Monday, March 24, 2014

Har Har Mahatma

As this tweet shows, the popularity of Modi is reaching heavenly proportions. Fans of the man have edited the popular Shiv bhakti chant, “Har Har Mahadev” to reflect their support for Modi, a fact that left the Gujarat CM a bit embarrassed.

To be fair to his supports, though, over-enthusiastic hero worship in India of political leaders is not uncommon nor is deification unprecedented. Dr Ambedkar had warned about this particular Indian trait in his famous Grammarof Anarchy speech delivered to the Constituent Assembly, on 25th November 1949:

“The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions". 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. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. 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.”

This was, at the time, largely interpreted to be a warning against the sort of deification Gandhi had been an object of. As is well known, Ambedkar did not take too kindly to Gandhi and his role in perpetuating the institution of caste. The fact that Gandhi was deified in India must have made Ambedkar’s role all the more difficult. The quasi-religious status of Gandhi can be attested to by his honorific of Mahatma. It literally means “great soul”, of course, but is a title used in Hinduism for sages and saints (The Buddha, for example is also a Mahatma). Interestingly, much like Modi, Gandhi was uncomfortable with this deification. In the absence of Twitter, this is what Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth:

“My experiments in the political field are now known, not only to India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of ‘Mahatma’ that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”

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