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Indian minister named after Stalin bans colleagues from praising him in public

MK Stalin, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has taken a different approach to his predecessors, who enjoyed devotion from their followers


Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality was an integral feature of his lengthy rule, but an Indian politician named after the Russian dictator has objected to public praise from a colleague.

MK Stalin, the chief minister of Indian Tamil Nadu, responded furiously in parliament on Saturday when a member of his DMK party stood up to make a speech, praising his work.

“I have already instructed DMK members to not praise me, and that I will take action against them if they do,” he told his party. “The members should use the allocated time judiciously.”

In a political culture where fawning servility is a key feature, the reprimand left his fellow politicians flummoxed. Such words are never heard in India, least of all in a state where for decades it has been the norm for leaders to enjoy devotion from their followers.

One of the chief minister’s predecessors, Jayaram Jayalalithaa, was treated like a goddess during her term in office. Not content with genuflecting, her followers prostrated themselves at her feet.

Leaders have huge plywood cut-outs placed all over the state. Supporters have chopped off their fingers, cut out their tongues, nailed themselves to crosses, and walked on hot coals to demonstrate their adoration. There have also been instances of followers committing suicide if a leader falls ill or has a serious accident.

Stalin’s name is a legacy of the past admiration that Indian politicians felt for the Soviet Union when it was India’s closest ally. When communism was discredited in the West following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Indian politicians retained their belief in it and continued naming their sons Pravda, Lenin, Brezhnev, Khruschev, or Trotsky.

This Stalin, however, seems to be cut from a different cloth from his Soviet namesake — though it is not yet clear if his no-praise order pertains only to the confines of parliament.

“He has seen the excesses of unsophisticated hero-worship of Jayalalithaa,” Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, an author, and political analyst said. “He is a new generation. He knows that crude ways of praising a leader do not help.”

Stalin is also striking a more conciliatory note with his opponents. When Jayalalithaa attended parliament, her bitter rival M Karunanidhi, Stalin’s father, stayed away, and vice versa, to avoid eye contact.

In contrast, Stalin has reached out to his rivals. He has even managed some small talk and smiles.

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