"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble."
Thus chanted the prescient witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, hailing the King who had blood on his hands!
Narendra Modi met astrologer Bejan Daruwala to get his palm read. The date is a mystery. Was it before he became prime minister or was it when he was but a chaiwallah? Apparently, Daruwala told him that the mounds on his palms proved that he was a man of 'great strength' and the future of the country lay in his hands.
Like Macbeth, did his going to a palmist make Modi any less ambitious or less hypocritical? For was it not Modi who attacked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for visiting a tantric? "Does Bihar need mantra-tantra or democracy?" he had asked cuttingly.
Modi's visit to the flamboyant palmist did not escalate into a raucous issue. Union Education Minister Smriti Irani's visit to the Bhilwara-based astrologer Pandit Nathulal Vyas in November 2014, who predicted that she will become the President of (G-d save!) the country, aroused a greater furore!
Whatever the noise levels about such visits, it has always been a way of life for India's rulers to look up to soothsayers and the stars, or down into the entrails of disemboweled animals to know what the future holds!
Rulers too are but human and need stroking like dogs or kittens. Most soothsayers are in the business of stroking. The witches wielded a double-edged sword. Their flattery of Macbeth was derision laced with the certainty of his downfall.
Modi is no different from the rulers of 'modern' India who preceded him. Even a hardboiled 'modernist' like the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had his moment of weakness. He "hated many of the things which most Hindus hold dear—cow worship, subordinate status for women, temples, sadhus, astrology and caste." But in 'Nehru's Letters to His Sister', edited by Krishna Hutheesing, letter numbered 74, written on 29.8.1944 has Nehru advising his daughter Indira to cast a "proper horoscope" of his grandson (Rajiv) by "a competent person"!
Indira herself had an almost hapless faith in soothsayers, godmen, shrines and the like. Two godmen – Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswamy – had undue influence in Teen Murti House. Both became power brokers in Delhi, like the hard-drinking, womanising starets Rasputin had in the court of Tsar Nicholas because of his hypnotic influence over Tsarina Alexandra who had a haemophiliac son. In the end, Rasputin had to die and the Tsardom collapse.
The tantric Chandraswamy was the Indian equivalent of Rasputin. The MC Jain commission report in 1998 dedicated an entire volume to his alleged involvement in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao even appointed an official astrologer, NK Sharma, who also served as his political advisor. Dr Manmohan Singh, perhaps because he is a Sikh, is not known to have bothered about tantriks and soothsayers.
India has for yugas been the land of superstition and tantrism. Few Indian rulers have been able to exorcise themselves of the need to be surrounded by godmen, tantriks and other charlatans. The BJP, RSS and VHP are awash with, as artist Orijit Sen puts it, 'pre-modern' cadres who bow low before sadhus, sants and godmen like Sri Sri Ravishankar, Asaram Bapu, Amma and Baba Ramdev.
The BJP's political history is rife with superstitious leaders and practices. In 1967, Jan Sangh leaders wanted to cast the horoscope of the party to know how it would fare in the general elections. Jagadish Prasad Dwivedi, a senior Jan Sangh leader wrote on this matter: "When I told Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya the purpose for which I wanted the information he said, "We are men who believe in work and our own efforts. It is harmful to put one's trust in astrology."
It is a contradiction that Modi, a disciple of Pandit Deendayal, should consult a palmist-astrologer. He might have heard good news concerning himself from Bejan Daruwala. But he may yet rue the day he meets another oracle who, like the Witch of Endor to Saul or the soothsayer to Julius Ceasar, will declare doom.
In that day, let Modi not make the mistake Caesar did, in his self-assurance and arrogance of power, of doubting the oracle who spoke of the 'ides of March' and responded: "He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass."
[Disclaimer: The writer is a senior journalist with IBT. This article reflects the writer's personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of IBTimes India.]