Populism as Mimetic Representation in Narendra Modi's Speeches

Jean-Thomas Martelli, Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi


Minimal understandings of populism focus on measuring explicit stances of anti-elitism. This essay suggests that the study of populism also requires taking in account implicit anti-elitism. Expressed through performances of ‘layman-likeness’, it enables populist politicians to dissociate from traditional ruling elites while enabling people-leaders' identifications. Using a novel 123-million word dataset of Indian political discoursesโ€”including the speeches of eleven Prime Ministersโ€”to proxy such identifications, we argue that populist leaders rely on a mimesis of the putative people as a metaphor of the majority. Three core mimetic speech-items are quantified: intimacy, disintermediation and simplicity. We use a replicable corpus-contextual multi-word collocation technique to populate lexicons of pre-tested psychometric profiles as well as a four-fold validation method. The analysis finds that current PM Narendra Modi communicates mimetic identification around his ubiquitous persona, indexing his stylistic, ideological and institutional populist politics.