Revisiting Charles Dickens’ Hard Times: Narendra Modi and the myth of a self-made man

Revisiting Charles Dickens’ Hard Times: Narendra Modi and the myth of a self-made man

The rhetoric of ‘if a chai wallah can become the PM why can’t you?’ is dishonest on several counts.

Written by Swati Saxena | Updated: May 3, 2016 12:50 pm

BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Chief Minister Narendra Modi is interacting with common men as part of his "Chai Pe Charcha" programme from a tea stall, opposite to Karnavati Club on SG Highway in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. Express Photo by Javed Raja. 12.02.2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a good example of someone who uses his tea seller origins story to his political advantage and the people lap it up, even though no official records exist to show that he was indeed one. File/Express Photo/Javed RajaCharles Dickens describes Mr Josiah Bounderby, a rich merchant and a banker, of the fictional town of Coketown of industrial England thus:

“A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the bully of humility.”

Mr Bounderby claims to have been born in abject poverty, abandoned by his family and his ultimate boast lies in the fact that he is a self-made man, “with nobody to thank for my being here, but myself.” From the position of this dubious distinction Bounderby feels morally obligated to blame the poor for their poverty and hopes his rags to riches story serves as a reminder of what a man can achieve through hard work and determination. The story would have been interesting and inspirational indeed, as is often the case in literature and real life, expect that it is false. It is revealed at the end of the novel that Bounderby was never abandoned by his loving mother, indeed he had forbidden her from contact to protect his mythic origins story, and was brought up though not extravagantly, but still comfortably with abundance of books and food.

Dickens variously describes Bounderby as a ‘bully of humility’ and a self-made humbug. Bounderby serves as an example of a man very rare in literature but plenty in real life. A man, who lives on the myth of self-aggrandisement, achieved

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