By Prateek Yadav
Let me begin with the disclaimer that the reference to ‘God’ does not intend to hurt sentiments of anyone.
According to the Oxford Dictionary “God is the creator and supreme ruler of the universe”. On the surface level, this definition would make the question “Are new Gods in the making?” irrelevant because the universe has already been created, so there is no way new Gods can be created
But we all know that Gods kept changing as the civilization progressed. In early Vedic periods we find the natural elements like Agni, Varun, Indra and Surya being described Gods. As the times progressed, these Gods were replaced by the three main Gods of Hinduism – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, out of which in the modern times, Vishnu and Shiva have much larger devotees than Brahma. So, the Gods keep changing as the needs of the humankind changes with time.
When the human species was new and fighting for survival on this earth, nature was the biggest enemy. We couldn’t fight natural calamities and unfavorable climates. This made us worship those natural powers (Agni, Varun, Indra, and Surya) to please them. This phenomenon could be seen in most of the developed societies of those times like the Greek Gods also symbolized the natural powers. As society progressed and became more complex, so did the Gods.
Philosophically, this is what God is!
God is something to which a human looks upon in the hope of some help to survive this planet. So, the question in the article does become relevant. Since God is just a representation of the Energy of this universe, so the symbol can be newly created, although the energy may remain the same.
Also, many Gods have belonged to the ruling class. For example, both Lord Rama and Lord Krishna were kings. Prophet Muhammad, though a messenger of God was also a king who fought many battles. Lord Buddha was also a prince.
This tendency can be seen even in modern times. Practically, this is done through modern tools like mass media, propaganda, and spectacle which creates a cult of personality around a person. There are many definitions of “Personality Cult”. It would be better to stick to one and decode it. So, for this article, let us refer to the definition given on Wikipedia.
According to Wikipedia – “A cult of personality arises when a country’s regime uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by a state or a party.”
Probably the most apt example of portraying a human as a ‘God-on-earth’ was Joseph Stalin of Soviet Union, who used methods like the ‘big lie’, mass media and spectacle to create an invincible image of himself who couldn’t be questioned. It required more than five decades to fade the Godly image of Stalin from the minds of the people.
Somewhere around the 1950s, contrary to the Marxist ideas, Mao Zedong started building a new cult of personality around himself. The use of mass media for the propaganda of his thoughts and ideas, extensive use of his images in public places, etc. were his tools to create his apotheosis in the minds of the people. At one point of time, his portraits outnumbered the huge population of China. The successors of Mao tried to disintegrate this image of Mao and were successful to some extent. It has been more than four decades of Mao’s death, and yet it is his strong personality cult which creates Maoist ripples across the world, especially South Asia, even now.
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Of late, there is a rising tendency to hold power through a cult of personality. Xi Jinping’s political theory being enshrined in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party is capturing the minds of the people. There are signs of a personality cult building up around him as can be seen from a recent Chinese Parliament decision to abolish the term limit of Xi’s rule.
Another Asian country where a new cult of personality is taking shape is India. Its leaders are employing all the tools necessary to create apotheosis. The major political parties have a dedicated IT wing which uses mass media, especially social media quite deftly. The Twitter trends in India show it all. Most of the trends revolve around Hindu-Muslim disharmony and sometimes even glorify Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer, especially on occasions like Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary, October the 2nd. The trends buoy up the voids present in the social fabric of India. These voids are widening even after seventy years of Indian Independence. Unlike a responsible Government guided by the Directive Principles of State Policy and the Indian Constitution, the federal government hardly clamps down activities that are creating ripples in the already tattered social fabric of India.
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.Robert Maynard Hutchins
A look at the statistics, shows the regressing trend of Indian Democracy’s fourth pillar, the free media. Indian Press Freedom Index now equals that of Pakistan, a much more authoritarian state. India’s rank in terms of press freedom is much below many African countries like Kenya and even below war-torn areas like Afghanistan. Most of the media houses, especially the Hindi news channels appear to show viewpoints biased towards few ideologies. Quite often, it has been observed that many big media channels simply praise all the decisions of the government without giving space to their critical analysis. In a country where not all people have enough to eat and survive healthily, the ground issues hardly find any place in the corporate world of the media. Indian media’s image as the voice of the people is gradually fading. The mass media is the first such tool used by the leadership(s) to create personality cult.
Building up a personaliy cult uses another formula called ‘the enemy of the people’. This phrase was used extensively in Stalin’s regime. This helped Stalin to repress anyone having an ideological difference with him, under the name of his opponent being ‘an enemy of the people’. His successor Nikita Khrushchev demanded an end to this term because “it eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight.” But it has resurfaced in the 21st century, being used by leaders of many prominent nations of the world.
When you are right, you have no need to be angry. When you are wrong, you have no right to be angry.Mahatma Gandhi
Whosoever debates and critically looks at the government decisions is viewed unhealthy for the unity of the country by few, the narrative even going to the extent of awarding a certificate of ‘anti-national’ which is precisely the short-term for ‘enemy of the Indians’. Though this term doesn’t affect anyone physically, but it does diminish the scope of argument and debate on the government’s decisions. How can a professor, or a scientist, or a doctor, or an actor, or anyone else who works day and night for his fellow countrymen be designated ‘anti-national’ simply because of his/ her ideological differences with the party in government? This is not a healthy sign for Indian democracy. But it does help certain leader(s) create their cult.
Another tool of creating a cult is the ‘big lie’ used in many authoritarian states including Nazi Germany. The propaganda technique uses a “lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Public proclamation by responsible ones about ‘no detention centres within the country’ or ‘no discussion on NRC’ is similar to Nazis’ ‘Big Lie’. Few Indian leaders also falsely claim about no work been done for the past 70 years and that their arrival saved India from drowning. This ‘big lie’ about the waste of the last 70 years is then spoken by the respective political cadre, and is even used as an excuse if some government decisions don’t give positive results. Though this trend of blaming previous governments for the present outcomes is not new, but it is being used at a scale not imagined before.
The future lies with those wise political leaders who realize that the great public is interested more in government than in politics.Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Wikipedia definition of ‘cult of personality’ also specifies the use of ‘Spectacle’ for building a cult. This is increasingly being used by the leaders who believe more in events rather than policy and institutional reforms, be it the sudden event of Demonetization or the sudden announcement of Coronavirus Lockdown, through a monologue. It is hard to imagine that the top leaders of the world’s largest democracy complete their term of office without facing the questions of the people through press conferences. It refrains them from getting appropriate feelers. The Indian media, ill-famed as ‘Godi Media’, interviews leaders sparingly with seemingly pre-decided questions. The spectacular events, like ‘Namaste Trump’ in India or similar in the US or elsewhere, project the leaders as a superstar, helping in building up the personality cult.
Those praising the leaders are called ‘Bhakts’. These are all signs of an apotheosis in-the-making.
Though it is not bad to support, praise, and even devote yourself to someone you admire, this tendency of the growing numbers of “devotees” instead of “supporters”, is not healthy for a democracy as vibrant and diverse as India where every voice should be respected.
The phenomenon of cult of personality happens mostly in authoritarian states.
Let’s see which path the country with the second-largest population and the largest democracy chooses.
Jai Hind ! Jai Bharat !
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About the author
Prateek Yadav, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, has worked on solar evaporation desalination and fog harvesting technologies during his M.Tech in Mechanical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India.