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Exclusive News Opinion

The great Indian hero: An endangered species, Part I

Feb 6 (): “The electorate in Uttar Pradesh is much more wiser and politically sound and does not believe in hero worship..like south India..where they have shown inclination towards film stars”
-Union Coal Minister Prakash Jaiswal commenting on the UP electorate.

Withstanding the irony of this coming from a Gandhi family worshipping congressman, the news snippet set my thought process running. We, Indians have traditionally loved our Heroes, and even worshipped them. Be it Gandhi for his struggles and principles. Netaji for his courage. Nehru as a visionary, who loved children (where did that come from?). Tendulkar as a cricketing god. Rajini as a rag-to-riches superstar. The list goes on…Heroes are someone we aspire to be or we learn from or who inspire us. An assurance in a chaotic world. There may be some magnitude differences in how our heroes are worshipped across India, as the minister says. But you could say that the hero worship is on the wane in India, even in south India.

At their peak, NTR (played Krishna role 17 times) and MGR were not just respected as heroes, but also elevated to the status of gods. I remember the 80s when Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were seen as god-sent to lead India. Contrast this to our current leaders. None of the leaders, be it Sonia or Advani or Manmohan are revered the same way. Rajini or Chiranjeevi are hardly MGR and NTR. We don’t blindly follow our heroes and revere them blindly as we used to do in 70s and 80s.

“My generation needs figures that we do not epitomise but relate and connect with”
-”It happened in India”, Kishore Biyani’s (Founder, Future group) autobiography

Not only are the worshipped heroes becoming a rare species, but the images of our current heroes are bloodied and soiled. Not just in Politics.. An older man remarked to me recently that the media has brought down everyone.

Recently, VK Singh, the chief of Indian army is embarrassingly caught in a debate over fudging his date of birth. Madhavan Nair who led our mission to the moon, is being probed in several hundred million dollar deal between space organizations and a private co. We don’t have to discuss the slew of leaders who have fallen. Yeddyurappa, Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, Modi, Pawar. The list goes-Salman Khan, Sankarachariar, Nithyananda..The charges may be different on the image court, but the end result has been the same.

Why is the Indian hero falling suddenly? As a nation, don’t we make admirable and respectable heroes anymore? Contemporary India loves the ways of the financially successful and popular, over our time-tested values. It is possible that there could be a structural decay as Kalam indicates, that needs to be rebuilt through the school system.

But what about the media’s role in killing our heroes? We have hits driven internet and TRP driven media which exposes every move of potential heroes. When you mix our current leaders (be it Political or business) who have struggled to travel the train to success without tickets to finally reach the doors of leadership, with the sensation-hungry media and a TV-mad nation, we have a soap opera waiting to happen everyday.

The truth is, it is effectively impossible for anyone in India to live completely legally, i.e without breaking the laws at all. Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi who looked down on the ways of our politicians were themselves exposed in minor illegal/unethical acts. (To be fair, their acts were in no way comparison to those they were complaining against). So far, our media has not degraded as western media to expose a fashion faux pas or a public nose-picking. But I feel safe that the Indian media will cover that gap very soon.

Also building the image of a leader requires certain amount of secrecy, certain amount of myth building or branding. This worked well for Nehru or Indira or Rajiv. The information about our earlier heroes were carefully leaked or published by their PR agents. It is indeed impossible to maintain secrecy or do selective brand communication, when you are covered by camera all the time. If you are not a rare commodity, who would think you are special? I suspect even JFK’s fame graph would have been like Clinton’s, if he had faced media and technology of our times.

To be contd..