Jean-Thomas Martelli speaks on “Deenbandhu? Populism, commonness and mimesis: a computational study of Indian political speeches”, organised by King’s College London on 12 October 2021
Jean-Thomas Martelli, head researcher of the ‘Politics, History & Society’ area of CSH, will address the students of Kings College of London on ” Deenbandhu? Populism, commonness and mimesis: a computational study of Indian political speeches” on Tuesday, 12 October 2021 at 18:00 to 20:00.
Minimal understandings of populism focus on measuring explicit stances of anti-elitism. This presentation claims that the study of populism also requires taking in account implicit anti-elitism, in which the leader’s commonness is flaunted. 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 discourses—including the speeches of eleven Prime Ministers—to proxy such identifications, the paper argues that populist politicians rely on mimesis of the putative people as a metaphor of the majority. Three core mimetic speech-items are quantified: intimacy, disintermediation and simplicity. A replicable corpus-contextual multi-word collocation technique is used 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. Using this context-aware method, I suggest that Modi’s performance of commonness—particularly in his radio shows Mann ki baat—is grounded in the familiar figure of gurus, spirituality teachers and other parastatal religious figures. Such appropriation enables Modi to command a form of pastoral power, through recasting him as a relatable counsellor, a deenbandhu (friend of the poor) irrupting into our dincharya, our personal everyday life