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The menace of the solitary dictator

The personality profile of tyrants is a stereotype with a few variations in the scope of their cruelty. They are mesmerising orators.

Published: 13th March 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th March 2022 08:04 AM   |  A+A-

Adolf Hitler(File Photo | AP)

Adolf Hitler(File Photo | AP)

It is lonely at the top. It is also the height of arrogance. Until the dictator, overcome by the vertigo of paranoia, sycophantic platitudes, misinformation and ruthlessness, makes miscalculations and topples himself from his Olympus of Evil. He has been betrayed by delusions of divinity. Hitler ultimately was. Honecker, Batista, Duvalier, Imre Nagy, Mohamed Morsi, Hosni Mubarak et al were. So will Putin be, sooner or later.

The personality profile of tyrants is a stereotype with a few variations in the scope of their cruelty. They are mesmerising orators. They are charismatic and jingoistic. They are surrounded by terrified toadies who tell them only what they wish to hear. They refuse to be questioned. They thrive on threats of enemies they have created. Genocide is a given on their watch.

Exulting in their image as reformers and nationalists, modern dictators initially start out as the darlings of the world, only to turn into villains soon. Karzai was one. So are Erdogan and Assad. There were also non-apologists who cared little about global PR—historical despots Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and General Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled using state terror.

The same holds true today of China’s Xi Jinping. North Korea’s Kim and the Philippines’s Duterte. Ideology and nationalism are their weapons of subjugation and their raison d’etre for persecution of dissenters. The police are their personal army. They convert security agencies into instruments of intimidation. They debase the judiciary and the press. They recast themselves as mythical heroes of an ethnic past. And they lash out wildly when their ambitions are thwarted.

As the Russian military, economy and policies teeter on the brink of collapse, in the words of his puppet and fanboy Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, Putin is bound to his fate. “This hamster wheel keeps spinning, and there is no escaping it. If you stop, it will keep moving and throw you back. This is a mode of life. I am used to it,” he wrote to justify his iron-fisted 28 years in power. History’s black humour is evident in dictatorships—Hitler, Mussolini, Erdogan of Turkey, Ortega of Nicaragua and more were elected; though elections are either rigged or altogether banned later so that they can hope to rule for life.

Modern dictators are primarily economic products, empowered and propped up by major world powers and corporations, respectively keen for a geopolitical strategic edge and hungry for resources. The paradox of democracy is that the West supported tyrants in South America, West Asia and Africa. But racism plays a part in profiling tyrants; the white man’s burden applies to human horror too. The Nazis made lampshades and luxury handbags from the skin of Jews and babies they murdered in concentration camps. But Hitler lives on through neo-Nazis, KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood, including even in Ukraine.

He even has a fringe fan club in India, whose besotted members little realise they would be the first to be gassed in concentration camps for being the Nazi idea of an inferior race—not blonde and blue-eyed. Uganda’s Idi Amin cooked and ate the flesh of his foes and kept their heads in his refrigerator.

The irony is inescapable. The tyrants of the older centuries like Genghis Khan, Aurangzeb, Attila and Nero were the forerunners of today’s who are enabled by technology. “The worst is yet to come,” said France’s Emmanuel Macron after a terrifying conversation with cornered Putin. The Russian autocrat has threatened the world with nuclear war. It could be his end. But it could be the end of the world, as we know it, too.

Ravi Shankar

ravi@newindianexpress.com



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  • Parveen K Chopra

    Good one
    3 months ago reply
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