In early January of 2020, Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain of the Indian Test cricket team, tweeted a picture of himself consuming vada pav, the famous Maharashtrian snack. Along with the picture, he posted an anodyne question for his followers. “How do you like your vada pav? 1. Vada pav with chai, 2. Vada pav with chutney, 3. Just Vada pav,” Rahane wrote. Sachin Tendulkar, his Marathi compatriot, responded promptly. “I like my Vada Pav with red chutney, very little green chutney & some imli chutney to make the combination even better,” he tweeted in reply.
At the time of this exchange, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act had been roiling the country for more than a month. Throughout this period, Tendulkar had been conspicuous by his silence. The silence had been predictable and, in a sense, his interaction with Rahane was emblematic of Tendulkar’s personality. While the country’s secular future felt at stake, compelling even many otherwise reticent luminaries to speak out, Tendulkar was occupied with the mundane and the banal.
In his book How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, the historian Frank Dikotter underlined the concept of common subordination. “There were many strategies for a dictator to claw his way to power and get rid of his rivals,” Dikotter wrote. “There were bloody purges, there was manipulation, there was divide and rule to name only a few. But in the long run the cult of personality was the most efficient.” Dikotter noted that “the cult debased allies and rivals alike, forcing them to collaborate through common subordination. Most of all, by compelling them to acclaim him before the others, a dictator turned everyone into a liar.”