Personality cult is anti-democratic

Personality cult is anti-democratic

Hari Jaisingh

During election time, the quality of leaders belonging to various parties surfaces clearly and sharply. Gone are the days of stalwarts of yesteryears. In their place, today we see a mushroom growth of small-minded leaders and their noisy competitive politics. The moot question is: are our present-day leaders going wrong in conducting the country’s and state affairs? How come we see this continuous state of drift in political management? Each leader, for that matter, puts self before party and the nation. Barring a few exceptions, we hardly see leaders of substance and principle. And those who are learned persons of wisdom, honesty and integrity are getting marginalized. We have seen this trend under the five years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime. I know this will never be accepted. But hard realities cannot be camouflaged.

I have nothing personally against P M Modi. He has a number of good points which helped him to catch the imagination of the people during 2014 poll campaign. Unfortunately, he has become the victim of his own follies. Perhaps, he is not aware of where and how he has gone wrong. I do not wish to go into the details of his plus and minus points. I might do that exercise after the outcome of the 2019 results gets known.

It is said that a society gets leaders it deserves. But taking into account 71 years of India’s polity, it is generally felt that the country probably deserved a better set of leaders at all levels than those who have so far presided over the political stage or were thrust upon simple folks of India.

Why is it so? Actually, the politics of expediency has been breeding opportunistic leaders who put the self before the greatest good of large sections of society. This is not a generalized statement but is based on a closer monitoring of the leader-and-the-led scenario. In fact, there has been a marked and steady deterioration in the quality of leadership for the past four decades or so.

I am raising these issues as a concerned Indian who is disturbed by increasing signs of polluted political culture. I do not wish to blame any individual or a political group for what we have been witnessing in Parliament and outside of it.

At play is the politics of negativism which is dividing our society between saffron-oriented Hindus and the rest. And we know that a democratic polity like ours cannot grow on healthy lines in such an atmosphere.

Looking around, India would appear to be a land of crises and infinitum. Multiple crises have brought the country to the verge of a politico-economic and social precipice. There is a crisis of character; A crisis of social and economic imbalances; A crisis of communal harmony; A crisis of poverty and deprivation; A crisis of caste and class; A crisis of quality education; A crisis of unemployment; A crisis of priorities.

A marked deterioration in the quality of leaders and legislators is very visible. For a developing polity like ours, this is a near-disaster. What is particularly disturbing is that no leader is concerned about this state of drift. With his gift of oratory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be the tallest of all leaders. But he is more obsessed with his image and self-projection. He has adopted a personalized cult which does not allow voices of dissent come to the fore.

In this context, it is worth recalling what L K Advani wrote in a blog. He said: “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has never regarded those who disagreed with it as anti-national”. The former Deputy Prime Minister and a founding member of the party was denied ticket to contest from Gandhinagar in Gujarat which elected him six times to the Lok Sabha. This is a pity.

“…In our conception of Indian nationalism, we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as anti-national. The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at personal as well as political level”, Advani said in an apparent reference to statements from senior party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, referring to the Opposition as anti-nationals.

What is not realized is that democratic institutions tend to decline and get eroded when undue emphasis is placed on personalities, the loyalty factor and self-promotion. We have witnessed such tendency during Indira Gandhi’s time. We have seen this trend during the past five years of the Modi regime.

In fact, we see too much stress on personalized leadership, and too little on institutions and their integrity and functional autonomy. This has given rise to arbitrariness and highly partisan and reckless intervention by political upstarts in the saffron brigade.

Much worse, this has led to a systematic neglect of the public realm and has generated an increasing tendency to treat power as a means of personal aggrandizement and as an instrument of patronage. In this setting, the polity gets petrified.

Indeed, institutional erosion in the face of massive challenges and rising expectations of young Indians is the basic crisis facing the country. Can we come out of this messy situation? The verdict of the 2019 poll should provide us an answer. Still, it cannot be said categorically. Of course, some of our youthful leaders look promising. We hope that they won’t be sucked into the system as it exists today. A lot will depend on enlightened citizens. They have to work hard to strengthen our secular, pluralistic and federal principles.

Simultaneously, micro movements and local expectations have to be given an adequate place in the present self-centred and insensitive system and wayward leadership.

The situation demands adjustment and proper understanding of changing ground realities in urban and rural India. Well, we have to wait and watch. Several unknown and unpredicted factors can shape Indian politics in the days to come.