PM Modi wants to be seen as a mighty democratic leader, as a statesman, so why has he not noticed that if he allows himself to be surrounded by snivelling sycophants, this is something he will never achieve?
It is true that I am no longer counted as a devotee of Narendra Modi. True that I am vilified daily on social media for being a ‘Modi-hater’. It is also true that I always give the Prime Minister credit when I believe it is due. I have praised him for handling our Covid crisis with urgency and dexterity. So, we have almost not noticed that India’s public health services are among the worst in the world. Developed countries with much better public hospitals and much better standards of public hygiene have not done as well as we have.
There are other things that Modi deserves to be praised for. Swachh Bharat has been a huge success. Indians no longer ‘defecate everywhere’ as Vidia Naipaul so brutally observed in the Sixties. They can still be spotted defecating in public but no longer is it socially acceptable. It was till just the other day. In my village the morning spectacle of rows of women defecating while chatting happily on the beach has gone. In his second term Modi has made it his mission to make clean, running water available in every rural and urban home. These are things that should have happened long ago and never did. It is because Modi put them at the top of his list of priorities that they have begun to happen now.
As somebody who believes that India has been ruined by socialist policies and the foolish belief that officials can successfully run vast enterprises, it delights me that the Finance Minister now openly uses the word privatisation. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to privatise a handful of government companies, he did not dare use the word and instead chose the euphemism ‘disinvestment’. Modi has repeated recently that he does not believe the government has any business to be in business. For all these things he deserves full credit and must be given it. This is why it is so puzzling that he allows his ministers and chief ministers to behave like a bunch of mincing minions.
The latest sickeningly sycophantic statement came last week from the new Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. Tirath Singh Rawat said, “A day will come when like Shri Ram and Shri Krishna the people of India will worship Modi as a god.” It is bad luck that he also made another truly foolish remark about women wearing ripped jeans, and it was for this that he was castigated publicly by an army of Indian women. As he should be. How dare he think he has the right to tell women what they should and should not wear? If he does not like exposed knees, by the way, what did he wear as an RSS member in the days when the uniform was khaki knickers?
If he had chosen another week to make his crass comments on women’s jeans, attention may have been paid more to the speech in which he compared Modi to Ram and Krishna. It is an insult to Indian democracy and our Constitution for elected officials to make remarks of this kind. Unfortunately, far too many ministers and high officials have said things like this. They forget that our founding fathers chose to give every Indian the right to vote precisely because they wanted to instill in our population, that was mostly illiterate then, that politicians are not gods. They did this at a time when nearly half of India was ruled by princes who liked their subjects to believe that they should be treated as rulers with divine rights.
It is sad but true that after India became a modern nation, we were ruled for 50 years by an elected Dynasty. True that the members of this Dynasty thought so highly of themselves that there is almost not a city, town or village in India in which some public building or utility is not named for some member of the Dynasty. Modi should remember that one reason why he has won two general elections with a full majority is because people were sick to death of hereditary democracy, the Durbar in Delhi and the sycophants that made its existence possible.
So why is he allowing his ministers and chief ministers to behave like minions? Why does he allow his army of vicious, vindictive trolls on social media to screech abuse at anyone who dares criticise one of his policies? Modi’s recent exercise in vaccine diplomacy is proof that he cares dearly about his image in the eyes of the world. He wants to be seen as a mighty democratic leader, as a statesman, so why has he not noticed that if he allows himself to be surrounded by snivelling sycophants, this is something he will never achieve?
There are other leaders in the world with a taste for servility and sycophants but none of them are seen as statesmen or leaders of proud democracies. They are seen for what they become when they surround themselves with people who compare them to gods and messiahs. Leaders of this kind are called despots and tinpot dictators, even if they come to power through elections. If Modi wants to be respected as the leader of the world’s largest democracy, he must rid himself of those who compare him to gods. He could begin by sacking the chief minister of Uttarakhand who has proved that he is a singular idiot.
This column first appeared in the print edition on March 21, 2021 under the title ‘Politicians are not gods’.
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