DOI: 10.1177/01634437231214200 ISSN: 0163-4437

Between the divine and digital: Parsing Modi’s charismatic avatar

Swapnil Rai
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Communication

This article explores the production of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s saintly charismatic avatar and the mediations of this avatar that seek to bestow him with exceptional authority. It shows how Modi’s avatar is being incarnated along three intersecting axes. The first axis comprises the broader historical, cultural and religious discursive frameworks that construct Modi as an incarnate charismatic leader. It focuses on his strategic invocation of Mahatma Gandhi through political and persona branding. Next, it unveils how Modi’s charismatic avatar is shaped through embodied performances and the management of bodily optics. Finally, it analyzes the platforming of Modi’s charismatic avatar, which takes place through organized public relations machinery operating in digital realms. Together, these mediations work to advance a Moditva-oriented populist politics that promotes ideological salvation for the nation via a leader whose persona and authority are conceptualized in divine terms undermining the pluralist and inclusive tenets of the Hindu religion.

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