Substate populism and the challenge to the center in Kyrgyzstan and India
(Virginia Military Institute)
Vera Heuer (Virginia Military Institute)
While a full definition of populism remains contested, there is near consensus that one of the core components of a minimal definition involves a bifurcation between "the elite" and "the people", in which the former are critiqued for their treatment and/or neglect of the latter. Most of the flowering literature on populism has focused on national level dynamics, whereby populist leaders seek to displace national leaders in the name of "the people." In this paper, we explore the utility of the populist concept to account for substate dynamics in which populist speech is used to critique the interference of national elites in local politics for harming the interests of the rightful local "people." Specifically, we investigate the concept of substate populism through a comparison of the frames used in both Central and South Asian contexts. Specifically, we compare the post-crisis survival frames utilized by Narendra Modi while the chief minister of the state of Gujarat in India and Melis Myrzakmatov while the mayor of the independent city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. During Modi's and Myrzakmatov's respective tenures, Gujarat and Osh experienced deadly ethnic riots resulting in national and international scrutiny of their pre-riot provocations as well as their post-riot development plans. We demonstrate that in both cases Modi and Myrzakmatov utilized substate populist rhetoric to articulate local resentments and maintain popular support, promote sweeping development programs, and delegitimize external efforts to promote post-conflict reconciliation. In other words, Modi and Myrzakmatov utilized populist discourse to reinforce local claims of sovereignty in the face of challenges from the center. In order to gain a fuller appreciation of the various dimensions of substate populism, we then compare these post-crisis frames to those utilized by local elites during quotidian periods. We argue that scholars and policymakers alike should account for the potential for substate populism to exacerbate centrifugal dynamics, especially in post-crisis moments, such as ethnic riots.
Politics and Identity in Kyrgyzstan