Why Sarkar isn’t a national icon

Despite delivering good governance, Manik Sarkar is not even a bleep on the radar of the national consciousness

Vivek Kumar | August 9, 2013



To understand the establishment and evolution of a charismatic personality in India, we have to approach the issue from religious, historical and contemporary politics perspectives.

Going by the paradigm of religion, charisma can be located within the religion of the majority and within the larger geographical area which is Aryavarta, or north India. This is because of the majority religion’s staunch assertion that civilisation was born here; hence, individuals fulfilling both conditions (belonging to the majority religion and from the region where it is most dominant) automatically gain charisma. The phenomenon of eulogising people is seen to emerge here.

Thus, if the said personality is located in polity and governance and fulfills the two criteria, then it is very easy to gain charisma. Examples are Jawaharlal Nehru, often termed a visionary, Indira Gandhi, for whom the slogan “India is Indira, Indira is India” was coined, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, anointed Yug Purush by the right. (Note: There have been, undoubtedly, instances of personality cults of leaders in the southern states. But they have remained restricted to their respective states and have failed to be a national icon.)

To understand the issue of charisma of leaders from a historical perspective, we have to look back at our colonial history. The British developed an administration that was bureaucratic, systematic and militaristic, with a proper structure and hierarchy. However, the political leadership never had any institutional development and location.

Coming to contemporary politics, it is obvious that the polity has become broader than before. However, with the rise of coalition politics, ideology has been a casualty. With ideological stands modified or entirely dispensed with to suit allies, there is very little scope for leaders with ideologies to shine in the national spectrum. Marxists had to leave staunch Left stands at home while in coalition with the Congress, the JD(U) toned down secular rhetoric to stay in the NDA, as did the BJD in Odisha. In such cases, people following party agenda are sidelined to keep fragile alliances going. So individual leaders toe a common line, failing which they are not brought to national attention by their own parties.

Also, the emergence of a pan-India charismatic personality has been systematically stifled by the leadership in Delhi.

Thus, despite doing good work in Tripura, Manik Sarkar finds no place in the political centrestage as he is neither from north India nor from a polity which is essentially BJP or Congress. He hails from the Northeast, which is far removed from the imagination of the so-called ‘mainland’ India.

Failing to meet these important conditions, rising in consciousness and consideration of the people outside Tripura is difficult for Sarkar.

Another important factor behind Sarkar not becoming a national icon is the lack of coverage in the media. While the mainstream media is interested in the market, Left Front politics has historically been media-shy. Sarkar and his politics does not have any market orientation, therefore the media does not give him preference, like it gives to other regional leaders who are pro-market.

For example, Narendra Modi, who provides largesse to corporate houses with interests in media but is unable to give land for a central university in Gujarat, becomes a huge media success.

In the larger context, success of neo-liberalism and its propaganda globally has decreased the appeal of socialist or Marxist ideologies, which does not go very well with forces of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation that look at development only in a certain form. Hence, if the governance and development model is not tailored in that model, it fails to hold interest.
(As told to Shivangi Narayan)

Kumar is associate professor at the Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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