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The spectacular and performative aspects of the Modi government

ECAF Fellowship report from Dr. Simona Vittorini, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS University of London


ECAF Centre: New Delhi

I was awarded a BASAS/BA/ECAF fellowship to research into the spectacular and performative politics of Mr Modi's government. The proposed research project intended to provide critical insight into Narendra Modi's government spectacular political practices.

Since his election in 2014, many acts of Mr Modi's government – swearing in ceremonies, appointments of new personnel, assertion of authority, launch and implementation of new policies – have taken a highly staged form, making use of hyper-visible ritualised forms of communication, of key cultural symbols and of performative acts. At the heart of this project is the belief in the importance of performative and spectacular expressions of power. These acts not only create consensus and legitimise the government and its actions, but they ultimately also usher in new authoritative understandings of the nation and of nationhood. The award allowed me to spend around 7 weeks in New Delhi.

The purpose of the trip was twofold: to conduct empirical analysis of the various public and spectacular events of the Modi Government and to identify their essential components (forms of spectacle, repertoires, ritual topography, agents).

The length of my stay in India made it possible for me to:

  • Start building a database of the performative acts of this government from Modi’s swearing in ceremony onward (including policy launches, inaugurations, commemorations, official national holidays etc).
  • Participate (when possible) to the government’s performative acts of governance
  • Identify key players and ritual producers and interview them when possible
  • Interact with members of the press and of the academic community, with current and retired politicians both from the BJP and opposition parties
  • Expand my already established network of Delhi-based contacts

Particularly useful was the possibility of breaking my trip in two. Not only I was able to attend what has possibly been Mr Modi's most spectacular diplomatic event but also to follow up questions and issues that I had not had the chance to investigate during the first stay.

At the moment I am in the process of writing a journal article titled ‘Staging Politics – Performative Governance and Narendra Modi’s Government’. I am also scheduled to deliver a presentation of a paper based on the work carried out in India for the SOAS Department of Politics Research Seminar in Term 2.