a child, when playing with his friends, he entered the river to retrieve the ball and along with the ball he also brought a baby crocodile.

With his taking over as the Prime Minister, the Cabinet system, Prime Minister is first among equals, was replaced by all powerful Prime Minister, with Ministers’ powers reduced abysmally. No doubt he called himself, Pradhan Sevak (Chief servant of Nation). His participation in religious functions and places of worship increased. With the media being taken over by his corporate friends, his image as a great ruler was deliberately created. This trend continued and in the 2019 elections, he was presented as Chowkidar (Security guard of the Nation) as more and more of National assets were given over to his favorite industrialists. His longings for becoming the head of religion were gradually surfacing as seen in the consecration ceremony of Lord Ram idols. In this he combined the roles of head of the state and the head of religion.

The concentration of power in his hands is more or less too strong by now. On the top of this as he is campaigning for the 2024 Parliament elections he has stated in an interview “"When my mother was alive, I used to believe that I was born biologically. After she passed away, upon reflecting on all my experiences, I was convinced that God has sent me. This energy could not be from my biological body, but was bestowed upon me by God. I believe God has given me abilities, inspiration, and good intentions for a purpose… I am nothing but an instrument. That’s why, whenever I do anything, I believe God is guiding me". He also stated that those who will vote for me will get the punya of what good I do. What good has Modi been doing? Subversion of democracy, making policies for the benefits of his cronies, marginalizing Muslims and Christians, glorifying the values of hierarchies of ancient times among others are major outcomes of what he has been doing.

This statement is also a delayed response to the Godi media anchors who have been asking him from where do you get so much energy? While those around him have no spine to question him on his policy failures, they also add up in taking his image a few notches up. Already many of his devotees, Kangana Ranaut e.g. are calling him as the reincarnation of God. Now he himself is convinced that he is so and that is the source of his endless energy.

One does know that all other dictators also present themselves as being God etc. but there is one dictator, who believed in his being God. Interestingly he himself enunciated this in a book, ghost written by him. That is none other than Adolf Hitler. His biography, ‘Adolf Hitler: His Life and speeches’ was published in 1923. This compared him to Jesus Christ. It mentioned German Aristocrat and War hero, Victor Von Koerber as the author. One research scholar has shown that it was Hitler himself who wrote this book to enhance his image.

We have a unique situation now. Chronology of Narendra Modi from crocodile catcher as a child, to behaving like Nero when the Gujarat carnage was going on, Pradhan Sevak in 2014, Chowkidar selling nation’s assets from 2019 and now ‘sent by God’, God incarnate with infinite stamina sleeping only three hours and eating only once as day as per his acolytes.

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