SAPT discussion group: The Cult of the Boss

Conveners: Udit Bhatia and Amogh Dhar Sharma

Speaker: Lucia Michelutti

In North India, political “bosses” have created systems of economic and political governance which are popularly referred to with vernacular terms such as ‘Mafia Raj’, ‘Goonda Raj’ and ‘Mastangiri’ – rule by mafia, or rule by gangsters. Drawing on ethnographic material collected in western Uttar Pradesh, this paper explores what the presence of bosses on the Indian political scene tells us about ‘democratic authoritarianism’ in South Asia and beyond. This paper suggests that looking at the morphology of small-scale bosses’ authority in provincial North India has the potential to shed some light on the symbiotic relations between democratic processes and violent entrepreneurial styles of political leadership, which may in turn help to understand the rising global appreciation for leaders who cultivate a boss-like attitude like Putin, Erdogan, Modi and Trump or the late Chavez.

About the Speaker:
Lucia Michelutti is a Professor of Anthropology at University College London. She is interested in the ethnographic study of popular democracy, violence, crime and politics as well as cultures of leadership, authority and masculinity. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in North India (Uttar Pradesh) and has worked in Venezuela and on South Asia in comparative contexts. She is the author of ‘The vernacularisation of democracy: politics, caste and religion in contemporary India’ (Routledge 2008).