Atanu Dey On India's Development

Personality Cult Disorder

| 8 Comments

India suffers severely from PCD — personality cult disorder. I mentioned that in a post soon after moving to Mumbai from Berkeley in 2003. I believe that the disease under the Italian Sonia Gandhi has intensified. Here are my thoughts from way back when.

Being new to Mumbai, I was paying close attention to street names. I observed that with very few exceptions, all roads are named after people. Each road had stretches named after someone. Each short stretch of a road had some worthy named usually etched on a granite slab somewhere or on a statue pedestal at an intersection. There they get their 15 yards of fame, so to speak. Of course, people simply ignore the idiocy and call the road by an old familiar name. So “Senapati Bapat Road” is simply “Tulsi Pipe Road”.

Contrast this with, say, the roads in the US. They are occassionally named after some personalities (Lincoln Expressway, Martin Luther King Jr Way, etc) but mostly they are not people centered. They will have their University Avenue, College Street, Telegraph Ave, 42nd Street, Avenue of the Americas, Vine Street, Cedar Lane, Delaware Ave, Oregon Expressway, NJ Turnpike, . . . and more recently Disc Drive, Micron Lane, Internet Alley, and so on. The important point is that they are not hung up on personalities.

You may ask, what is so terrible about the naming of roads after people. Nothing on the face of it, but it reveals a deeper dysfunction of the society. It indicates that we raise people on pedestals and value personalities and not institutions. My point is that institutions matter and not people. In India, we neglect institutions and that is partly responsible for the decay of our society.

Institutions matter because they are rule based. They are not dependent on subjective arbitrariness — the whimes and fancies — of personalities. Institutions persist and outlast individuals and therefore have alonger memory. They are also less likely to be hijacked by narrow personal interests and can pursue socially beneficial objectives.

When institutions are hijacked by personalities, they decay. The Indian National Congress was a reasonable institution until the Nehru-Gandhi family made it into their personal fiefdom. The tranformation was tragic and it will continue to be a dysfunctional political party as long as it persists in elevating personalities over the institutional character of the party.

One can conjecture that it is the legacy of our feudal social system that is the cause of our dysfunctional emphasis on personalities rather than on institutions. After all, the raja ruled at his pleasure and did not bother with constitutions. The serfs realized that the law was basically whatever the raja said it was. Survival in this sort of a system depended on unquestioning loyalty to a person.

A modern highly complex economic system requires the rule of law, rather than the rule of men (or women). Arbitrary decisions based on personal prejudices cannot in general lead to socially beneficial outcomes. One can imagine an enlightened benevolent dictatorship but they are rare and rarer still is the possibility of a long succession of benevolent dictators. The odd raja may be good personally but his successors are as likely to be rapacious murderers as they are to be able rulers.

Sadly, rajas continue to exist in India. They go about in cars with led lights flashing. They consider themselves above the law (just another institution). They grant or withhold favors depending on whether they personally gain from the deal. The license-permit-quota-subsidy raj is the only institution that these rajas find worthwhile.

It is a curious fact that some of these neo-rajas live in places named after previous plunderers of the land — Aurangzeb Road, Ghaziabad, Victoria this, King George that. How long will it be after the masters have left, that the slaves will declare themselves free?

{This was originally posted Nov 2003. Minor edits made.}

  • Kaffir

    While you are correct about the personality cult in India, but when you write:

    “Contrast this with, say, the roads in the US. They are occassionally named after some personalities (Lincoln Expressway, Martin Luther King Jr Way, etc) but mostly they are not people centered. They will have their University Avenue, College Street, Telegraph Ave, 42nd Street, Avenue of the Americas, Vine Street, Cedar Lane, Delaware Ave, Oregon Expressway, NJ Turnpike, . . . and more recently Disc Drive, Micron Lane, Internet Alley, and so on. The important point is that they are not hung up on personalities.

    you make a logical flaw – that personality cult is linked to naming of roads (and nothing else). As anyone knows, US society is hung up on celebrity worship – personality cult by another name – and spends considerable amounts of both time and money perusing this hobby, more than it does in discharging its civic duty. So, they are indeed hung up on personalities – they just express it in different ways, and not by naming streets after them.

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  • AG

    > So, they are indeed hung up on personalities – they just express it in different ways, and not by naming streets after them.

    Yes, but not the people who run the country. Although that is changing with the arrival of the Obama personality cult.

  • Kaffir

    Yes, AG. And don’t forget naming the airport in Washington, D.C. after Ronald Reagan. It goes both ways and certainly hasn’t started with Obama.

  • Kaffir

    =>
    “Yes, but not the people who run the country. Although that is changing with the arrival of the Obama personality cult.”
    =>

    AG, this is for you, wrt to your comment above.

  • Incognito

    >>>” it reveals a deeper dysfunction of the society. It indicates that we raise people on pedestals and value personalities and not institutions.”
    >>>”Of course, people simply ignore the idiocy and call the road by an old familiar name. So “Senapati Bapat Road” is simply “Tulsi Pipe Road”.”

    There is incongruence between the two statements.

    Why in the former statement it is ‘we’, while in the latter it is ‘people’ ?
    Why not replace ‘we’ in first statement with ‘politicians’ and the ‘people’ in the second with ‘we’ ?

    Point is that ‘naming of streets and institutions(Indira Gandhi Airport, Rajiv Gandhi Yojana, Jawaharlal Nehru stadium)’ is the act of westernised govt, who copied it from british, who did that to impose upon the psyche of the people.
    Common man, indian, does not yet completely succumb to the cult mentality being attempted to be imposed by the west created administration/governance system, as revealed by the second statement.

    >>>”Contrast this with, say, the roads in the US. They are occassionally named after some personalities (Lincoln Expressway, Martin Luther King Jr Way, etc) but mostly they are not people centered.”

    As Kaffir brought out, Amreekan politicians does not have to name roads after themselves. Personality cult creation is rampant in american psyche. They even name aircraft carriers after politicians. Hollywood stars, rock stars, sports stars, all have huge following among people. It is part of their culture.
    It is not so much in india.

    >>>” My point is that institutions matter and not people.”

    Yeah. The Church matters more than the humans who do not believe in Christian god. Ummah matters more than all the unbelievers of the world. Government matters more than common man. Bow before the God of Institution.
    That is the motivation of western system. The people who control the institutions then go on to make a killing.

    Common man is after all a sheep, to be led by Thy Lord Shepherd, occasionally to be sacrificed at the altar of the divinity/ideology that is being worshipped, and always to be used to push the ideology over the non-believers.

    >>>”When institutions are hijacked by personalities, they decay.”

    Yeah sure. Them institutions being ‘swayambhu’, which come into existence on their own, only to be hijacked by ‘personalities’. So that whatever wrong is done is due to the person. not the institution. Standard ploy to absolve guilt.
    So the Church is never guilty of all the millions of death and slavery it caused during past two millenniums. It’s all the mistake made by few misguided personalities who happened to take control of the institution.
    Indian Govt or Congress party is never guilty. Its all the doing of MMS/ A Raja/ Kalmadi…

    >>>” The Indian National Congress was a reasonable institution until the Nehru-Gandhi family made it into their personal fiefdom”

    Sure. A reasonable institution, in establishing which the British had NO hand at all. There was no Englishman involved in setting up this institution. And no Englishman ever presided over it. Yeah.
    It’s all the mistake of the desi indians.

    >>>”The tranformation was tragic and it will continue to be a dysfunctional political party as long as it persists in elevating personalities over the institutional character of the party.”

    Yes, the intitutional character of the party.
    It’s good that Shri Atanuji is able to detect that character in that party, which has been eluding the perceptive efforts of many indians so far.

    >>>”One can conjecture that it is the legacy of our feudal social system that is the cause of our dysfunctional emphasis on personalities rather than on institutions.”

    feudal social system. The set up of kings, popes, traders and serfs, of Middle Ages Europe that got transplanted to india with the british arrival here.

    Yes THAT is ‘OUR’ legacy. Sure.

    >>>”After all, the raja ruled at his pleasure and did not bother with constitutions.”

    Absolutely. One such celebrated raja packed his pregnant wife away to jungle, on the say so of a dhobi.
    Another one gave up his freedom and that of his family in pursuit of upholding dharma. He did not even allow his wife to cremate his child properly.
    There was another one who cut away flesh from his body to save the life of a bird that sought his protection.
    There was yet another one who offered his head after all the land was given away as danam.
    Indian culture is full of such stories of rajas who ruled at their pleasure and did not bother with the Constitution of India. Heck, I bet them fellows would not even have heard about such lofty ideas as secularism or socialism.

    >>>”A modern highly complex economic system requires the rule of law, rather than the rule of men (or women)”

    Sure. ‘The Law’ as laid down by the Gawd in heaven. Humans don’t have any agency to question or interpret it. It is all laid down by the almighty in Koran, Bible and the Constipation of India.
    Men or women are only to follow the ‘Law’ thus established.

    >>>”They go about in cars with led lights flashing. They consider themselves above the law (just another institution).”

    Shouldn’t they ? when it is them who creates the ‘Law’ ????

    >>>”They grant or withhold favors depending on whether they personally gain from the deal.”

    It is of course the person who is doing the wrong here. Never the institution that empowers him. No guilt shall be ascribed to the hallowed Institution or the Law or the System. Its all the individual’s fault. Law and Institutions are always right. Amen.

    >>>”The license-permit-quota-subsidy raj is the only institution that these rajas find worthwhile.”

    Of course, in this age of liberalization, it is ok to blame “license-permit-quota-subsidy raj”. In fact, that is the only ‘institution’ that you may hold guilty.
    Until the dispensation decrees another such institution that is past its sell by date that can be utilised as punching bag. Like christianity is punching bag for islam, and judaism is it for christianity, and paganism is it for judaism. Whatever is considered safely in the past is punching bag.

    This article may be reflecting the mindset of a newly returned NRI. It is too heavily influenced by the western narrative of indian history and current state of affairs, to have any relation to reality.

    Institutionalization overriding human potential and human responsibility is the reason modern society breeds lack of responsibility among humans. Lack of responsibility or accountability towards other peoples, animals, Nature, future generations. It has roots in the western myth that Gawd in heaven send his only son to wash away ‘sin’ of all people, and all you have to do is to bow down before the Institution of Church.

    Institutionalization and bowing down before the Institutions transforms people to sheeps who can be easily misled by those who control the Institutions- be it media/ government/ political party/ religious order/ economic system.

    Wake up!
    Realise your potential, which, as per indian tradition, is brahma.

    That is, if you can get over the western indoctrination that makes you feel inadequate, that you do not matter, only Institutions matter. A fallout of the judeo-christian-muslim idea that you are all original sinners who should bow down to the Insitution of Church, later replaced with the Institution of State with its sub-Institutions of Police, Law and Administration. Each of which is a cover for greedy politicians to exploit people.

    And remove the western fitted lenses that looks down upon native indian, as primitive imbecile who is inferior to European/Amreekans.

    dhanyavaad

  • http://akshar100.wordpress.com Akshar

    In Goa we have roads named after Portugal’s Independence Day and The Hotel Panjim Inn you once stayed in is located on the Road named after Portugal’s Navy.

    People who suggest that these to be renamed after local landmarks are called vandal and communal!

  • Prakash

    “The odd raja may be good personally but his successors are as likely to be rapacious murderers as they are to be able rulers.”

    Nehru himself can be a case in point.

    No one can really say that Nehru was evil or that he did not wish India well. In fact he was one of the most hard working Prime Ministers India has seen. He hardly slept more than four hours. Alas! His hard work was in the wrong direction. It would have been better if he did not work so hard. And boy, was he popular! He ruled the country by mike. Again, it would have been better if he was not so popular.