NEW DELHI -- If Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu is to be believed then Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the best thing since sliced bread. Over the past two years, the senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party has used his talent for alliterations and catchphrases to give new meanings to the name Modi - literally.
Besides calling him the "Modifier of Developing India," "Maker of Developed India in the past," this week, Naidu said that his boss' name stands for "Mood of Developing India." In addition to expounding on Modi's name, the senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party believes that Modi is "God's Gift to India," a "messiah of poor," as well as a "reformer, transformer and performer."
Naidu has always been effusive in his praise of leaders such as L.K. Advani and Atal Bihar Vajpayee, whom he repeatedly called "the tallest leader" of the BJP. Ironically, he once said that "Vajpayee is the tallest leader of BJP yesterday, today and tomorrow" after the former prime minister stirred a huge controversy by saying that it was a mistake not to have removed Modi as chief minister after the Gujarat Riots in 2002.
For the senior leader from Andhra Pradesh to be fixated on Modi's name, while evoking God and messiahs when speaking about the prime minister, is bordering on eccentric.
Naidu, of course, has every right to think of Modi as Ironman, Moses and Mother Teresa, rolled into one, but by fawning in public over and over again, he is behaving like a cult member rather than a senior cabinet minister. One wonders whether the prime minister has ever pulled Naidu aside and asked him to stop singing his paeans in public. It also has the potential to encourage competitive hero worship, which is both needless and best avoided in a democracy.
In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, political psychologist Ashis Nandy said that any leader enjoying a demigod status is extremely unhealthy for Indian society. "Unheroic heroes are always better than heroic heroes. So, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee are always better than Indira Gandhi and Modi," he said.
Dev Kant Barooah, former Congress Party president, who said that "India is Indira and Indira is India" at the start of the Emergency, also said that "India can do without an Opposition." Of Barooah, Congress Party leader Shashi Tharoor wrote: "the most egregious of many unprincipled sycophants, a breed unavoidably spawned in an atmosphere of tyranny—many of whom have continued to flourish in our forgiving, even amnesiac, political culture since then."
Four decades on, the Congress Party is a victim of its devotion to dynastic rule, bereft of leaders, ideas and spirit. And by taking sycophancy from the earthly to the divine, BJP leaders are outdoing even their counterparts in the Grand Old Party.
Does it not embarrass the prime minister to have one of his minister's say that Nostradamus had predicted in the 16th century that Modi would become a "Global Master" in the 21st century. That was Kiren Rijiju, the junior minister for Home Affairs.
It is also difficult to understand what compels a leader of Naidu's experience to say such sickly sweet things in public. In a career spanning almost four decades, he has served as president of the BJP, as a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government, and now he holds two portfolios in the Modi government--urban development and information.
Some say it is just good old-fashioned chamchagiri, but surely 67-year-old Naidu is past the point of feeling the need to boost Modi's ego?
The deep rot of sycophancy is then more that just a tool of advancing one's career, but rather a lifeline in the minefield which is Indian politics, where power is concentrated at the top in most parties. Lush and rampant, sycophancy thrives in regional parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, led by Mayawati and Mamta Banerjee, and it is expressed in extraordinary ways in the southern states including bowing, prostrating and getting tattoos. Even Modi's interest was piqued at the sight of AIADMK leaders with photos of their chief Jayalalithaa in their pockets.
Even as politicians come and go, sycophantic sentiments remain exactly the same, sometimes, word-for-word. To express his gratitude at being nominated as president, four decades ago, Giani Zail Singh said that he would sweep the floor for Indira Gandhi. A simple thank you would have sufficed, and would have been more in character for the president of India.
Three years ago, Charandas Mahant, then junior minister in the UPA government, who was made the chief of the party's Chhattisgarh unit, said that he would be willing to sweep the party office for Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. "If they ask me to broom the Pradesh Congress Committee of Chhattisgarh, I will do it," he said.
BJP leaders such Naidu and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who also believes that Modi is a "God's gift to India" are giving the Congress Party stiff competition, and they render hollow the prime minister's claimed derision of sycophancy.
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