An Election Of Mythological Proportions!

An Election Of Mythological Proportions!

Prof.T K Thomas

India that is Bharat is a land of mythology and legends. All our festivals like Sri Krishna Janmashtami or Ram Navami reflect the reenactment of those mythological events. On Sri Krishna Janmashtami we find children dressed like Nand Kishore, with a peacock feather on their artificial crowns. Ram Leela is presented in almost all “Mohallas’’[locality or community] in rural and urban areas in North India culminating in the burning of giant sized effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad on Dussehra. The performance by amateur actors of Ram Leela in these Mohallas draw huge crowds and the show has massive props, sounds and action during the celebrations spanning over a week. Everyone enjoys the music, dialogues, props, action or costumes, however amateurish, ridiculous or amusing they may be. After all it is our wonderful mythology.

In the early 1960s as university students in Thiruvananthapuram we were regular film goers. Malayalam films were few and far between but among the few there were Ramayana based films like “Sit[h]a’, “Sampoorna Ramayanam” and “Sri Rama Pattabhishekam”. The last one was on the coronation of Sri Ram featuring two Muslim brothers Prem Nazir and Prem Nawaz in the lead roles of Ram and Lakshman. What stands out in one’s memory is the pomp and show of the scene in Ayodhya of the Pattabhishekam or coronation. The Gurus and Acharyas donning saffron attires, the royal retinue in resplendent costumes and the bejeweled ladies in bright coloured clothes; with the cheering citizens in headgears of varied hues.

Centuries later, last Thursday and Friday [25th and 26th April] the scenes in Varanasi where the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone to file his nomination from the Varanasi Parliamentary Constituency reminded one of the 1962 Malayalam film scene of the coronation of Sri Ram. Modern technology adding color, illumination and stereophonic sounds notwithstanding, the mythological grandeur of the Ramayana days appeared to be evident with the Ganga Aarti, sounds of Vedic chants, bells, cymbals and drums. The live visuals on television almost transported one back to the days of yore. After all, the Election Commission in its ads calls this general election “Desh Ka Mahathyohar” or the great festival of the country!

The meticulously choreographed events and the road shows were indeed recreation of mythology. In fact the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have perfected the art of connecting those inclined to religion nay culture to politics. No other contemporary political party in India can match such organized events from ‘gathering crowds’ to orchestrated shouting of slogans or chanting of “Modi, Modi, Modi”. With a captive audience in front, words flow in a sort of unique style with a stylized, well modulated, dialogue delivery which may sound oft -repeated, if not hackneyed, for a discerning audience but music to the years of what media people call, ‘Modi Bhakts’.

The speeches at the BJP electoral rallies by the PM are peppered with satire, often not much subtle satire, direct attack on opponents, often bereft of authentic facts or veracity, but enjoyed by his audience who are more interested in the leader running down his opponents or even their ancestors; not exactly interested in logic and accuracy of facts. The PM is adept at coining abbreviations or acronyms like “SARAB”

[ stands for the first letters of SARAB or Samajwadi Party, RLD or Rashtriya Lok Dal and BSP or Bahujan Samaj Party], the three party coalition called Mahaghatbandhan which Modi calls ‘Mahamilawati’. The audience will laugh, clap and appreciate the term ‘SARAB’ and explain it as ‘SHARAB’ or alcohol’ which in fact is incorrect as there is no ‘SH’ in Samajwadi! At a Bhopal rally he referred to the landslide victory of the Congress IN 1984 when the BJP including Vajpayee had lost. He said that at that time the BJP had never blamed the EVMs !

Another characteristic of Modi oration is his fearlessness of rules and regulations. The Central Election Commission, according to the opposition, had asked all political parties not to bring in our armed forces, their heroic deeds, references to Pulwama, Balakot etc in the campaign. But Modi seems to drag in the armed forces and other forbidden references in his speeches at rallies when the Model Code of Conduct [MCC] is in effect. The opposition parties also allege that he often refers in his speeches to Hindutva ideology or issues like Sabarimala. He has no fear in making controversial statements. For example he alleged that if you pray or mention the name of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala, you will be put in Jail! He seems to just ignore the MCC as no one may act against him. While many politicians like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BSP chief Mayawati, Azam Khan, or Punjab minister and former cricketer Navajot Singh Sidhu were barred for 48 or 72 hours from campaigning, the file relating to the alleged poll code violation by Modi in Wardha or Latur in Maharshtra on 5th April [referring to Pulwama and Balakot] is reportedly “missing due to some glitch”!The Congress has on Monday[29th April has approached the Supreme Court demanding urgent action by the Election Commission on the alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah. The case is slated for hearing by the apex court on Tuesday 30th April. Meanwhile the Election Commission met around noon today [30th April] and according to reports has decided to issue notices to the PM, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi!

It is interesting that the Prime Minister in his poll speeches refer to himself in third person singular-Modi. Opposition critics accuse him of having megalomaniac tendencies. One asked a psychologist friend about people who do this. He said that in the Indian tradition religious leaders do refer to themselves in this fashion or use ‘We’ to refer to themselves or use their religious titles. There is also a literary practice where writers mostly poets refer to themselves in their verses. The 15th century Bhakti poets like Kabir Das and Rahim did this as a matter of practice; this is called ‘Kavitt” according to a prominent Hindi writer. Ghalib and later Mir Taqi Mir also referred to their names in their Urdu poems. This practice also entered theatre and films where heroes and villains referred to themselves in third person. Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s dialogue in ‘Mr. India’, “Mogambo khush hua” or Amitabh Bachhan’s dialogue in “Don” “Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, Naamumkin hain” are continuation of this literary tradition and such dialogues are still in popular memory.

Why do people follow this practice of referring to themselves in third person? In psychology this is referred to as “Illeism” and one of the definitions is “the act of referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person. Illeism is sometimes used in literature as a stylistic device. In real-life usage, illeism can reflect a number of different stylistic intentions or involuntary circumstances”.

In the United States Donald J Trump has been criticized for being a illeist, as he from the time he was a presidential candidate often referred to himself in third person. There have been some of his predecessors like Nixon, and some other world leaders who were alleged to be illeists. Many people consider illeists as people with problem of hubris and as narcissists but some experts like Dr. George Simon points out, “Contrary to what you might read in political blogs, it isn’t a sure sign of narcissism when people talk about themselves in the third person.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has published a study by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan “Self –Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You do it Matters”. According to Kross, “small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self, during introspection, consequentially influences their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals.”

The BJP is rumored to have not fared up to expectation in the first three phases of the election; but seems to have regained some of the lost grounds thanks to the Prime Minister’s whirlwind electioneering and oratory. A friendly media is behaving like an extension of the ruling party’s propaganda machinery. Whatever that may be the Prime Minister continues to relentlessly attack the opposition. Courting controversies gives him tremendous media coverage and that seems to be the clear objective. Yesterday [29th April] at a rally in Srirampur in Bengal he told Mamata di that forty of her lawmakers are in touch with him and may join BJP on 23rd May!

There seems to be no match for the campaigning skills of Narendra Modi and the BJP team that works systematically to ensure the PM [and his party] gets effective media coverage. Negative or stories that show the party in bad light, it is gathered, are either killed or even withdrawn. When one goes through the print media and television channels it is evident that stories and programmes are meticulously planned or planted to boost the electoral prospects of the party. Despite all these, as the D Day of 23rd May approaches, there are lurking doubts and apprehensions whether 2014 will be repeated this year. One however has to admit that we are witnessing an election with mythological proportions in typical Indian Festival style!