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The Legend of Modi, Hindu Hero and Political Messiah, Is Breaking India's Politics How the Legend of Modi, Hindu Hero and Political Messiah, Is Breaking India's Politics

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yesterday

Narendra Modi is presiding over multiplying human and political calamities in India. From COVID to Pegasus spyware, Indians’ lives and the fabric of their democracy are unravelling.

But his self-assurance hasn’t taken a hit. Nor has he lost significant grassroots support: The voters who believed him to be their political messiah are still staunch in their belief, even when Modi has failed to protect their rights and even their lives.

How can this be? In today’s India, it seems the notion the premier must be held accountable for his actions, and will get pummeled at the polls for failure, no longer holds water. In other words, the normal rules of politics don’t apply to Modi.

To understand this phenomenon requires a dive into how India’s prime minister has harnessed his party apparatus, Hindu culture and India’s national narrative to create a mythologized persona that absorbs adulation and success but is often impermeable to blame. And the best way to enter this parallel world is through comic books.

Modi’s self-mythologizing has been a conscious project over decades. His political rise, revolving around promises of economic development, took shape within the political milieu of Gujarat, the state he led for almost 15 years (2001-2014). Once he decided to bid for the number one position within the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2013, that socio-cultural and religious image-building campaign accelerated.

One medium cleverly chosen to push the Legend of Modi far and wide is illustrated story books, aimed at (voting) adults as well as (impressionable) young people. Comic books recounting national and religious legends, cheap, accessible, requiring only basic literacy and vibrantly illustrated, are sold in countless numbers across India.

I picked up two booklets in Hindi starring Modi, one a form of parable, the other a fictionalized biography, from a book stall at the train station of Ajmer in early 2014 for 50 rupees each, around 70 U.S. cents: Bhavishya Ki Aasha Narendra Modi (Narendra Modi: Hope for the Future) and Pragati Purush Narendra Modi (Narendra Modi: The Man for Development.)

The first illustrated booklet tells the tale of a small village in Gujarat, whose inhabitants were flustered. Their only temple was in the middle of a crocodile-infested river: no-one could reach the temple or even change its tattered devotional flag.

One day, a boy auspiciously called Narendra fearlessly jumped into the river, fought the crocodiles, reached to the temple and........

© Haaretz


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