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Why Did Modi’s Usage of Divinity as a Political Instrument Not Succeed?

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Why Did Modi’s Usage of Divinity as a Political Instrument Not Succeed?

Modi declared himself to be a messenger of God, and not of biological origin. The ploy did not work.

Why Did Modi’s Usage of Divinity as a Political Instrument Not Succeed?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi prays before a deity at a temple on the Vivekananda Rock in Kanyakumari, India, where he meditated on May 30-June 1, for 48 hours, May 31, 2024.

Credit: X/BJP Delhi

The heat and dust from India’s general elections has settled. But the big question — why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “divinity” pitch not work? — remains unanswered.

The notion that one is destiny’s child may entitle a leader to believe that they are the chosen one, a superhuman born to change the destiny of millions of people of the country and even of the universe. A few of them perceive themselves as messengers of God, a messiah through whom God wishes to change the cosmos. In history, there is no dearth of such leaders.

Narendra Modi is one such leader, who has successfully projected himself as the chosen one, born with a mission. Under this framing, Modi will make India great again, course-correct India’s civilizational path, and propel India to a position wherein it won’t be ruled ever again by any foreign power. He is an avatar for whom the country has been waiting for a long time.

This image has of course been manufactured at an industrial level; millions of dollars have been spent to make people believe that Modi is God-sent. I have not met Mahatma Gandhi to understand his charisma. I was not born when Nehru died and was too young to understand Indira Gandhi’s popularity. In my three decades as a journalist, I have not come across a leader for whom people – old or young, intellectual or illiterate, male or female – were willing to fight and kill those who dared criticize him. Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were immensely popular, but one could have argued with their supporters without worrying about one’s safety.

This has not been the case with Modi. With the rise of Modi as a national leader, thousands of families have stopped discussing politics at the dinner table, and old friends of decades stopped talking to each other after arguments about Modi. At least on two occasions in the last year, I was subjected to violent reactions in a gathering of friends because I dared to challenge their thesis of Modi. To receive hate mail and abusive phone calls is part of my being in the last ten years due to the perception that I openly criticize Modi and Hindutva. This was never the case even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister, who like Modi was also a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and lifelong volunteer of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

To say that Modi was popular is an understatement. He had a following that could embarrass religious cult leaders. Modi has consciously built an image for himself that is an amalgam of politics and religiosity. For his followers, he is the prime minister with a political mission to make India a Vishwa Guru (global teacher). But also, he is a Hindu leader born to bring back the old glory of the Hindu religion. He is a religious redeemer, who will cure Hindu Dharma of its ills, which is the reason for Hindus being ruled by Islam and Christianity for almost a thousand years. It is no coincidence that when Modi visits Hindu temples he is in attire that presents him as a leader who has internalized Hinduism in its purest form.

Performing religious Hindu rituals in every temple under the gaze of TV channels is part of a well-calculated strategy to package himself as a religious leader, a Hindu incarnate, with Hindu-ness as his being.

Left-liberals ridiculed Modi when he visited Kedarnath after the campaigning for general elections ended in 2019. Modi’s image makers told the world that the prime minister had gone there to do dhyan (meditate). His pictures and videos, in which he was seen meditating in solitude as if doing tapasya (austere meditation) like Hindu sages of yore, went viral on social media and made headlines in mainstream TV channels.

Modi repeated the act of meditation this year when he spent time at Vivekananda Rock in Kanyakumari. The idea is to inculcate in people’s minds that he is not an ordinary leader; he is divine, and divinity distinguishes him from the lesser mortals, within his own party and outside.

Therefore, I was not surprised when Modi in a recent TV interview made this claim explicit: “When my mother was alive, I used to believe that I was born biologically. After she passed away, upon reflecting on all my experiences, I was convinced that God has sent me. This energy could not be from my biological body, but was bestowed upon me by God … whenever I do anything, I believe God is guiding me.”

No other politician in India has spoken in this language ever. This is not a political statement; it is a religious sermon. He is proclaiming himself as a messenger of God and goes beyond. Modi has hinted that he is not biological, he is not mortal, he is divine. He has said in interview after interview that he has been sent to this world with a specific purpose by the Almighty and that purpose is to rescue India and Hindus from the scourge of history.

It’s a strong communication. He is using religious language for political purposes. He is telling his voters that their voting right has a religious goal. Their vote for Modi will not only make him the prime minister but most importantly it will be a divine pursuit.

The question then is why did he fail to get the majority? Why did his usage of divinity as an instrument of politics not succeed?

Similarly, Modi did not leave any stone unturned to stir communal feelings among Hindus. Modi is known for his communal utterances. Since the days of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, he has used elections to polarize voters on communal lines. In the 2014 and 2019 general elections, he used the Hindu-Muslim binary, but strategically.

But in 2024, when he realized that ten years of anti-incumbency were too strong and even his Hindutva voters were not enthused enough to vote for him, he found refuge in anti-Muslim tirades. He went to the extent of calling Muslims “infiltrators” and those “who are giving birth to too many kids” and saying that the wealth of Hindus would be taken away and given to Muslims if the Congress and the INDIA bloc came to power. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath warned Hindus that if the INDIA bloc won, Shariah, or Islamic law. would be imposed in the country.

It didn’t work, because India under Modi failed to deliver. Unemployment and price rises are very high, and the poor and marginalized are greatly suffering. Their income has plummeted and there is no hope of the situation improving in the near future. The last ten years have witnessed a vast gap between the promise and delivery of the central government.

The Modi government had promised to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024. He had also promised to double the income of farmers by 2022. During the 2014 election campaign, he promised that the government would provide 20 million jobs annually. He has not delivered on these promises.

Today, a large section of the population is upset at how society is being divided on religious lines. The regime has propounded a new definition of the nation. Exclusion of minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, has become the order of the day. Muslims are living in fear. Najma Heptulla and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were sworn in as ministers in the Modi cabinet in 2014 and 2019, respectively, but this time, there are no Muslim ministers in the Modi government.

And so, we have the voters’ verdict. They have disapproved of the way the country was run in the last 10 years. But tragically, the voter is also not greatly impressed with the opposition. The BJP has lost but the opposition has not won. The Indian voter has given a message to both. To Modi, the voters have clearly said that they are no longer willing to be emotionally blackmailed, and the country needs a living leader, not a messenger of God. They want their nation to be reclaimed, a nation in which every religion has its place of pride, where the prime minister belongs to not one religion but to all, and where every human is treated like a citizen. The Indian voter wants their country to be governed by lesser mortals and not God-like figures.