The most conspicuous feature of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s photograph in which he is carried by his security men is that it was not clicked by some photojournalist but an official lens-man and distributed through the official channel. The conspicuousness pertains to the complete absence of discernment in the government machinery that this picture is reminiscent of the practices in medieval and ancient periods, that the Honorable Chief Minister appeared in the likeness of a pharaoh rather than a democratically-elected beloved leader—something that was instantly picked up by the media and the social media.
That none of the officials were able to realize that the photograph depicts him in a bad light is a reflection of deep-seated obsequiousness in our system. In seven decades after Independence, our political masters have succeeded in convincing officials at all levels and many others that they (our netas) have the divine right to rule—and rule not as democratically elected leaders but as the despots of yore who were not restrained by such modern institutions as an independent judiciary, a permanent executive, and a free press.
The convincing took time but it did take place: the frog got boiled slowly but surely. So, it is a comforting situation for politicians like Chouhan. The criticism and ridicule that he attracted in the mainstream media, including the BBC and The Dawn of Pakistan, and social media doesn’t bother him; he can afford to be self-righteous and insolent. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t even issue a clarification, or even a lame excuse, on the flood photo controversy. Instead he enlightened reporters about his “pure heart” that took him to the flood-affected area. Rarely is shamelessness so pious.
The officialdom, however, was able to see the damage done and later tried to salvage the situation. Principal Secretary S.K. Mishra reportedly said that since the Chief Minister has a ‘Z’ security cover, the guards protecting him wanted to save him from the bites of poisonous animals in the flood waters. The excuse has not cut any ice, surely not with the Opposition. Congress leader and Parliamentarian Arun Yadav said “Chouhan, in a bid to garner cheap publicity, has indulged in this photo stunt. Instead of mitigating the problems of flood-hit people in Panna and other parts, the Chief Minister has himself become a problem for people [security personnel].”
Cheap publicity or gaffe, the tragedy is that such incidents nor massive scams are the norm rather than exceptions—and not just in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Yadav’s own party is actually the pioneer in promoting sycophancy in politics. For instance, the way senior members of the grand old party publicly pleaded with Sonia Gandhi to reconsider her so-called sacrifice in 2004 is a blot on Indian democracy. Other parties like the BSP and the AIDMK are even worse.
Even more tragic is the fact that sycophancy is increasing rather than decreasing in our polity. So, Chouhan can rest assured that the flood photo will be a passing affair.