The Languages of Democratic Decline in India

This interdisciplinary project explores the effects of political language on democracy when it transitions to authoritarianism. Speeches by politicians, media houses and opinion-makers are often believed to be innocuous. Yet they shape citizens’ behaviors, manifest power relations and construct realities we live in.
By using digital humanities and machine learning tools on a newly constituted archive of political speeches since the late 19th century, we will examine how public discourses encode India’s gradual renunciation of its liberal democratic commitments to equal individual rights. We parallelly propose to explore speech-making ethnographically from the standpoint of political leaders and political advisory. We will examine how the authoritarian and populist discourse helps constructing a positive system of values around anti-democratic politics by investigating discursive themes of democratic decline. We will probe whether authoritarianism speaks the unlikely rhetoric of peace, populism of sainthood and Islamophobia of unity. We aim at showing that languages of leadership retain core components of populism and authoritarianism worldwide—such as anti-elitism and extreme power centralization. We will suggest that this discourse could proliferate in India by acquiring strong vernacular overtones. Grounded in the intellectual history of political Hinduism, it would flaunt attributes such as irenism (nonviolence), pietism (religiosity), organicism (harmony) and distributive politics (targeted welfarism).


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