Narendra Modi’s Personality Has No Place for Compromise or Repentance

Narendra Modi’s greatest problem is Narendra Modi himself. He has crafted an image of Modi the superman – and seems to believe in this conjured mirage of himself.

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Sorry to be a spoilsport amidst the widespread celebration at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to repeal the controversial farm laws and his ‘apology’ to agitating farmers. There is little point in relishing at the utter discomfort of those loud mouthed ‘godi’ mediapersons who had tirelessly defended the farm laws and had constantly abused and accused all who protested as ‘anti-nationals’, ‘Khalistanis’ and ‘terrorists’. Let them eat their shoes with tomato sauce.

But Modi watchers are not convinced that there is any change of his heart — many critics doubt if he has a heart at all — and the mature look at it as just a change of his strategy. After a lifetime in public administration, one does not need to see it in black and white that the intelligence agencies and the Sangh parivar could finally muster the guts to whimper that Modi’s regime is threatened by his obstinacy. And that explains why the cat chose to bell himself at the risk of annoying a big section of his die-hard fans who swoon at his ‘macho rule’ and his unflinching resolve. They will now celebrate his utter unpredictability and propagate that no one can or should take Modi for granted.

It is often said that the only rival Modi has left is himself. What is less said is that Modi’s greatest problem is Modi himself. He has crafted and choreographed an image of Modi the superman, the upholder of the true India or Bharatiya sabhyata, the chief saviour of Hinduism against the scourge of Islam, the veritable strongman who the whole world fears, the Vishwaguru, the great economic redeemer and the infallible leader sent by the Almighty to save this country ravaged for seven decades by the Congress and other destructive forces. The problem does not lie with this imagery that has obviously been phenomenally successful in bestowing unprecedented success on him. It lies with Modi believing in this conjured mirage of himself.

To dismiss it all as the posturing of a narcissist demagogue whose masterly manipulation of mass psychology has mesmerised people is to mistake the symptoms for the ailment. Numerous mass-hypnotising leaders who invariably marketed their nation’s greatness by linking it inextricably with their own were honest enough, at least within their own circle, to consider it as a cynical strategy — without actually believing it themselves. But when the great leader believes deep within himself that he is, indeed, the chosen one couriered by god to his people and that he is a man of destiny, like Hitler, Pol Pot or Idi Amin, nothing short of a large-scale devastation can stop him. It is, however, this exaggerated sense of their own prowess and a divinely ordained invincibility that invariably led to their downfall. Hindu history is replete with stories of Ravana, Tarakasura, Narakasura or Hiranyakashipu who sincerely believed in their invincibility thanks to godly blessings — only to meet their tragic end.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an election campaign rally at Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar in 2014. Photo: PTI/S. Irfan/Files

Pathological lying

Let us look at certain tell-tale signs to understand how the cold calculating chief minister who presided over a devastating and painful carnage against Muslims could morph into the most ‘visionary’ prime minister that India could dream of. As a pathological liar, he reconstructed his past to suit his present. We are pumped with the story of how a poor tea-seller’s child had sold hot tea in a railway station — without a whisper that the station actually came up much later, after he had left his town. A graduate and a post-graduate in ‘entire political science’ cannot tell us which institution he studied in nor produce his degrees. Not a single Indian among 135 crores has claimed the dubious honour of having been his classmate there or having taught him. The point is none of this was required at all.

Also read: The Politics of Mental Health and Wellbeing

David J. Ley, an American psychologist has explained that, “Pathological lying isn’t a clinical diagnosis, though it can sometimes be a symptom of other issues, such as a personality disorder or a manic episode.” Noted American professor of psychiatry Nassir Ghaemi feels “Mania enhances creativity and resilience to trauma, while depression increases realism and empathy”. He has studied several iconic leaders and found some suffered from mental health conditions and has drawn linkages between mental illness and leadership.

In 2015, the chief minister of Delhi declared openly that Modi was a coward and a psychopath. He got away without any contradiction, but then, the chief minister is hardly qualified to pass such a severe judgment. But when a more credible ex-colleague of Narendra Modi, who has been a senior cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Vajpayee (and is reputed for his thorough research) makes scathing comments, people take them more seriously. In 2018, Shourie told TV anchor Karan Thapar that he “saw Modi in terms of a ‘dark triad’, which was a combination of insecurity, Machiavellianism and sociopathy” as well as a “narcissist who needs to keep looking at the pool to reassure himself that he is beautiful”. Historian Ramachandra Guha described Modi’s undiluted self love.

But then, these are just opinions and what we need to understand is whether a given trait will further strengthen his autocratic grip or may work against him. The fact is that he actually believes in his retrospectively created image of a pitiable tea-boy and he repeated this, without a shred of evidence, before the United Nations quite recently. His constant reiteration indicates that he himself believes his story — and that facts are not essential for those who dwell in illusions and delusions. And, he is also so convinced that he was successful in academics (again, without proof) that he actually counsels lakhs of nervous students who appear for their examinations.

His self-delusion as a tragic Dickensian kid did not, however, stand in the way of his flaunting his scandalously expensive western-style suit, custom-made with a fabric that had his name woven into it. In other words, to him poverty and pride go side by side. There is no doubt that as prime minister he has surely devoted a disproportionate amount of his time and money (whose?) in designing the hundreds of kurtas, waist-coats, turbans, shawls and angavastrams that he struts around in. There is a flood of documentary and visual evidence of his ‘costumes’ from the millions of photos and videos that he has disgorged in the public domain in the last seven years. It is impossible to find out how much he spends on image building as it is spread over a hundred of ministries, departments and corporations, through continuous campaigns and credit-hogging for everything that happens in the government.

In 2018, the official figure of almost Rs 4,500 crore given by the information and broadcasting ministry as expenditure for publicity in Modi’s first three and half years was double the amount that the UPA spent in its ten years. But this is just a fraction of the actual spend on his image building. Yet he had no qualms in emphatically declaring in his much-quoted interview with Karan Thapar that “I have not spent a single minute on my image.….I never talk about my image.”

Also read: The Shades of Populism in Narendra Modi’s Politics of Infrastructure

Traits of a narcissist

This pathological lying proves, however, that he accords higher priority to narcissism and self-delusion than to facts — that just are not allowed to interfere with his delusion of what he thinks he is. The first trait arouses completely negative emotions within his party and cabinet colleagues and just a small series of setbacks would be enough to trigger open rebellion against Modi. The second means that he would be unable to accept the reality of his minions rising against him, until it is too late.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 69th UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York September 27, 2014. Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Joshua Miller of Georgia University and his colleagues have studied these psychological traits in some others under the category of ‘Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism’, in their 2011 study, which was published in the Journal of Personality, 79(5), pp1013-1042. We need to understand this that Modi just can’t stand being outsmarted. Hence, how can a bunch of protesting farmers have the temerity to even imagine that they have cornered him, to the point of surrender. His latest posturing is meant to rub in that a great leader who displays some magnanimity becomes even greater and his unprecedented gesture of softness and repentance is surely winning him a lot of friends — especially among the millions who sit on the fence.

But Modi knows fully well that his continuance in power depends on the image he has conjured and the humungous sums of money that his capitalist cronies keep infusing into his Wehrmacht to keep it ticking and winning. His mesmerising oratory is squeezed in between these two. Big capital requires big ticket benefits to donors and the relentless user-friendly policies that enriched a select telecom operator is just one example. Other donors are being gifted costly governmental infrastructure like airports or power/telecom facilities under grandiose schemes as quid pro quo. But where imagery is concerned, unpredictability (or a surgical strike as he prefers to call it) is now an added dimension. It is only a matter of time before he retaliates even harder, because his personality type has absolutely no place for retreat, repentance or compromise.

As we know, peace is the best interval to prepare for the next war and we better utilise this interregnum to strengthen our barricade. There is no doubt whatsoever that our indefatigable and infallible leader is surely not wasting this precious time.

Jawhar Sircar is a Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP.