The Big Story:  The Great Leaders

Chennai is on high alert after Chief Minister Jayalalithaa suffered a cardiac arrest later on Sunday. The police surrounded the hospital she is in while other members of the force will patrol the city on Monday as rumours are rife.

Jayalalithaa has been in hospital since September 22. The anxiety around her illness is a stark example of the personality cult that operates at the heart of Tamil politics. Even while incapacitated in hospital, a Soviet-like veil of secrecy has surrounded her health – news of her cardiac arrest came hours after the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam claimed she had recovered fully and would go home soon.

In this cult of personality, Tamils aren’t alone. In states across India, politics has often been reduced to loving one person. Nor is it a new phenomenon. In 1949, BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Constitution’s drafting committee spoke in the Constituent Assembly on India’s tendency towards hero worship:

For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

Ambedkar’s reference was clear: Mohandas Gandhi. In his long-running battles with Gandhi, Ambedkar stood no chance given the massive, near-unquestioning adoration the former had from millions of Indians. Ambedkar thought this reverence was harmful and in an interview to the BBC in 1955 argued out that he would never call Gandhi a “mahatma” (great soul), the reverential title by which he is still known today in India.

Ambedkar’s warnings, though, mostly fell on deaf years. Indians would hero worship each one of their leaders leading right up to Modi. In a rather interesting coincidence, the online jibe thrown today at unquestioning supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi unknowingly references Ambedkar’s iconic speech by deriding them as “bhakts”.

Political Picks

  1. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks about the reasons for her protest and the Army’s presence in her state in an interview.      
  2. National security adviser Ajit Doval briefly met Pakistan’s top diplomat Sartaj Aziz around midnight on Saturday, setting the stage for fresh efforts by the neighbours to defuse diplomatic tensions and break out of a spiral of firing on the border.      
  3. Demonetisation debate likely in the Lok Sabha on Monday, which could break the logjam in Parliament.      


  1. In Bloomberg, Iain Marlow and Bibhudatta Pradhan argue that while India is getting richer under Modi, millions can’t feel it.      
  2. A historic popular uprising is happening in Kashmir, but the Indian public is barely aware of it, writes Jean Dreze in the Indian Express.      
  3. How Modi changed (and changed) the demonetisation narrative from black money to cashless, writes Praveen Chakravarty in the Business Standard.      


Don’t Miss

These beggars in Delhi do not have swipe machines but do know a little about credit cards, reports Abhishek Dey.

In Connaught Place, five-year-old Suraj, who was attempting to sell ball-point pens to the shoppers in the area – a pair for Rs 10 – said that sales have dropped in the past few weeks.

A woman, who is related to Suraj and was selling tiaras on the pavement, said: “Till one month ago, we [a group of four, including Suraj, and two other children] managed to sell over 100 pairs of ball pens in a day. Now people do not buy them easily.”

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