The Pulse

Prime Minister Modi’s God Complex

Recent Features

The Pulse | Politics | South Asia

Prime Minister Modi’s God Complex

Modi equates himself to the Divine to entice voters in the Indian general elections.

Prime Minister Modi’s God Complex

Workers put up cutouts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside those of the Hindu deity Lord Ram to mark the opening of a grand temple for Lord Ram in Ayodhya, India, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.

Credit: AP Photo/Deepak Sharma, File

Even as India’s seven-phase general election enters its penultimate phase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly stated with great seriousness in a television interview a fortnight ago, that he was convinced he had divine origins and was a “messenger of God.”

“After my mother’s death, after assimilating all my experiences, I am convinced I am not biological,” he said, claiming that God had sent him and blessed him with “divine power.” In response to a question on his “indomitable energy,“ in a successive TV interview, he reiterated that he had “godly power” to carry out the work that God had sent him to do.

He followed that up with another claim a few days ago, that he is “indestructible.” Modi said he represents the holy city of Varanasi and therefore he is “avinashi” (indestructible). Very matter-of-factly, he said he would go on to win three, five, and even seven elections. His victories, he said, “will go on.”

The opposition INDIA coalition was quick to mock Modi for his bizarre God complex and lambasted him for his “delusions of grandeur.”

Congress Working Committee member and spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told The Diplomat that the “prime minister is losing his balance. He is having a meltdown. He can see his defeat looming and his carefully crafted image fractured.”

Despite having a brute majority in Parliament for a decade, Modi has been running away from people’s issues like unemployment, inflation, and farmers’ distress, she said, pointing out that he had nothing to show as achievement. “Therefore, he seems rattled. He seems incapacitated. Should such a man continue in public life?” Shrinate asked.

Modi’s delusions of divinity can be attributed largely to the sycophantic behavior of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, who have been eager to boost his strongman image. The BJP’s candidate in the eastern city of Puri, Sambit Patra, caused a national controversy recently, when he claimed that Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the ancient Hindu temple at Puri, was a “devotee of Modi.” He thereby bestowed a Supreme God-like status on Modi.

Patra’s statement on the eve of elections in Odisha caused widespread outrage and is likely to damage the BJP’s electoral prospects in the state. Although Patra apologized and claimed that it was a “slip of the tongue,” Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik denounced the comment, stating it was “an insult to compare the Lord of the Universe Jagannath to a human being.”

This was a view echoed by other members of the opposition as well. Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee sarcastically said at an election rally that if indeed Modi is God then “we should build him a temple, give him offerings, he should go there and spare us here.”

However, Modi has been unperturbed by all the criticism.

Addressing an election rally in Uttar Pradesh he said that those who vote for him will be doing “punya” or good deeds. In the Indian socio-cultural context, “paap-punya” is more than just the binaries of bad deeds and good deeds. It can be extrapolated as “sins-divine blessings.”

Modi’s larger-than-life image has been strategically created to bestow a divine Savior-like persona upon him. In public, he speaks of himself in the third person. He is the most powerful person in the BJP and the government, having successfully cut down any possible challengers. The BJP knows that it is Modi’s name that rakes in the votes and that he has very decisively eclipsed the party.

Modi has personally not lost an election since he became chief minister in Gujarat in 2001 and then prime minister in 2014. As The Wire noted, “That kind of power can go to someone’s head.”

However, with the 2024 election script not going exactly as planned, Modi started attacking the opposition by portraying them as “anti-Hindu,” thereby polarizing the electorate. In election speeches, he has vilified the Congress and other INDIA bloc leaders as undevout Hindus, who do everything, including fraternizing with Muslims and eating mutton and fish on holy Hindu festival days to demean the Hindu religion. Modi said that if the opposition came to power it would not desist from snatching the mangal sutra (the gold chain that a groom ties around the neck of the bride in a Hindu wedding) of Hindu women.

After a desperate bid at fear-mongering, Modi again resorted to communal dog whistling. He mocked the opposition, accusing them of doing a “mujra” – the dance of nautch girls historically associated with Muslim prostitutes entertaining wealthy clients – to win votes.

Importantly, Modi started assigning himself “non-biological” origins and divine status during the last few phases of the polls. It is no coincidence that Varanasi, Modi’s constituency, will vote in the seventh phase on June 1 along with 56 other constituencies. Modi is leaving nothing to chance even in his stronghold.

Ahead of the last general election in 2019, a biopic on Modi titled “PM Narendra Modi” was released. An “unabashed PR exercise,” the film displayed his “delusions of grandeur, self-obsession and megalomania.” The film portrayed Modi as a man who has given up everything in order to serve the nation – in short, a propagandist biopic.

This time around, Modi senses a slight change in the election headwinds and is making absurd claims.

By ascribing to himself godly status, Modi could be invoking the “divine right to rule” of the monarchs of yore. In the past, monarchs claimed divine lineage to absolve themselves and their reign from any popular accountability and public scrutiny. Similarly, Modi has over the past decade projected himself as the “Hindu hriday samrat” (Emperor of Hindu hearts) to negate any impact of the anti-incumbency sentiment of his ten-year regime.

Modi’s adoption of a godly status is a logical extension of his role as the head priest during the inauguration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Flouting all constitutional propriety, Modi as head of government officiated the Hindu religious ceremonies to consecrate the Ram idol. The temple was built on the site of the disputed Babri Masjid which was razed by Hindu fanatics in 1992.

During the temple inauguration, Modi supporters, who are pejoratively termed “bhakts” (devotees), went to the extent of putting up posters with “Ram Lalla,” i.e. the child Lord Ram, being handheld and led by the adult Narendra Modi. This led many to question how can Modi be depicted as larger than God himself.

If Modi does indeed step into office as prime minister for a third consecutive time, the invocations to immortality and divine energy will grow more frequent.