Doing the double whammy on currency garlands, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has only carried forward the peculiar and all-too-familiar legacy of Indian polity. At election rallies, every political leader of consequence is deified in different ways — some made to mount horses; some others weighed against bananas or grains, others presented cash garlands and colourful turbans.
The devotion of political workers often takes a chilling turn. On Jayalalithaa’s 56th birthday, one Shihan Hussaini displayed 56 portraits of Jayalalithaa — all painted in his blood.
Another “devotee” chopped off his finger. Someone else cut off his tongue and offered it at the Tirupati temple on one of Jayalalithaa’s earlier birthdays.
The death of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy provoked several of his followers to commit suicide.
“Mayawati is a devi (goddess) who has liberated the Dalits from 5,000 years of subjugation. We will offer her bigger cash garlands, also donate cash and jewellery,” said Swami Prasad Maurya of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.
“Feudal values and religious sentimentality are intrinsically merged in the melting pot that is Indian democracy. This is the reason that we have to witness this kind of a political circus,” said Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav.
Political leaders employ unusual techniques of icon building and mass mobilisation to reinforce their legitimacy in times of crisis”, says eminent sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed. These strategies, Ahmed added, were not much different from those employed by god-men. Politicians in India are regarded not as representatives of the people, but as the “patrons” of the people, says sociologist Deepankar Gupta, adding: “Patrons who can break the law for themselves and empower their followers to do the same.”