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Modi Joins the Pantheon of God-Kings (With Predictably Mortal Endings)

As Modi seeks to secure a third term, invoking divine purpose may indeed rally his base. But let’s hope he’s paying close attention to the fates of his divine predecessors.

2 mins read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi [File Photo]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ever the charismatic orator, has taken his rhetoric to celestial heights. In a recent NDTV interview, Modi declared his conviction that he is a man on a divine mission. “You will find people who use the foulest abuses for me, and you will also find those who express good things. My duty is to ensure that those who express faith should not be hurt or disappointed,” Modi asserted, likely while the heavens opened up and celestial choirs sang in the background.

Modi’s belief that ‘Parmatma’ (God) has sent him for a purpose places him in a grand tradition of leaders who’ve either claimed divinity or had it thrust upon them by zealous followers. However, history is less kind than divine proclamations. The fates of these self-anointed deities are usually punctuated by dramatic downfalls, offering a cautionary tale for any mortal aspiring to divine status.

Consider Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. The self-proclaimed Emperor Bokassa I didn’t just dabble in divine imagery; he went full Apostle, declaring himself the 13th Apostle of Christ. His reign, however, was anything but holy. It ended in a spectacularly undivine manner—overthrown, tried for murder and cannibalism, and imprisoned. Bokassa’s life serves as a divine comedy of errors, proving that self-anointed apostles are not immune to mortal consequences.

Then there’s the Kim dynasty of North Korea. Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were elevated to near-deity status, with state propaganda attributing to them all manner of miraculous deeds. Kim Jong-il supposedly shot 11 holes-in-one in his first round of golf and controlled the weather with his moods. Despite their divine personas, the Kims lived isolated lives, their rule characterized by paranoia and brutality. Their supposed divinity did little to improve the desperate plight of their people, who worship them more out of fear than faith.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez didn’t outright claim to be a god, but he certainly didn’t shy away from messianic imagery. His followers depicted him as a Christ-like figure sent to save the poor. Yet, his rule ended with an economic catastrophe that plunged Venezuela into chaos. Chávez’s heavenly image didn’t save his country from a very hellish reality of hyperinflation and scarcity.

Francisco Franco of Spain, though not divine in his claims, was portrayed as a providential savior. His regime cultivated a personality cult that bordered on religious reverence. Franco managed to die peacefully in his bed, but his death marked the rapid dismantling of his cult. Spain eagerly shed the yoke of his dictatorial legacy, a clear reminder that earthly saviors have limited shelf lives.

Even the revered Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, seen as a god incarnate by Rastafarians, met an undignified end. Despite his divine status, he was deposed by a military coup and died under house arrest. His death underscored the harsh reality that divine titles offer little protection against political tides.

And now we have Narendra Modi, who joins this illustrious lineup with his assertion of a divine mandate. Modi’s belief that God has sent him for a purpose might inspire confidence among his supporters. However, if history is any guide, divine mandates are notoriously fickle. The gods, it seems, delight in bestowing favor only to withdraw it when their chosen ones falter.

As Modi seeks to secure a third term, invoking divine purpose may indeed rally his base. But let’s hope he’s paying close attention to the fates of his divine predecessors. For when politicians play gods, the outcome is often less heavenly ascension and more tragic downfall. Divine missions, after all, have a tendency to end in very human misery, their grand purposes eclipsed by the harsh light of reality.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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