Righteous Demagogues

With Pradeep K. Chhibber. Oxford University Press, forthcoming February 2024.

Righteous Demagogues: Populist Politics in South Asia and Beyond explores the causes, dynamics and consequences of populist politics, in South Asia and beyond. It argues that populist mobilizations are rooted in crises of representation, and populism is a symptom not an underlying cause of democratic malaise. Populist leaders, in framing their appeals, evoke the moral contract – that states are obligated to redress certain types of inequality – and promise its restoration, in ways that resonate with voters across lines of partisanship and social divisions, leading party system change. Depending on how broadly populist appeals resonate, different types of populism emerge, with consequences ranging from the rejection of populists to varying forms of democratic backsliding.


Righteous Demagogues explores the dynamics of populist politics primarily through four cases in South Asia. In the late 1960s, Indira Gandhi in India and Zulfiqar Bhutto in Pakistan effected reordering populist mobilizations on the left, against the de facto oligarchic regimes of the Congress party and the Ayub Khan government, mobilizing workers, peasants and the nascent middle classes against widespread exclusion and inequity. In the mid-2010s, Narendra Modi and Imran Khan effected additive populist mobilizations of the right, mobilizing diverse middle classes across India and Pakistan respectively against perceived corruption and inequity. The book applies the framework and typology to explain the causes, dynamics and consequences of populism in Latin America, Europe and the United States.