• Biographies of two politicians – separated by eighty years

    Sumanta Banerjee

    September 27, 2018

    September 17, 2018 was the sixty-eighth birthday of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on which occasion a new edition of a 670 page coffee table biography was released. Entitled ‘Narendra Modi – A Charismatic and Visionary Statesman,’ it is co-authored by an Indian, Dr. Adish C. Aggarwala, and an English woman, Sarah J. Marchington. It was first published in 2015 by UK Publishers and Distributors Ltd. London. The book is peppered with photographs of Modi in different stages of his life and in company with dignitaries. But what is interesting is that we get a glimpse of Modi’s private life style in his present residence in Delhi. The authors reveal the “secret of Modi’s success” (surely with his permission) by tracing it to his “Satvik food, Yoga and Exercise.” Significantly, the foreword to the book is written by Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, followed by hagiographic compliments to Modi by several ministers of his cabinet. It can thus be regarded as the official biography of our present prime minister.

    While reading extracts from this biography of Narendra Modi’s, I was reminded of another biography written and published in Germany in 1932. Entitled ‘The Hitler Nobody Knows,’ it was a photo album by Heinrich Hoffman who was Hitler’s official photographer. The foreword was written by Baldur von Schirach, head of the Nazi youth outfit called Hitler Youth, who was also Hoffman’s son-in-law. In order to dilute the image of Hitler’s extreme anti-Semitism and violent activities by his followers, Schirach in his foreword recast Hitler through the vehicle of his private life, as a good man combining moral values in his political activities in public life as well as in his domestic sphere. Schirach wrote: “…two traits I think strongest in Adolf Hitler’s character: his strength and his goodness…”. He then described his daily discipline: “…He works amazingly hard. Not only does he head the enormous apparatus of the National Socialist Movement, he makes strenuous tours. Today he is in Konigsberg, tomorrow in Berlin, the next day in Munich, all this with a minimum of sleep, since the Fuhrer usually works into the early hours of the morning…..”

    Doesn’t this description sound like an anticipatory echo – to find resonance in the life-style of our prime minister ? His peripatetic lust for tours abroad has made him a butt of jokes in the social media where he is described as an `An NRI PM who visits India once in a while’ ! Further, he shares with his German predecessor the habit of “minimum of sleep. ” His biographers in their book quote Venkaiah Naidu (the present Vice-President of India) joking that Narendra Modi doesn’t sleep ! Elaborating on his sleeping style, they write: “…the Prime Minister is awake by 4 a.m….he retires for the day at 1 a.m.” In other words, Modi sleeps only for three hours. Both the biographers of Hitler and Modi eulogize their habit of “minimum of sleep” on the ground that they sacrifice the rest of their sleeping hours (that they should normally enjoy) to get awake in order to devote themselves to the service of the public.

    “Minimum of sleep” and its devastating consequences

    But such a claim that a politician’s habit of minimum sleep can help him/her to deliver goods to help the people, has been subjected to strict medical scrutiny. Lack of sleep can create a host of mental problems – disorientation, hallucinations and paranoia. (Re: Jill Thompson – `Surprising Link between Sleep Deprivation & Mental Illness (Psychosis),’ May 2, 2018, in https:// sleepadvisor.org ) . In fact, coming to think of it, both Hitler and Modi share the same three mental symptoms as identified by Jill Thompson.

    To start with disorientation, what could have been the worst example of it than the flip-flop over the Indo-Pak talks in September this year – with Modi promising to hold talks and within 24 hours retracting ? As for the next ailment, our prime minister seems to be under the delusionary hallucination of occupying the position of a high priest, pouring down blessings on his flock with the confetti of high-sounding names like Pradhan Mantri Dhan Yojana,’ Swach Bharat Abhiyan,’ Make in India,’ and other such slogans, along with his weekly monotonous harangues called Maan Ki Baat.’ But the more these hallucinatory messages are propagated, the more the people express their disillusionment with Modi’s promises. His response to popular protests betrays a sense of paranoia. Scared of losing his popularity, he re-invents himself as a victim – a victim of imaginary anti-national plots by so-called `urban Naxalites’ who supposedly want to kill him.

    The deadly mix of these three mental problems in the psyche of a leader led to the rise and fall of Nazism in Germany ending with the leader himself committing suicide in a bunker. One hopes that such a disaster does not befall our country and its present leader.


    Sumanta Banerjee is a political and civil rights activist and social scientist.

    First published in Countercurrents.

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