We are familiar with personality cults in the entertainment industry, in Bollywood or Hollywood for instance. In sports too we find such cults. But generally, a great scientist or an exceptional artist does not become a cult, even if he becomes hugely popular and acquires tremendous fame. In business and industry too, the elite there are privileged and powerful, but generally do not have cults. In politics, however, there have been “personality cults”, some of which survived for decades while others were shrtlived and collapsed spectacularly.
Adolph Hitler’s cult mesmerised not just Germany but even parts of Europe and America. The frenzy of his cult began in the 1930s. But once he lost the war which he had started, killing millions of people and devastating vast areas, he had to shoot himself to unburden the cult around his personality. The self-proclaimed omniscient and omnipotent Fuehrer overnight became an evil dictator despised by all. There are many such examples in history from Mussolini to Pol Pot to Idi Amin, who tried to entrench themselves as rulers with terror as weapon and fear as the medium. There is a lot of literature on the subject analysing the phenomenon.
People with ultra-narcissistic tendencies, characters whose mammoth self-image do not match with their real persona, the person with huge ambition and hubris are said to fall in the trap of “personality cult”! Some of these commentators, sociologists and psychologists have brought in this scroll of “Honour” the US President Donald Trump, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There is a fascinating and frightening contradiction in the philosophy and praxis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on this issue. They tend to admire Hitler, and some of them say even today that the way he exterminated the Jews, India should follow and do the same to Muslims.
And despite this outrageous argument that shows no respect or empathy for the Jews, BJP and RSS leaders closely associate with Israel and their aggressive Zionist politics. The RSS also has extremely deep bonding with the Israeli Intelligence, the Mossad. One of the founders of the RSS visited Italy in the late 1920s and discussed with Mussolini the structure of his fascist organisation. However, the 95-year old RSS preaches in its regular “Baudhhik or Abhyas Warg” ie study circles, that “Individual is dispensable, it is organisation that is supreme”.
The “personality cults” are condemned. And yet today, the RSS and the BJP are seen actively promoting the cult of Narendra Modi. But it must also be noted that the “old school” Swayamsevaks are extremely upset and even angry at this build up. They also fear that their organisation, the redoubtable RSS would be marginalised if this cult envelopes the social and political ethos.
This “old school”, largely marginalised in the last six years, has a different political and cultural upbringing. Most of them attended the study circles and shakhas when they were young boys (yes, only boys) from 5th to 9th standard classes. Till the seventies, these senior volunteers of the Sangh would visit families (mainly upper caste, often Brahmins) in the locality. They would persuade the parents and urge them to send their sons to shakhas held in a nearby ground. The recruitment drive was quiet, but not secret.
After the eighties, following Sar Sangh Chalak Balasaheb Deoras’s directive, the recruitment strategy changed. Taking a cue from the Mandal Commission report, he advised the senior apparatchiks of the Sangh to fan out among the Other Backward Classes(castes) and mobilise boys from those families. Within a decade or two, the face of the second and third rank leadership began to change. The OBCs started flocking to shakhas but many more flocked to the Bharatiya Janata Party, formed after the collapse of the Janata Party in 1980.
The Janata Party, though inspired by the leadership of veteran freedom fighter Jaiprakash Narain, was actually based on the theoretical hypothesis of Ram Manohar Lohia. The aim was to keep away the Congress party from power. That politics came to be known as “anti-Congressism”. But its focus was anti Nehru-Indira politics. The Sangh Parivar as well as Lohiaite Socialists were theoretically opposed to personality cults. Indeed, their argument against Congress was essentially against the towering personalities of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. So the Sangh continued with its new mobilising strategy, of recruiting OBC and even scheduled tribes and castes. The ideological domination continued to be Brahminical. The top cabal (or politburo if you will) steadfastly remained upper caste, with Manusmriti as its real creed.
That hidden agenda inadvertently (or advertantly) surfaces from time to time as it did in the dazzling extravaganza of Bhoomi Pujan at Ayodhya, when the Sar Sangh Chalak Mohan Bhagwat eloquently quoted the ManuSmriti as the future road map. But most of those who became RSS or BJP leaders later, had gone through the drill of lathis, prayers and study circles, were brought up on the ideological diet of “Individual is dispensable and organisation is supreme”.
The objective was to inculcate the Hindu morals, traditional culture, patriotic spirit and discipline. Without discipline, the organisation cannot be built. Since the aim was grander, the “personality cult” was not supposed to divert attention. One was supposed to dissolve one’s identity into the organisation. The RSS by training did not believe in promotion of personality, as the idea of Dharma and Rashtra was larger and glorious. All were “equal” on the ground in shakhas.
Therefore, the uniform of the Shakha Pramukh and the young boys would be the same. He too would sing the same prayers, do the same exercises and even the “SarSangh Chalak” would appear in the same khaki half shorts and white shirt with a brownish belt and cap. Any projection of any single personality as “special” was to be discouraged. All had to follow the orders of the Shakha Pramukhs. All Shakha Pramukhs would obey the diktats of the Sar-Sangh Chalak.
He would address the volunteer gatherings and issue oracles, particularly on the day of Dussehra. The directives would be followed by the boys who come to the ground. They will stand and take oath before the Sangh flag that they will dedicate their life for that flag. The “Matrubhoomi” (sometimes ‘Pitrubhoomi”) and the Hindu values are superior to any other religion.
The subtle message delivered is that Hindutva is “superior to Islam and Christianity”. In the informal sessions, the message was not so subtle but direct. “We were ruled for over a thousand years by the Muslims and we have to unshackle our land and people from the vicious stranglehold of that evil religion”! Soon, the youngsters in shakhas would get totally indoctrinated that the “True Hindu” is by definition anti-Muslim.
Indeed, anti-Muslimism means Hinduism—was the praxis. The medium, that is the shakha, was the message! Not so subtle or dormant message was that the Muslims in India are agents of Pakistan and they are out to convert Hindus. Sooner rather than later there would be more people with Islamic faith in the holy land of Hindus. The Partition and creation of Pakistan was the first step, and their second phase would be to take over Hindustan altogether!
So, we have to be alert and ready for any eventuality. The reason the entire Sangh Parivar joined the Modi bandwagon was because of his strident anti-Muslim politics in Gujarat. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee may have condemned the 2002 pogrom but Modi became an icon among the Sangh Parivar and its large fellow travellers in the new middle class. The Hindu Non-Resident Indians were particularly inspired by the agenda of Muslim-Hate.
Those who had been advocating Right wing, Nero-liberal economic policies thought that with Modi’s open pro-US, pro-market and pro-private sector policies, India could become an economic giant. The Hindutva lobby, supported financially and politically by the rich NRIs, believed India could become a glorious Hindu Rashtra. Both these perspectives came together and the “Modi-Cult” began. But as the “Reality Check” began during the last year, the promoters of the “Modi-Cult” have begun to take a fresh look at politics. The personality cult is neither bringing economic prosperity, nor is it able to create a Hindu Rashtra or “Akhanda Bharat”. The entire neighbourhood (which is part of the “Akhanda Bharat”), from Nepal to Sri Lanka, from Bhutan to Bangladesh have become more hostile to India.
China has actually occupied Indian land on the disputed border and Pakistan has been able to checkmate India with help from China. The bravado of the fake lockdown successes is rapidly getting exposed as India is heading for the top slot of the Corona infected cases. The financial stimuli and loosening of strings of the banks do not seem to have cut much ice among investors or entrepreneurs.
The NRI can afford to live in illusions, but Resident Indians who face and live reality are getting disillusioned. More and more people realise now that neither Lord Ram nor Messiah Modi would rescue them from their pathetic predicament. And if the Hindutva-Hindi-Hindu Rashtra idea is pushed further, instead of uniting and strengthening India, it could lead to ‘Balkanisation’ of the nation put together by the Freedom Movement.