POLITICS

As The Cult Of Modi Blooms, So Does A Culture Of Sycophancy Among His Supporters

Sycophancy in Indian politics clearly pays.

15/06/2017 3:17 PM IST | Updated 15/06/2017 3:17 PM IST
Reuters

It is inevitable. In the rush to make sure Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes history, his supporters are willing to rewrite history. And now they are rewriting geography as well.

First came the brightly-lit picture of a floodlit border illustrating the government's prowess in "border management". But it turned out to be more an exercise in image management since it had nothing to do with the floodlights installed along the Indo-Pakistan border.

This was a "goof-up", the home ministry said. The picture being passed off as the illustration for Made in India border-control was actually the border between Spain and Morocco, through which African migrants often try to enter Europe.

Omar Abdullah tweeted in disbelief "How does Spain share a border with Morocco? Last I checked one was in Europe & the other in Africa with the Mediterranean Sea in between!!!" That tweet led to a geography lesson over social media, with people pointing out to Abdullah that Morocco and Spain do share maritime and land borders in the Canary Islands, along the Strait of Gibraltar and on the Alboran Island.

Who knew? Chalo, at least thanks to this home ministry goof-up, we have all learnt a few things about world geography.

But the bigger takeaway from this is what an unnamed senior home ministry official told the media.

"Apparently, some officials are trying to keep their political bosses in good humour by resorting to such gimmicks... by distorting facts." He brought up the famous Press Information Bureau photograph of Modi looking at the Tamil Nadu floods in amazing detail from his aircraft with superpower--'Modivision'.

"Apparently, some officials are trying to keep their political bosses in good humour by resorting to such gimmicks... by distorting facts."

There is nothing new about sycophancy. Congress with its dynasty worship wrote the book on it. Congress leader Gyani Zail Singh famously said "If my leader (Indira Gandhi) had said I should pick up a broom and be a sweeper, I would have done that." Singh became the President of India. In more recent times, many Indians have been baffled at the over-the-top prostrate-on-the-ground culture of sycophancy that flourished in Jayalalithaa's Tamil Nadu.

When her devotees attempted suicide after she was briefly incarcerated in the disproportionate assets case, Amma announced a cash relief of Rs 3 lakh to the families of those who died and Rs 50,000 to those who tried to commit suicide. Sycophancy in Indian politics clearly pays.

Sycophancy in Indian politics clearly pays.

But that sycophancy was so over-the-top, so ridiculous, it was easier to spot and dismiss with an eye roll. It was obvious and heavy-handed and bureaucratic as evident from the number of stadiums, roads, hospitals, government programmes and awards named after the Nehru-Gandhi family. In the age of Photoshop and social media, sycophancy has become far more slick and insidious, its effect much more long-lasting and pernicious. It slyly changes history itself.

Remember the famous black-and-white picture of a young Narendra Modi holding a broom, sweeping the floor during an RSS rally in 1988? That was widely shared by BJP supporters. It was a vital piece in a narrative to sell the humble tea-seller origins of the prime minister. Nobody ever thought Modi came from anything but humble origins. But still someone felt the need to resort to Photoshop to underscore that fact because a picture is worth a thousand words.

Because the one man who could have burst the bubble, the one man who was the most likely to know whether it was authentic or not, maintained a very convenient silence. Candidate Narendra Modi said nothing about it as he swept up votes.

It certainly worked as it went viral--a rare piece of documentary evidence of the hard-scrabble origin of the man who wanted to be PM. In the end it turned out to be fake. An RTI enquiry showed that the picture was morphed. But by then the picture had done its work and surely there are still thousands out there convinced that the picture is genuine.

ABP

Why? Because the one man who could have burst the bubble, the one man who was the most likely to know whether it was authentic or not, maintained a very convenient silence. Candidate Narendra Modi said nothing about it as he swept up votes.

The BJP was one party that had seemed rooted in meritocracy rather than being built around cloying puja of one all-powerful supreme leader like most other Indian parties. With the growing clout of Modi within the party, that is changing. And thus the rush in sycophancy. What other reason is there to celebrate MODI-Fest nationally aka the Making Of Developed India to mark the third anniversary of the government?

The clout of Modi means that other leaders in the party are lining up to pay obeisance and also play fast and loose with facts.

Pawan Kumar / Reuters
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik (C) and India?s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yogi Adityanath (R) greet a gathering before Adityanath takes an oath as the new Chief Minister of India?s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh during a swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow, India, March 19, 2017. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

The latest to do that is UP's chief ministry Yogi Adityanath. He has made news by telling the media that it was "desh ke adarniya pradhan mantri Shri Narendra Modiji" who was the one responsible for endeavouring to construct a memorial in Nagpur in the place where Babasaheb Ambedkar took spiritual guidance. If he meant Deekshabhumi in Nagpur where Ambedkar and his followers embraced Buddishm en masse in 1956, the memorial there was inaugurated in 2001 by then President KR Narayanan, himself a Dalit.

Modi had barely been chief minister of Gujarat for two months a that point. A senior BJP leader tells The Telegraph that the real story might be Yogi Adityanth trying to curry favour with adarniya pradhan mantri who is allegedly miffed with him for the violence in Saharanpur spoiling the party's Dalit outreach programme.

Whatever the reason, whether its blatant sycophancy or simple lack of knowledge, the cult of Modi is in full bloom.

That is evident not just in the world of politics but in popular culture as well. As I flew out of Kolkata airport the other day, I noticed a new shop that had sprung up inside the terminal. A dapper young man leans casually on a podium in a smartly patterned jacket. The shop is called NaMo. It sells the half-jacket made popular by the prime minister. Soon no one will remember that the half-jacket was once called the Nehru jacket. Modi-ji has given it a more brightly coloured brightly patterned avatar and chain stores like NaMo will soon help turn it into the Modi jacket.

It's only to be expected. In a time when history and geography is being re-written by his acolytes, why should fashion be exempt from Modi-fication?

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