Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
On 19 April, the Government announced that it had decided to remove the red beacon from the cars of all ministers. The move will come into effect from 1 May 2017.
The move by the government is a welcome one. People hoped that it would dent a serious blow to VIP culture and hero worship and avoid horrific traffic woes when politicians come visiting a town or city.
There is no doubt that politicians in India claim a cult of personality. They are not merely followed, they are revered and worshipped. Temples are built in their name, supporters bow down before them like disciples, massive statues are erected in their honour, public facilities are named (and renamed) for them – all the while an elitist VIP culture thrives.
A few weeks ago, following the political crises in Uttar Pradesh which saw Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav being temporarily expelled from his own party, a supporter of the CM attempted self-immolation. The student leader set himself on fire and was later rushed to a hospital. He survived, but not before suffering from 60% burn injuries.
Tamil Nadu’s ruling party AIADMK alleged recently that as many as 280 people have died from “shock” after the death of party supremo Jayalalithaa Jayaram. The former Chief Minister is known for the personality cult she built around herself, with numerous instances of her being literally worshipped by her supporters done in public view.
Then there are the many temples built for politicians. In 2015, a temple dedicated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi was built in Rajkot. Similar temples have been built in the names of INC President Sonia Gandhi, former TN CM Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran, and former UP CM Mayawati.
The consequences of this rabid hero worship are all-consuming, all negative and all unwanted.
Hero worship of politicians breeds polarisation of the masses. By aligning yourself unquestionably to one politician – or political party – you narrow your worldview, strengthen your echo chambers, and see politics and patriotism as a question of “us vs. them”. A polarized electorate is one that is ripe for political vendetta and vote bank politics.
Hero worshipping entertainers and sports personality is one thing; hero worshipping politicians is a whole other ball game. It is indispensable for us to critically analyse our leaders or else an atmosphere of disunity will be established. As Aldous Huxley once wrote, “So long as men worship Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.”
The frequent hero worship of politicians is – there is no other word for it – stupid. Politicians should be subject to logical criticism and wary applause – not put up on a pedestal or prayed to in temples. Hero worship blinds the electorate and fosters a sense of entitlement among the political class. Only by judging all politicians and parties from the same benchmark and the same logic can we build the conditions for a healthy, constructive democracy.
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