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The idea of ​​charisma and the case of Narendra Modi

The idea of ​​charisma and the case of Narendra Modi


IIndia is in the middle of a Lok Sabha election. Pre-poll surveys carried out by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in pole position despite economic distress. The BJP is banking on its governance record and hopes to secure a greater number of seats in the southern and eastern states this time. But he is counting above all on his popular candidate for the post of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Over the past decade, apart from its cocktail of development and Hindutva and its publicity blitz, the BJP has always relied on Mr. Modi to attract votes. In this article we examine sociologist Max Weber's classification of authority, particularly his idea of ​​charismatic authority, and its attractions and dangers, with the example of Mr. Modi.

Types of authority

Weber distinguished between traditional authority, rational-legal authority, and charismatic authority. His tripartite classification has received classic status in political science, political sociology, and behavioral psychology. His writings on charismatic authority have particularly influenced and shaped theories of modern leadership.

Weber wrote that order is based on two polar principles of social organization: norms and authority. He defined norms as rules of conduct towards which actors direct their behavior, while the essence of authority lies in the relationship between actors in which the orders of some are considered binding by others.

Traditional authority refers to authority that arises from centuries-old customs, habits, or sanctified practices. This means that standards generate leaders. People obey the leader because they are socialized to do so and because such obedience has guaranteed stability and social order in the past. Patriarchy is the best example of this type of authority. Throughout the world and over generations, the father of the family or the oldest male member of the family has been considered the head. Descent and inheritance are through the male line. Girls take their father's name as their last name and women take that of their husband. In India, in some Marathi and Sindhi communities, grooms rename brides as part of wedding rituals. This example of traditional authority, i.e. patriarchy, has extended beyond the family unit and into society. This is because it is so ingrained in our psyche that it is often difficult to question or challenge it.

The second type is rational-legal authority, which arises from legal norms (as opposed to traditional norms). Those who exercise rational and legal authority can be chosen in different ways, for example through elections (ministers) or review (bureaucrats).

The third type is charismatic authority. Weber defined charisma as a gift on the basis of which a person is treated as a leader. The person is perceived by the majority as possessing supernatural, superhuman or at least especially exceptional powers or qualities. This means that the leader generates the standards, unlike traditional authority structures where the opposite is true.

It is important to note here that these three types of authority are referred to as ideal types. Weber spoke of it in pure terms. However, as we all know, authority systems in the real world are often a mixture of these elements. A priest, for example, may derive authority both from tradition and from his own personality traits and also be required to act within certain legal norms.

Modis' charisma

Leaders, whether political, religious, or military, who derive their authority from their charisma share an intense personal connection with their loyal followers. Weber writes: “The eternal new, the non-routine, the unheard of and the emotional rapture that results from it are sources of personal devotion. The purest types are the reign of the prophet, the warrior hero, the demagogue.

This brings us to the question: Is Mr. Modi a charismatic leader? Not everyone may agree with this statement, but it is the essence of Weber's theory: charisma is what is perceived; it's subjective. Since the Prime Minister's campaigns attract thousands of people, every pre-election and post-election poll since 2014 has recorded his immense popularity, and his supporters believe that he is heroic, that he possesses the power of mind and speech and is capable of extraordinary actions such as stopping the war in Gaza or single-handedly preventing black money from circulating in the economy, he can be described as charismatic. In fact, his hold on part of the population is such that many consider him a messiah; these are the blind supporters whom the Prime Minister's critics disparagingly call Modi Bhakts. Mr. Modi can also be called a demagogue: he frequently appeals to the desires of ordinary people, is quick to use lies to win votes, and seems to believe he is bigger than the party or the government. This is of course not to say that those who vote for the BJP are doing so solely because of Mr. Modi's cult of personality, but that it is an important factor that cannot be ignored. Dedication to a leader is more the product of passion than intellect; it is a belief in the so-called extraordinary powers of leaders.

Charismatic leaders often emerge in times of great need for change. Mr. Modi's rise can be attributed to several factors, but chief among them was the country's weariness with Congress-led rule and the numerous allegations of corruption that had hit the previous Progressive Alliance government united.

Shortcomings of charismatic authority

However, as Weber writes, charismatic authority in its purest form never lasts long. It is inherently unstable since it relies on the unique qualities of a particular individual; it cannot be transferred to anyone else. Any failure that calls into question the extraordinary character of charismatic leadership instantly weakens it.

Charismatic authority can be used to bring about positive change. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are good examples. Their charisma was rooted in ethics and morality. However, this type of authority can also be misused, as we saw in the cases of Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler.

Charismatic leadership can be dangerous not only because of the way leaders abuse their charisma, but also when their followers abandon rational thinking and accept ideas uncritically. In 2012, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote that charismatic leaders tend to become dependent on the unconditional approval of their followers. This mutual dependence leads both parties to distort reality. In an article from harvard business review, Vergauwe et al wrote about how having too much charisma can harm a leader's effectiveness. Confident leaders can become overconfident and narcissistic, constantly seeking attention and acting in a fanciful manner, qualities of which Mr. Modi has often been accused.

The abuse of charismatic leadership naturally tends to be observed more in non-democratic societies than in democratic societies. However, even in democratic societies, charismatic authority can be abused first in fits and starts and then regularly as the institutions that control the leader weaken over time. In India, trust in the Election Commission, which failed to control hate speech during Lok Sabha campaigns, is at its lowest in years. In recent years, investigative agencies have been accused of pursuing charges, including dubious ones, only against the political opposition and its dissidents. A few years ago, some senior judges in the judicial system even expressed concern about political takeover of the institution. Recently, the Swedish V-Dem Institute called India an electoral autocracy.

This is not to say that charismatic authority cannot exist in democracies. History is full of examples that show this is possible. But it depends on the extent to which the leader can preserve his moral influence and the extent to which institutions can control these leaders.

Prime Minister Modi's aura can be seductive. But he is inherently unstable, and with power now so concentrated in his hands, it may even harm his own party's long-term prospects.




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