At times, I wonder why we, as Indians, are prone to cult worship, veered around strong personalities. For years, we have been part of the land where stories were weaved around and parroted down generations of the kings, princes and their kingdoms. The nation has seen the mighty Maurayas, Marathas, Mughals and the English Empire. The people were in awe of the rulers & their concocted acts of valor narrated by the courtiers, read historians and people were submissive to those divine personalities. Things have hardly improved. Though, India is technically a democracy, the mindset of the majority population is still tilted towards hero worship.
Politics revolves disproportionately around personalities. PM Modi may be blamed for this phenomenon but this seems to be a normal thing in post independent India. People were hypnotized by the personalities of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Gandhi dynasty. The Congress deliberately suppressed Patel and Subash Chandra Bose and kept those great souls at regional level as if only the members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan had divine right to pan India claim. There were palace coups and intrigues to keep the system intact. Mahatma Gandhi was given a great pedestal and frozen to that. Statues of Congress leaders especially of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty were erected all across the country to strengthen their legacy.
Ambedkar had opined that hero worship was detrimental to democracy. Look at the irony. His statues are omnipresent in contemporary India. He has been patented by Dalit leaders, efforts are on to appropriate his legacy by leaders of entire spectrum– left, right and centre and controversies erupt on the drop of a hat on matters that are connected to him. The present socialist parties may practice just the opposite of what Lohia stood for but they pretend as if were his true disciplines. Socialist politics developed in opposition to Nehru cult worship; Charan Singh and Lohia were wary of the domineering impact of Nehru in Indian politics. But socialist politics of today has become synonymous with crude caste politics dancing to the tune of regional politics satraps like Mulayam, Nitish and Lalu. Political leaders have been messiaha-fied. Their heirs or off springs are becoming their successors where there are succession fights.
Can you think of TMC without Mamata Banerjee or a BSP without Mayawati? DMK is all about Karunanidhi family. Akali Dal is about Badal family. AAP was born out of a womb of a civil movement, it was an outcome of a crusade against corruption but look at the irony. Kejriwal has outgrown the party. Most of the parties have no internal democracy and even if there are internal elections for party posts, results are pre determined. Leaders charged with corruption are clinging on to power because they have committed vote banks that hardly bother about corruption & misgovernance.
Elections are being fought at the national level and the regional level on the strength of individuals and issues have been relegated to the periphery. Campaigns are conducted very much in the Presidential mould. Our parliamentary model is looking more and more USA style Presidential form rather than British West Minister model. Strong personalities do matter in democracy; there should not be an iota of doubt over this. But at the same time, there is no gainsaying the fact that critical debate on any personality in India has been avoided due to politics of identity.
Political leaders have been raised to the status of gods. They are non questionable because the moment you raise a query, their supporters will begin gunning for you. Their acts whether of commission or omission gain immunity, courts can’t judge them for they have popular mandate. What a joke on democracy that proudly claims that it runs on rule of law. And what about the political ideologies & the legacies that seem to be immortal. Contestations are intense over them. Why do we have to fall back on personalities like Gandhi, Ambedkar and Lohia who lived more than half a century ago to find answers to our socio political failures? Because the post independent leadership has minus-ed them not add-ed to their thoughts & visions. It still needs them to convince masses. The alternate political thoughts are lacking. The contemporary leadership still banks upon worn out ideologies. The leadership lacks conviction in its acts. 70 years is not a short time frame. Great leaders may act as beacon of light for the succeeding generations but at the same time, it’s high time present day leadership comes out with alternatives and vision to solve the problems of the society and be innovative.
Politics may be on aspirations in the upcoming years but it will also be on opportunity. The opportunity for all citizens to enter politics – politics that will be free from entry barriers like dynasty, money & muscles and the nation will see more democratization of opportunities. We are living in very interesting times. Every Indian thinks political be he/she in metropolitan place or rural India. Social media & internet and globalization & increasing urbanization are probably going to be tools that are going to change polity. Notions like governance, performance and accountability are already coming into vogue. Political leaders will have to become CEOs as diversification of functions & public activities will occur. An informed, aware and empowered public will be unrelenting hard task master.
Personalities will matter, people will do have heroes, heroes will be worshiped but there will be a difference. The worship will not be blind. The heroes will not be able to fool the masses; they will have to perform and not rely on empty rhetoric and oft repeated slogans. Dynasties have to be face rejection for people will not vote for your lineage. You can’t pass the exam on the score sheet of your father. The grammar of politics is changing. Increasing education has led to deep penetration of social democracy. Ideology may be important, identity may be important, there may be a community messiah or a messiah cutting across communities but performance will gain prominence over all of these. The conduct of public figure has to be proper under intense public & media glare. His personal integrity has to be just like Caesar’s wife– above suspicion.
Parliamentary democracy is undergoing sea change. The PM or the CM is no longer the first among the equals in the cabinet/council of ministers. It is very much the PM’s or the CM’s government. Elite democracy is getting replaced by mass democracy and yes, masses do get swayed by strong leaders. In a developing society like India with a feudal structure that is yet to be dismantled completely, cult leaders will always inspire the masses. Ideally speaking, hero worship is not conducive for democracy as it takes the focus away from the issues and people, it may lead to dictatorship in the long run and prevent the development of alternative politics & developmental models. Democracy requires checks and balances; no individual can be made bigger than the institution.
Ideologies and political icons should be subjected to intense public scrutiny, they can’t be segregated from academic discourse and the nation must learn to allow free flow of ideas in the public institutions of learning and policy making. Ideological intolerance should not be allowed to mushroom. Contrary opinions need to be encouraged and debated. After all, the nation must have the confidence to march ahead and not feel intimidated by viewpoints & ideologies in the universities and colleges.