When Narendra Modi won the 2014 general elections, not just the Hindu majority of India, but even the world leaders hailed him as a man who would “make India great”. With the support of the media and elites of India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh–Bharatiya Janata Party (RSS-BJP), and also thanks to Anna Hazare’s RSS-backed India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh was smeared as corrupt and incompetent. This paved the way for Modi’s ascension.
Impatient and angry Indians
The Indian elites’ and middle-class’s demand for quick results (economic growth and prosperity) could be delivered by none other than a “superman”. And there he was, the media-manufactured phantom figure, Modi with his much-hyped Gujarat Model. Modi was hailed as someone who had transformed Gujarat into a model of development.
Not only did Indians believe in him but even the corporate world was ready to forget his role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom against Muslims. India was supposed to have “Acche Din” (good days), “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas (inclusive development) and a corruption-free society where the corrupt elites of the Congress era and an entitled media will be shown their place.
As wished by Indians, Modi promised to make India a “Vishwaguru” (the world’s teacher) helping the world solve its problems through Indian wisdom. Hence, the world was made to witness symbolic spectacles such as international “yoga day” with Modi being presented as a yogi. Thus, by tapping Indians’ aspirational impatience and the confidence ushered in by the previous governments’ economic performance Modi presented himself as the “strongman” who would fast-track India’s development to satisfy 1.36 bn Indians.
The world forgave Modi
Despite Modi’s tacit approval of a pogrom against Muslims in 2002, the international community welcomed Modi as “a paragon of good governance and effective administration”. The Economist magazine, citing his media-manufactured chimaera called the Gujarat model, had called him an “autocratic loner” and “a poor delegator”, still considered his election as a “refreshing” change.
The capitalist world counted on him to “revitalise” India’s economy and open Indian markets for global trade. Thus, India blindly accepted the media-manufactured fantasy of the Gujarat model and a strongman fascist leader with authoritarian streaks about whom Ashish Nandi, after an interview with Modi, had written in an issue of the Seminar magazine in 1992. He had diagnosed a typical authoritarian fascist personality in Modi that the world eventually watched unfolding in the last seven years. These are his exact words written ten years before Modi became Gujarat chief minister:
“More than a decade ago, when Narendra Modi was a nobody, a small-time RSS pracharak trying to make it as a small-time BJP functionary, I had the privilege of interviewing him along with Achyut Yagnik, whom Modi could not fortunately recognise. (Fortunately, because he knew Yagnik by name and was to later make some snide comments about his activities and columns.) It was a long, rambling interview, but it left me in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist. I never use the term ‘fascist’ as a term of abuse; to me it is a diagnostic category comprising not only one’s ideological posture but also the personality traits and motivational patterns contextualising the ideology.”
“Modi, it gives me no pleasure to tell the readers, met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence – all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cool, measured tone in which he elaborated a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that painted every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist. I came out of the interview shaken and told Yagnik that, for the first time, I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.”
True to this diagnosis, Modi, over the years, has emerged as an arrogant, compassionless, and power-hungry fascist dictator who has neither remorse nor shame about his genocidal silence during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and now about his monumental failure to protect Indians during this devastating pandemic.
The devastation is so great that, according to some estimates, COVID-19 has claimed already a million lives and a million more lives will be claimed by mid-June 2021. However, instead of focusing on helping the nation, Modi and his coterie are involved in protecting his down-in-the-dumps strongman image by employing force, lies and propaganda through the help of the lap-dog Indian media, BJP’s IT Cell, the army of his devotees and even Indian diplomatic missions abroad.
This, he is doing when Indians are dying of lack of oxygen, hospital beds and even ambulances to transport patients gasping for breath. However, despite the reality, Modi had the temerity to boast about India’s exceptionalism while the whole world was still reeling under the ravages of COVID-19 and preparing for the second and the third waves of eruption. Modi lives in a hologram of his fantasy world.
Fascist Modi’s post-truth India
A glimpse of Modi’s fantasy world was evident recently during his address at World Economic Forum (WEF). He was not only bombastic but even sarcastic in his tone when he said:
“Friends, I have brought the message of confidence, positivity and hope from 1.3 billion Indians amid these times of apprehension … It was predicted that India would be the most affected country from corona all over the world. It was said that there would be a tsunami of corona infections in India, somebody said 700-800 million Indians would get infected while others said two million Indians would die.”
“Friends, it would not be advisable to judge India’s success with that of another country. In a country which is home to 18% of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.”
Commenting on Modi’s narcissistic megalomania, exhibited in the above speech, Booker Prize famed author Arundhati Roy writes:
“Modi the magician takes a bow for saving humanity by containing the coronavirus effectively. Now that it turns out that he has not contained it, can we complain about being viewed as though we are radioactive? That other countries’ borders are being closed to us and flights are being cancelled? That we’re being sealed in with our virus and our prime minister, along with all the sickness, the anti-science, the hatred and the idiocy that he, his party and its brand of politics represent?”
This is the level of disconnect in a leader, who cared more for the camera angle than the humans around him, and the world of fantasy that he lives in today. If one wants more proof, one needs to look no further than his pet Central Vista project of Rs 200 bn ($1.8 bn) to revamp the Rajpath area of New Delhi.
While the entire world has come forward to help India with medicines and oxygen, the prime minister of India is engaged in building a monument for his legacy which the British newspaper The Daily Mail calls “the monstrous monument to Narendra Modi’s narcissist ego”. Referring to Modi government’s COVID-19 disaster, in a rare critical comment, senior journalist, Shekar Gupta, writes rather sarcastically:
“This is a virus that does not care about popularity, divinity or election victory. It loves elections and religious gatherings (to conquer) because the more quarry it has to hunt the happier it is. This virus also enjoys hubris on the part of others because it can take advantage of that. We have seen that happen in the case of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump also with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This virus loves human hubris.”
Modi’s, and BJP’s hubris and Schadenfreude have plunged the nation into such a crisis today that international media is very openly naming Modi as responsible for this crisis. They call it a Modi made disaster no less. What gave Modi this arrogance and hubris as to carry on building a monument while dead bodies strewn on the streets and rivers?
A phantom figure morphed into a ‘god’?
In the “new India”, since 2014 the entire nation and its resources were deployed to manufacture, maintain, and cultivate the image of one man: Narendra Modi. Every institution, every decision, every policy and, even, every failure is employed to safeguard or maintain the strongman, infallible and divine image of Modi. In the case of success, the entire credit is heaped on him and in the case of failure some low-level BJP politician or bureaucrat is made a scapegoat. This was done to shield Modi’s ‘god’ image intact. None within the party or administration dared to differ from what Modi thought or was wanted.
Today, the nation is paying the price for this approach in governance. While the voters are as much to blame for this failure to take the government to task, it is the death of BJP as a party and the media as the conscience of the nation who are the main culprits who have failed the nation. Barring a few opposition leaders, the role of the opposition parties is more pathetic in making the government accountable for this monumental failure.
All this boils down to one thing: the narcissistic and authoritarian personality of Modi. To understand why we ended up here, we should first pay some attention to the pathological characteristics of narcissist leaders who come to power riding on populist propaganda as explained in an article published here earlier.
How Modi rule is nothing but a perception (a myth) sans reality created through what, a well-known intellectual, Edward Said termed “a whole structure of opinion and discourse” is explained by Harish Khare:
“The Narendra Modi project was predicated on a manufactured perception that here was a man who was selflessly, sincerely, studiously striving to deliver national welfare and public good; here was a unique leader, guided entirely and unequivocally by a burning desire to promote national prosperity and glory. Here was a wise helmsman who was motivated by a higher nobility of purpose and elevated personal ethics. An honourable man pursuing honourable goals through honourable means. And, that his leadership was a national blessing.”
While Indian media and the elites succumbed to the Modi juggernaut and propaganda Modi cult continued to grow and engulf a larger audience, winning him elections. Anyone who criticised this ‘Great Leader’ fantasy or his policies were smeared and silenced.
Today, Modi, at the helm, is not only a danger for India but also to the world because a mutating virus such COVID-19 is a threat even to the world: peoples’ lives and economic survival.
Leadership style: silence, aloofness and passing blame
So, what is Modi’s leadership style? The style, as already mentioned above, is cultivated carefully to avoid taking any blame for failure. Hence, if there is a crisis, such as the second wave of Covid that is currently sweeping the country, one would be mistaken if they expected their leader to appear every day on TV or give a press briefing explaining his strategy and work on the ground.
He knows that any kind of exposure to pubic or media questioning will put him in a bind and hammer his carefully cultivated, totally unaffected, calm saviour of the nation, image. Hence, he will devise every scheme to pass the responsibility to the states or if it fell on his government, he will make sure it stays with some lower-level bureaucrat.
That is the reason no one sees him publicly. He is beyond the reach of the public and the media. This absence is planned and carefully executed so that people will blame only the local figures, administration and, at the most, the chief ministers of states.
Modi has made sure that Indian mainstream media does not name him personally but merely name the ‘system’, an abstract entity. So, Modi’s absence from the public is a strategic and carefully planned contrivance. But when the leader plays with this cheap trick there are consequences for the nation. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany is an example.
You are just meat for his image
What happens when the image gets a battering due to failure? Can the leader take criticism from his legitimate constituency? What did Hitler do when he was losing? Even the Germans were not safe anymore. He was prepared to sacrifice the entire population to salvage his image and power. So, will Modi too.
For authoritarian fascists with narcissistic personality traits, the citizens are just a number. That is why statistics of the relatively low percentage of death per population is touted as better management despite the real deaths being estimated at five times the official figure.
Hence, for Modi, as a citizen, and even as a Hindu, you are just meat for his election greed. You are needed just to make him win elections and nothing else. That is the reason he would not desist from campaigning and allowing religious festivals despite the nation having been ravaged by the pandemic. This he did even while the first wave of COVID-19 was engulfing the nation. But now that the problem has gone out of hand and the government and Modi’s apparatchiks could engage in headline management no more.
However, instead of coming clean about his colossal failure, the first thing the government engages in was to suspend or delete social-media accounts that were exposing the government. The other thing the government ordered was to make sure that the media (the ever-compliant maidservant of Modi) would not show the bad news but focus, instead, on the positive side. It also dictated the compliant media what language to use. For example, instead of referring to Modi, the government and/or the respective ministers it should use the word “the system”.
And with Ajay Bisht (Yogi Adityanath), the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who is the “Virat Roop” (the angry avatar) of the purported Hindu Rashtra (Brahminical theocratic state), things are even more inhuman. Bisht wanted to slap National Security Act (NSA) on anybody who asks for Oxygen or reports about its shortage.
Thus, everything was done according to the belief system of the BJP (that Modi is a divine avatar with extraordinary power) and according to the personality or lack of ability of Modi’s administrative approach. Instead of seeing vaccination with urgency, the government embarked on Modi’s image-building exercise through vaccine diplomacy.
Even when organising oxygen for the dying image building never stopped. Hence, following the example of their “Supreme Leader”, even the lower-level BJP operators have engaged in image building and propaganda exercise by taking photos along with tankers supplying oxygen to hospitals and posting them on social media. The depravity of the ruling party in India defies language to narrate.
There are even examples of BJP leaders hoarding and profiteering from life-saving medicines, ambulances and even oxygen cylinders. However, this arrogance, cruelty and hubris are getting exposed, at least through social media and international media. Even Indians are tired of this heartlessness and corruption.
India getting fed up with sycophancy
Given how Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have lost control over the narrative and the pandemic and how the vengeful Modi will behave, Khare predicts something shabbier and more sinister to follow.
“There comes a time in the life of every regime when it loses its iqbal, that elusive yet unique mix of moral wholesomeness, political nobility and administrative authoritativeness. A healthy quantum of iqbal enables a ruler to elicit obedience, demand respect from citizens and subjects for his or her rules and firmans; such a ruler does not need to rely on coercion as the first option. A regime that loses its iqbal may remain in office but its moral raison d’etre stands disintegrated.
The Shahenshah and Shah arrangement reached that point of no return when the honourable prime minister and his equally honourable home minister were wallowing in political shabbiness in West Bengal while the second coronavirus surge was ravaging millions and millions of helpless and hapless Indians. From now on, only unhappy choices confront the nation as the prime ministerial overlordship has not yet run its course.”
Therefore, for the first time, Indians have started to speak up and ask Modi to leave office. While one of India’s reputed dailies demands that Modi, Shah and Bisht must go. Roy puts out this demand even more poignantly:
“We cannot wait till 2024. Never would people like myself have imagined the day would come when we would find ourselves appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for anything. Personally, I would rather have gone to prison than do that. But today, as we die in our homes, on the streets, in hospital car parks, in big cities, in small towns, in villages and forests and fields – I, an ordinary private citizen, am swallowing my pride to join millions of my fellow citizens in saying please sir, please, step aside. At least for now. I beseech you, step down.”
Will these words reach a self-obsessed narcissist? Not a chance. Instead, the government’s numbness, lack of urgency and even obstruction through administrative machinery or through courts against those who try to help the suffering people, continues. So, what is the future for middle-class, Modi-supporting, Hindus? Their frustration and hopelessness are well captured by a veteran journalist, Vir Sanghvi, in one of his recent articles as noted below.
Hoping against hope
Writing in Hindustan Times, Sanghvi gives voice to the exasperation among middle-class Hindus who do not wish to bring up their children in an atmosphere of hate and superstition promoted by RSS-Modi dispensation.
Sanghvi writes that once he used to encourage middle-class Muslims, who wanted to leave the country to escape Hindutva hate and lynching, not to leave because things will change for the better.
However, when, with death and destruction wrought by COVID-19 due to the total failure of leadership of Modi, the Hindu middle-class that had voted Modi consistently wanted to leave the country, Sanghvi feels he cannot offer any hope because the dream of a decent life in India is dying. Hence, he writes:
“….what is happening today is a betrayal of hope and a slap in the face of the dream that was a modern progressive India. We will beat Covid eventually. But by then thousands more will have lost their lives. Thousands of others, our best and brightest, will have left the country. And the dream is dying.”
This is where hate-promoting ideology that came to power on pogroms against Muslims and destruction of a secular nation has brought India to. And yet, the “Raja” (king) still rules and the “Praja” (subject) gasps for oxygen and burns on the pyre without anywhere to turn for help.
Dr Samuel Sequeira is a Research Associate at Cardiff University, UK. A native of Karnataka, he had his MA at Mysore University (Karnataka) and had worked as an Editor of Konkani and Kannada newspapers. He has his PhD from Cardiff University where he researched on “South Asian Migrant Community living in Wales”. His current research is about the topic “Trauma of Civil War: Sri Lankan Tamil Experience”.