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Editorial: Politics of the personality cult

A week later, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party held its state executive meeting in Lucknow in a similar vein, adopting a resolution to work hard to win the 2024 Lok Sabha election for him.

Editorial: Politics of the personality cult

NEW DELHI: The BJP national executive meeting held in New Delhi last fortnight adopted a truly remarkable political resolution. It was entirely about Narendra Modi, an unapologetic paean to the Prime Minister. Almost every success scored by the party in the past 12 months is placed at his feet, while mentioning his name 39 times in a nine-point resolution. “Under the successful leadership of the Prime Minister, the word ‘anti-incumbency’ is no longer used for the BJP, but it’s the ‘pro-incumbency’ which is a buzzword,” it exults.

A week later, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party held its state executive meeting in Lucknow in a similar vein, adopting a resolution to work hard to win the 2024 Lok Sabha election for him. “The party has to achieve the goal of winning all the 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh in 2024 to make Narendra Modi our country’s PM once again… For this, we will also have to win those seats where we lost in 2019,” the state BJP chief said.

Although no proof is needed, the BJP is bracing itself for a succession of elections in the year ahead. In 2024, it has decided to make it a personality contest, assuming only Modi can win such a contest. This, of course, is a repeat of its gambit in the 2019 election, which was fought like a presidential contest, Modi v Rahul Gandhi, which the PM won in a canter. The party believes that the strategy will work again. The opposition this time is necessarily going to be a coalition of state parties led by regional leaders. While they all nurture ambitions of being Prime Minister, none of them is likely to have all-India appeal, not even Rahul Gandhi, whose party has been reduced to a cipher in several states.

So the Modi front and centre strategy will serve as a stark contrast to the opposition’s inability to come up with any such leader who’s acceptable across all states, castes, linguistic barriers, etc. However, beyond elections, personality cult politics has unwelcome implications for India in the years ahead. As historian Ramachandra Guha has argued in an essay on Foreign Policy, the Narendra Modi cult formation is assuming the proportion of Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Enver Hoxha and Kim Il Sung, and cannot be good for India’s democratic institutions.

The worst aspect of personality cult politics is the eclipse of structures most proximate to the Prime Minister, namely, the ruling party itself, the Cabinet, and the Parliament. One only has to compare Modi’s style of functioning with that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to understand how those three bodies have been overshadowed by the lustre of the Prime Minister.

One other effect of this phenomenon is the dwindling of governance itself. With decision-making concentrated in just a tight coterie of bureaucrats reporting directly to the leader, ministers have little to do by way of policy-making. This template seems to have been replicated in States across India. It is now the norm rather than an exception to see these States function entirely with a coterie of bureaucrats, while the cabinet as an instrument of governance has simply withered away. On one hand, such concentrations of power around one individual is antithetical to the idea of democracy. On the other hand, the notion of accountability to the electorate takes a beating as the fallout of decisions cannot be traced back to those ‘in-charge’.

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