Bharatiya Janata Party supporters in West Bengal in 2021. Discourse and visuality played a key role in the politics of Narendra Modi, as is evident from a 2012 election campaign where he invited supporters to wear masks of his face, as if to say: “We are all Narendra Modi”. Photo: IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency.
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters in West Bengal in 2021. Discourse and visuality played a key role in the politics of Narendra Modi, as is evident from a 2012 election campaign where he invited supporters to wear masks of his face, as if to say: “We are all Narendra Modi”. Photo: IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency.

The enduring personality cult of Narendra Modi

The formula for the Indian prime minister’s brand of populism was developed in Gujarat, a “laboratory for Hindu nationalism”

Excerpted with permission from Gujarat Under Modi: Laboratory of Today’s India by Christophe Jaffrelot (Hurst Publishers, February 2024). The text has been edited for clarity.

Narcissism, image-building and populism

The iconographic material on which Bharatiya Janata Party propaganda and the Gujarat state government’s communications were based portrayed Narendra Modi’s image constantly. This also reflected his narcissistic inclination. Indeed, Modi has a very high opinion of himself. When the journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay asked why he was so good at conceiving original ideas, he responded: “I think it is probably a God-gifted ability.” This was perfectly in tune with his reference to himself as not fully present in the mundane, everyday world.

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