The culture of extravagant flattery

The culture of extravagant flattery

The culture of extravagant flattery


At a time when singing praises to please the boss has become the established norm in all professions, especially politics, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has sounded like a fool for many.

­At a time when singing praises to please the boss has become the established norm in all professions, especially politics, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has sounded like a fool for many. His diktats to the ruling party legislators against showering praises and singing panegyrics has come as a pleasant surprise. Can we imagine politics without sycophancy?

Dev Kant Borooah, in 1974, showed the world the power of the political encomium when he penned the stanzas: ' Indira tere subah ki jai, Indira tere sham ki jai, Indira tere kaam ki jai, Indira tere naam ki jai, Indira is India, India is Indira'. Isn't it musical? Thanks to the heaping of lavish praises, the Assam Congress leader turned out to be the blue-eyed boy and the right-hand man of the madam. He was elevated to the party chief position during the infamous Emergency. It is a different story that Borooah, a noted poet, later parted ways with her and joined Congress (Urs).

Taking a cue from Borooah's ilk, many Congress leaders used sycophancy as a stepping stone to success. It indeed worked wonders. Many of those who mastered the art of flattery rose in the party ranks with a meteoric speed and rewarded with attractive ministerial berths, irrespective of their strength and capability. Some of the finest leaders were sidetracked or ignored as they failed to impress the top leadership. Even today, the mad eulogy race is still on in Congress party. Invoking Hindu mythology, some leaders likened Sonia Gandhi to "Durga Mata."

The leaders of BJP, an offshoot of RSS, were away from this hailing business but of late the high command is happily enjoying praises. The BJP leaders are competing with the grand old party in building personality cult. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is projected as a leader with 'chhappan inch ki chhati' (56-inch chest), a metaphor for superman. He seems to be relishing this macho image that his bhakts made for him. "Several governments came and went, several Prime Ministers came and went, no one had the courage to abrogate Article 370. But, the man with the 56-inch chest scrapped it in one go," the Home Minister Amit Shah said in public meetings. Local BJP leaders too use this 56 inches measurement in their applauses to Modi. Going by the saffron brigades claims, 'Rambo' Sylvester Stallone and 'Terminator' Arnold Schwarzenegger fall 6 and 12 inches short of Modi's flaunted 56, respectively. You see, the surreal praises are always hyperboles and they go beyond unbelievable exaggeration.

The most powerful non-verbal flattering is, touching the feet, known as 'charan sparsha.' Barring the leaders and activities of Communist parties, all politicians made it a norm in public life. Regional parties have taken the 'hail the leader' practice to a new height. Bending, crawling and prostrating would happen in front of the CM and his son. With the foray of film personalities, habitual sycophants, into politics, this practice got institutionalized.

Tamil Nadu leaders made it a point to prostrate before the former Chief Minister Late Jayalalithaa to show their devotion and loyalty. Her bete noire, Karunanidhi, Stalin's father, too was not averse to this practice of too much obedience and reverence. Our own NT Rama Rao too had a soft-corner for those who considered him as a God or supernatural power.

Had Jaya or NTR given preference to talent instead of entertaining sycophants, the climax of their lives would have been different. Politicians and film stars used to touch the feet of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. The list of leaders who are mighty pleased by such acts is too big in politics. Birthdays of the key leaders provide the best occasion for loyalists to show their respect, love and loyalty, albeit with an eye on future benefits. In addition to erecting huge cutouts all along thoroughfares, the followers of these leaders organise blood donation camps and distribute food at orphanages and old-age homes to get into the good books of the leadership.

The Telangana Chief Minister KCR is praised as "the Father of Telangana," "Telangana Gandhi", "Apara Bagaaradha" and so on by his fans and cadres. Going forward, some seasoned leaders now-and-then liken him to God. For instance, Malla Reddy, a minister in the State cabinet, leaves all inhibitions behind to heap superfluous praises on CM. He used the same lingo to praise his then boss Chandrababu Naidu. There is no dearth of such politicians now.

Apparently, a cult of babus has sprung up in Telangana to join the bandwagon. A district Collector's magnanimous gesture of touching CM's feet in full public glare raised many eyebrows. Of course, now the dilemma of other Collectors and officials is whether to emulate this gentleman or not.

A sweet letter penned by a media mogul to KTR, who is propagated as the future CM, to mark his 45th birthday in July this year, attracted brickbats than bouquets. The birthday boy was hailed as "the new generation leader," "blessed with rare leadership qualities and extraordinary conversation skills," "an epitome of the qualities of the best lot of leaders," and so on. The parting words must have made KTR's birthday something very special: "Your humanitarian gesture is laudable and it is not an exaggeration to say that no other young leader in the country is a parallel to you. Our nation needs young leaders like you." Right words at right place, right?


Ingratiate oneself through obsequious behaviour is as old as human history. Courts used to appoint people with the gift of gab only to praise the king in unequivocal adjectives. A section of people grew up showing their submissiveness, by saying 'Nee banchan, kaalmokkuta' (I am your slave, I will touch your feet) to the rulers or close to the power centres.

Everyone makes a wimpish attempt to curry favour with the new bosses or people with wealth and power. A minimum dose of flattery may be bearable but an excessive, out of proportion praising, bordering bootlicking, looks nasty and vulgar. The words of praise are music to the ear for the receiver and they are readily met with an effervescent smile.

The culture of flattery has crept into the corporate world too. Social media posts by employees on CEOs and other key figures of various companies tell the story well. Realistic leaders, a miniscule minority, would feel embarrassed by the praises from their subordinates while a majority of others enjoy it to the core.

Praise is always sweeter and highly effective at workplace. It is clear that bosses, irrespective of their integrity, toughness or professionalism, would succumb to praises and eulogy is working on the ground.

Abraham Lincoln righty pointed out that "knavery and flattery are blood relations" but there are no takers of these pearls of wisdom in this highly competitive world. Career-centric people are finding innovative ways to please bosses. Those who praise are taken under the wings and considered for elevation by the higher-ups, much to the chagrin of the real performers.

Be it in politics, corporates, universities, government offices or any other workplaces, the culture of excessive flattery has many dangerous. Besides demoralizing the real professionals and spoiling the career opportunities of sincere employees, the flatterers create ill-atmosphere at workplace. Committed professionals, who love to focus on their work and performance, remain clueless now.

'Sir' for male and 'madam' for female, the honorifics we inherited from colonial rule, reverberate everywhere in India. Subordinates repeat 'sir' many times (sir, sir, sir, sir..) to show their obedience and submission. If you fail to suffix 'sir' or 'madam' to your boss' name, they feel slighted and this 'disrespect and indiscipline' may cost you heavily.

In this backdrop, I am particularly pleased by the decision of the Mathur gram panchayat in Kerala's Palakkad district to ban the use of salutations like 'sir' and 'madam' to mark the 75th Independence Day. Either in oral or written communication, why should we address every Tom, Dick and Harry with 'sir' salutation?

Our political parties and public establishments should emulate Stalin and Mathur respectively for a better civilised society.

(The author, a PhD in Communication and Journalism, is a senior journalist, journalism educator and communication consultant)

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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