India’s Hero-worship Obsession

Let me start with the genesis of this blog. An argument with an old friend rattled my brain on the topic of hero-worship in general—the human psychology behind hero-worship. A couple of days later I had an epiphany. I scavenged the internet and this is what I found:

In 1949, a local newspaper in Calcutta published an article warning India and Indians of two dangers. One referred to the dangers of growing socio-economic disparity in the country. The second warning is the protagonist of this article.

The article asked Indians not to blindly and uncritically follow a particular leader. It further says, “…there is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti plays a critical role in the lives of many people. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

The article tries not to single out any individual but makes references to the Congress party, Gandhi, and Nehru. “They and their Congress Party had participated in an arduous and extended struggle for freedom. The years they had spent in jail demanded attention, and respect. Just because Gandhi and Nehru had rendered ‘lifelong services to the country’, did it mean that their actions or ideas were immune from critical scrutiny? Was their record of patriotism enough reason for the ordinary citizen to follow them implicitly and unquestioningly?”

It was a controversial, but a valid question.

This newspaper article suggests that hero-worship existed during that period. So, who were the heroes back then? Who has been India worshipping as heroes over the years? Whom is India worshipping now?

For the first two decades after independence, freedom fighters and politicians were India’s heroes. They had rid India of the British, and citizens of this country hoped the same politicians would help them realize their dream of a better life. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say people worshipped politicians of that time… and they deserved it largely. People like Nehru, Shastri, and Patel were well-grounded and discouraged people from worshipping them. All that changed in late 1960’s and early 1970’s, with the passing of a generation of politicians.

Unlike her predecessors, Indira Gandhi had no ambivalence about being admired. During her tenure between 1969 and1974, she deliberately positioned herself as embodying the spirit of the nation. She had abolished the princely states, nationalized the banks, and more importantly had led India to a famous military victory against Pakistan. In return, she demanded that citizens worship her. Most of them agreed… and worshiped. They portrayed her as Durga. Slogans were coined: “India is Indira and Indira is India”; poems were written: “Indira teri subah ki jai, tere sham ki jai/ Tere kam hi jai tere naam ki jai.”

The conduct of Indira Gandhi, and her supporters was a classic example of dangers of bhakti (hero-worship) in politics. It led, as the newspaper article had warned, “to degradation and dictatorship,” with the declaration of emergency in 1975.

As people started getting disillusioned with politicians, they had to find new heroes. They found few from the movie industry. People related to hardships shown in the movies. They could relate to the injustices—the hero of the movie faced. They could relate to issues like unemployment, poverty. They loved the fact that the hero of the movie could beat-up all the bad guys, overcome all the obstacles, and eventually lead a happy, normal life with his heroine. Actors like Amitabh Bacchan became superstars overnight. They were worshipped with great fanfare. If 50s and 60s belonged to politicians and freedom fighters, 70s belonged to the movie stars. Movie stars were India’s new heroes.

The year 1983 gave India its third obsession—Cricket, after politics and movies. After a successful world cup in England in 1983, cricketers became stars, and the man who led them became a hero. For the next three decades, cricket was considered as a religion and cricketers were considered gods. If Kapil Dev was a hero in the 80s, Sachin Tendulkar was more than a hero for the next two decades. India’s hero-worship obsession was constantly fed from 1947 to 2013.

With the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from cricket in 2013, India again had to look for new hero(es). They didn’t have to wait much. Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement in November 2013. BJP announced its campaign chief for the 2014 Lok Sabha election in December 2013. India got a new hero in BJP’s campaign chief—Narendra Modi it was.

Unlike Congress, and unlike regional parties such as the DMK, the Samajwadi Party, the Shiv Sena, or the Biju Janata Dal, the BJP was never controlled or dominated by a single individual. It prided itself on its collective leadership. From 1989 to 1999, when the party was dramatically growing, it regularly highlighted three leaders–L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all of whom were given equal status in the party. All that changed in 2013-14. In the run-up to the general elections of 2014, Modi’s PR machine built him up as, first, the savior of his party, and then, the savior of the Nation itself. The nation rejoiced and whole-heartedly welcomed its new hero.

Indira Gandhi’s was probably the first personality cult in independent India. It has not been the last. Since then, several leaders have been hero-worshiped by their supporters. Bal Thackeray, M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, jayalalita have all been elevated to a sort of superhuman status.

And now, we have the cult of Narendra Modi. Like all heroes India worshiped , he can do no wrong; he too will be blindly followed; he too will be worshiped.

Will it lead to “degradation and dictatorship” as the newspaper had warned 65 years ago? Will history repeat? We will wait and watch… India’s obsession with hero-worship will never die though. After Modi, we will find someone else…

A believer in the power of democracy since 1951

One of the oldest voters in 2014 Lok sabha elections—Mr. Shyam Saran Negi, a retired school teacher from Himachal Pradesh has voted in every election since India’s first general elections in 1951. Google India, in March, released a video on Mr Negi called #PledgeToVote with Mr Shyam Negi. The election commission of India has used the video to promote voting amongst the youth. Watch this inspiring video. I have already seen this you say—well, you can watch it again; it is beautifully made.

Making debut this election season—hashtags, likes, and comments

More than half of Indian electorate in 2014 elections is below the age of 30 years. They spend substantial amount of time “online.” That’s’ too big a number for political parties to ignore, and hence are doing everything they could to grab the attention of the youth via online platforms. A recent report suggested that total expenditure on campaigns on digital platforms is a whopping Rs.500 crore. The target audiences are obviously the youth—many of them first-time voters. Social Media has allowed politicians to connect directly with their voters.

During the last general election in 2009, social media usage in India was minuscule. Today, however, Facebook has 93 million users and Twitter has 33 million accounts in the country. As a result, many political parties have increased their online presence.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has set up a website, and is on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. His main rival, Rahul Gandhi however, doesn’t use any of the three major social networks. AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal has 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

“Now no serious politician is seen as being able to avoid social media altogether,” said Shashi Tharoor from Congress, who is one of the most followed Indian politicians on Twitter. “It does have a significant reach in certain segments of the population and as far as we’re concerned, that’s important enough to pay attention to and clearly the opposition is paying attention to it too,” he says.

Over half of the country’s 1.2 billion people own a mobile. One of the BJP’s most unique tools allows potential voters to listen to Modi’s rally speeches in real time on their phones from anywhere in India. The BJP claims it’s their own innovation.

The number of smartphone users is growing in India and that is how most people access internet these days. That is why political parties are using Whatsapp extensively to send photos, videos, and messages.

Political parties like AAP have signed up tens of thousands of members by urging people to give them a “missed call” for free—party workers then get in touch and formally enroll them as supporters.

Among many things, hashtags made a grand debut this election season. News stories are often created out of the tweets of politicians. Political parties are integrating YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Hangouts to reach out to online users. Online users then take the conversation offline in colleges, family functions, parties, and work places.

Parties are using Google Hangout extensively to address various questions. Google hangouts allow real time feedback from the public. Such hangouts are great for effective reach. In limited time, this allows political parties to reach voters all across the country without having to actually travel to those places.

A recent study by Assocham states that technology giants like Google and social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook will see their India revenue soar this year, primarily because of elections.

The election commission though is clueless on how to handle this frenzy. It has demanded transparency in the advertising budgets of these parties on various websites. Various guidelines have been rolled out with regards to advertisements in social media by political parties.

Whether or not, social media will be a game changer in the 2014 Elections is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure—social media is not only here to stay in Indian elections, but is expected to grow big over the next few elections. It will transform the way elections are held in India, and 2014 will be looked back as the year that started the trend.

Blogs are a great platform for expressing your thoughts and sharing it with the rest of the world. In this hot election season, the bloggers are working overtime to put across their views. Here is a list of some of the interesting blogs/articles that I have come across over past few weeks.

Capt.Gopinath on how election speeches are getting personal and uglier

Adarsh Shastri—Grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri on why he joined AAP

An interesting take on Narendra Modi by one of the American writers

Dr SP Udayakumar—coordinator of the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) on why he joined AAP

Aam Aadmi Party’s unique idea to collect party funds and maintain transparency

Apps to track election 2014

The great election party of 2014—A cocktail of drugs, alcohol, and cash

A St. Xavier student’s take on anti-Modi email from the College Principal

India’s most privileged voter


Source: NDTV

Lok Sabha elections—2014—Phase 5—High profile candidates, close contests, Voter apathy, and vastu preferences

Phase 5, the biggest phase of 2014 Lok Sabha elections involving 121 constituencies, 12 states, 1769 candidates, and 16.61 crore voters.

Of the total seats, Congress has 36 seats while BJP has 40.

Polling took place in 28 seats in Karnataka, Rajasthan (20), Maharashtra (19), Uttar Pradesh and Odisha (11 each), Madhya Pradesh (10), Bihar (7), Jharkhand (6), West Bengal (4), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur (1 each).

The election in South Bangalore is one of the most keenly observed contests, where Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani is running against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar, a five-time MP.

Other high profile candidates in this phase include—Maneka Gandhi (BJP), union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia (Congress), former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda (JDS), Union Minister Veerappa Moily (Congress), and Supriya Sule (NCP). Jaswant Singh, a nine-term MP from the BJP, was forced to contest as an independent from Barmer after he was denied a ticket by his old party. He faces Col Sonaram Chowdhury, a recent Congress import. Mr Singh though is looking strong riding on the sympathy wave.

keenly watched contests
keenly watched contests
High profile candidates
High profile candidates

Voter turnout in most states was higher than in the last national election in 2009, according to the Election Commission. Here is the voter turnout in various states: West Bengal – 78.89%; Manipur – 74%; Bihar – 56%; Chhattisgarh – 63.44%; Jammu and Kashmir – 69.08%; Karnataka – 67.7%; Madhya Pradesh – 54.41%; Maharashtra – 54.67%; Odisha – 70%; Rajasthan – 63.25%; Jharkhand – 62%; Uttar Pradesh – 55.09%.

The elections were largely peaceful. In some polling stations in Bihar, EVMs were reportedly stolen. Many candidates in Karnataka forced the polling officers to change the direction of EVMs to suit their vastu preferences. A polling officer on duty died of heart attack in a remote part of Karnataka. A woman in one of the polling stations in Maharashtra died immediately after pressing the voting button. The EVM machines in one of the polling booths in Pune were reportedly recording only the votes for congress. Many across the country were seen protesting, as their names were missing from the list.

The election officials and security officers continued to innovate in this election as well. In Morena, Uttar Pradesh, all the candidates were made to sit in police control room to prevent violence, on the election day. 

Candidates of Morena made to sit in police control room to prevent violence.
Candidates of Morena made to sit in police control room to prevent violence. Click the image for complete story.


Meanwhile, at home!

All 28 constituencies in Karnataka voted in phase 5. It is seen as a must-win for both Congress and BJP, and is one of the few states where Congress has good chance of winning. The BJP had won 19 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 and congress only 8. Since then things have changed. The BJP government in Karnataka, its first in South India, was mediocre to say the least. BJP in its quest for 272 seats is desperate to win Karnataka, and has brought back its controversial leader BS Yedurappa, who is facing many corruption charges. This has negated the BJP’s anti-congress-anti-corruption campaign and is only banking on the Modi wave to win elections here. The contest in Karnataka, therefore, is a closely contested one.

Bangalore has got an interesting line-up of candidates this time in its all three constituencies. The most-watched battle though is being fought in Bangalore South between political debutant Nandan Nilekani of the Congress and seasoned BJP candidate Ananth Kumar, who has won the seat five consecutive times. Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co-founder and former head of the UIDAI says he fancies his chances at beating Mr Kumar, who is counting heavily on Modi’s appeal this time. The general sense here is that, even if Mr. Ananth Kumar manages to win, the margin of votes will be miniscule. In Bangalore Central, former Infosys CFO, V Balakrishnan, is contesting from Aam Aadmi Party. In Bangalore North, former BJP chief minister, Sadananda Gowda, takes on Congress candidate, C Narayanaswamy, who was given ticket based on Rahul Gandhi’s primaries experiment. In 2009, the BJP won all three Lok Sabha seats in Bangalore city. Another high profile contest took place in Shimoga, where former chief minister, Yeddyurappa is hoping to consolidate his position in Karnataka politics.

Despite all these high profile battles, the voter turnout turned out to be poor. While voting percentage in Karnataka was an impressive 68%, Bangalore registered a poor 55%, with only 53% people voting in Bangalore South. Bangalore, historically has had low voter percentages, with numbers rarely crossing 60%. A city like Bangalore, with mostly young, educated population, very much aware of social issues, rights, and social responsibilities is expected to get out and vote. Why they don’t vote is quite baffling. The reasons given are many. But, none of those reasons doesn’t really make any sense to me. This time, the parties had fielded good candidates; the voter had the option of rejecting all the candidates with the NOTA option; the general mood across is that of changing the political system, and voting is perceived as the door to it. There were simply no excuses this time not to vote. But it’s a shame that Bangalorean’s displayed apathy towards voting again, and chose to enjoy the extended week end. As Kiran Mazumdar Shaw recently said in an interview—Bangaloreans are acting like they are just the inhabitants of this city and not citizens. What a disappointment!?

Running out of time

With less than 12 hours left for polling to start in Bangalore, I haven’t yet decided whom to vote for. Well, don’t blame me. I am not one of those irresponsible urban voters, who show apathy towards voting, and decide to enjoy the holiday. I am super-excited about voting. The fact that I am involved in decision-making seems cool to me. Not everyone gets an opportunity to do that—ask Chinese.

Anyway, I started thinking who my next MP should be almost six months back. The news channels were still speculating about the Prime ministerial candidates of various parties; they were still asking whether Congress is a party in decline, and if BJP is emerging as a major party. They were still debating who is a better PM candidate—Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. It was a period of silence, just before the storms.

In fact, I think I have never given a thought about my next MP. I have always thought on the lines of “who my next PM should be” or “who should form the next government?” I realized recently—that is how majority of the Indians think—before they vote. (No, I didn’t go out and ask every Indian, I just read it somewhere.)

So, what were my options six months back? The ruling party congress, the main opposition party BJP; and the third front (I was sure a third front would emerge just before the elections). Let’s dissect all those options one-by-one.

The congress has been ruling the country for the past ten years. We have a Prime Minister who doesn’t talk. I am not sure who’s running the country. The foreign policies are lackluster and our relationship with other countries, including the friendly countries like Srilanka and America are at an all-time low. China is constantly loitering at the border, openly daring India. Pakistan continues to operate its terror camps against India, while we sit like lame ducks waiting for terrorists to strike. The economic policies have been—to put it mildly—inconsistent. The retro-tax was a blunder and scared away all the foreign investors. The subsidies keep increasing with the ever-increasing list of populist agendas. The current account deficit is scary; the rupee is weaker than ever. Job creation has been almost nil. Inflation has hit me where it hurts the most. Farmers are in a bad shape, and the list goes on.
I don’t even want to get into the scams this UPA government has been a part of. My hand aches of typing. I think we should give them a break. Let them have some quiet time, relax, and come back. We will think about them, when the time is right.

The opposition party, the BJP, is no better. They have a good chance of winning the elections this time, not because they are a better party, but because there is no other alternative. Their PM candidate Narendra Modi seems arrogant, lacks credibility on various issues even though he has been a CM of a state for the past 15 years. He stays away from the media; his Hindudtva policy is inconsistent. His foreign and economic policies are ambiguous. His knowledge of history and geography is hopeless. His favorite topic—Gujarat model of development is full of flaws and can in no way be replicated across India. The BJP is like an old age home with many senior leaders sulking about the fact that they didn’t get a chance to be in the race for PM chair. There is constant in fighting in the party. I have no hopes that BJP, if voted to power, will be any good to country. The BJP looks immature.

The third front is a joke. Period.

Oh, wait a minute! There is one more option now—AAP. I can consider that party. Can I? They are promising clean politics. They have been successful in making us believe that clean politics is possible in India. All the candidates in their party are apparently educated. So, what’s the problem? In the quest of changing the ways of politics in India, they seem to have overlooked some of the basic rules of politics. Ever since their 49-day stint in Delhi assembly, they have been acting like a bunch of jokers. They have no clue of what they are doing. What if they win Lok sabha elections and quit after 49 days? Indian elections are second most expensive, with expenses reaching $2 billion this time. I don’t want to pay for that. AAP is off my table as well.

Now, tell me, whom should I vote for? The election commission, considering the plight of people like me has included NOTA (None of The Above) option. I will probably go press that.










Loksabha Elections—Phase 3, April 10, 2014—highlights

  • Phase 3 voting - constituencies
    Phase 3 – constituencies (Click the image) Pic from:

    Voting was held in 91 seats in phase 3—All 8 seats in Delhi, 10 in UP, 6 in Bihar, 10 each in Haryana, Orissa, and Maharashtra, all 20 in Kerala, 4 in Jharkhand, 9 in Madhya Pradesh and a seat each in Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh, Andaman and Nicobar Island, Lakshadweep, and Jammu and Kashmir.

  • The Congress holds 45 of the 91 seats voting in phase 3.

  • In Uttar Pradesh, the riot-affected Muzaffarnagar district is voting under the security of over 10,000 paramilitary personnel. Voters are given “confidence slips” with emergency phone numbers to dial in case of trouble. Officials say some 42,000 people in the district have been warned, and 4,000 of them have been ordered to stay home except when they go to vote.

  • Heavy security is also visible in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar constituency–India’s worst Maoist-hit region. Almost 80% of the polling stations are declared most sensitive.

  • Over 12 million people will cast their vote in Delhi, which will witness a triangular fight between the BJP, Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

  • Today’s contest features several top leaders including union ministers—Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, and Ajit Singh, former BJP President Nitin Gadkari, and retired Army chief General VK Singh.

  • AAP, which is debuting in the national polls, is hoping people will forgive their 49-day stint in Delhi assembly, and vote for their anti-corruption agenda.

  • In Bihar, two paramilitary Jawans were killed and four others injured in a landmine blast near Jamui. In Orissa, Maoists snatched EVMs and took away the battery of one voting machine. EC has decided to postpone polling in 22 places in Bihar—19 in Jamui, two in Nawada, and one in Gaya, as polling personnel were not sent there keeping in mind their safety. The fresh date of polls in these areas will be decided soon. The rest of the country had a peaceful voting, with reports of only minor issues.

  • Phase 3 saw high voter turnout, with Delhi breaking its 25-year old record. Delhi recorded a voter percentage of 64%.

  • Bastar constituency, where naxals had called for a boycott of polls recorded 49% voting.

  • Muzzafarnagar and Shamli, the two riot-hit constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, recorded 68.4% and 70.2% voting respectively.

  • Chandigargh recorded the highest with 74%, while Kerala recorded 73.2%.

  • Other places too recorded higher percentage of voter turnout when compared to 2009. Here’s a summary: Jharkhand – 58%, Haryana – 68%, J&K – 66.29%, Andaman and Nicobar – 67%, and Lakshadweep – 71.34%.

  • Analysts suggest that high voting percentage means bad news for the Congress, further predicting that it could lose as many as 70 out of 91 seats that went to poll in phase 3.

Source: NDTV

Construing Indian Elections