Among the many excesses of the Emergency for which Indira Gandhi paid a price was an overdose of personality projection, perhaps best articulated by the super-smart assertion of a figurehead of a party president who tried selling the line “Indira is India”.
To be fair to politicians, it would be difficult to furnish evidence of a personal role in such cult-promotion, but they certainly relish those sycophantic displays of loyalty.
It is rare today, for example, for any Trinamul member to make a speech in Parliament without hailing the leadership of Mamata Banerjee: just as in yesteryears none from the AIADMK or DMK dared not laud the late stalwarts of the parties still struggling to accept changed leadership.
Today’s Congress has a more sophisticated way of reaffirming affiliation to the family: although Sonia, and now Rahul, continue to be the stars to which they hitch their wagons. And now the BJP tries to convince the nation that it would be sinful to look beyond the Prime Minister. Slowly the mention of Mr Narendra Modi’s leadership is becoming integral to their speeches.
Fair enough ~ today we have come to accept that personality provides propulsion to most parties, and those who muster the nerve to question that would invite Donald Trump’s charge of spreading “fake news”.
While such salutation may be acceptable within the party-fold, is it necessary for the man on the street to be coerced into such hero-worship? People operating petrol pumps, or gas-stations as the Americans call them, have reportedly been issued verbal orders by the public sector oil marketing companies (Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum) that if they want their supplies to be maintained they must erect hoardings at all their outlets, and each must carry an image of Mr Narendra Modi and highlight one of the several schemes announced by the NDA.
These hoardings must be raised well ahead of the 2019 polls, perhaps to avert action under the Model Code of Conduct. The Consortium of Indian Petroleum Dealers says its members are in a bind, there is no formal order which can be judicially challenged yet any disruption of supply from the OMCs would disrupt their business.
Ideally it would be valid to demand an explanation and remedial action from the ministry of petroleum, but since there is nothing official about the move that would be difficult as the present government is insensitive to matters that might impact its singular focus on electoral advantage.
Besides, who will bell the cat? The idea of using petrol stations is not really original but those who conceived the idea must think themselves very clever, after all owners of motor vehicles have little option to filling-up.
There could, however, be a backlash: runaway fuel prices provoke anger at the pumps ~ soon there could be a face at which to direct the curses.