I, me, Modi: Is the ‘Illeist’ Prime Minister abnormal?

PM Modi is known to speak of himself in third person. Example: “If found guilty, Modi should be hanged in a public square”. The use of third person for oneself is known as Illeism but is that normal?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI)

NH Web Desk

P. Chidambaram has revived the discussion on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s habitual use of the third person for himself.

Earlier this week the former finance minister tweeted, “The Modi-centric rhetoric of Mr Modi is getting too tiresome and boring. Does not Mr Modi have anything to say except talk about himself? How many times will Mr Modi utter his own name in an election speech?”

He went on to add, “ Mr Modi's style of speaking has a name -- illeism. That's a little known word because it is a trait found only in a few people. Is illeism abnormal is a question that has been discussed in many research papers. It is certainly unusual if not abnormal.”

The word is defined as ‘ excessive use of the pronoun he especially in reference to oneself’ and even before he became Prime Minister, observers had taken note of this trait in Narendra Modi. Writing in May, 2014 writer and commentator Dilip Bobb wrote, “ …what is truly compelling is the references to himself in the third person. In many interviews and public speeches, his responses or statements are peppered with Modi will and Modi has said or Modi wants... It sounds quite discordant. Indian politicians generally avoid such references because it is so closely associated with the Royal ‘we ‘as in We are not amused.”

Bobb went on to mention, “According to Medical Daily, such people were more likely to be attention-seekers, striving to be heard amid the din and so full of self-confidence that the urge to stand taller than any potential rival or rivals becomes an obsession.”

Psychologists have an explanation. As one of them says, “it can actually be pretty helpful to the person doing it. Some people find that speaking in third person improves their self-esteem, their ability to perform well under stress, to manage their emotions more favorably, and to think through complex situations in a more rational and calm manner. Though it’s possible that speaking in third person may be a sign of a personality disorder, unless there are other significant symptoms, it’s not usually considered a tell-tale sign of one.”

Prime Minister Modi is actually in good company. US President Donald Trump and the former French President Charles de Gaulle are some of the more prominent leaders who have been associated with the trait. While most analysts point out that the trait is more common among confident, successful people, others disagree. They believe habitual illeism tends to signal rampant egoism, psychotic personality disorders or even a stunted growth.

However, in a singular departure in Varanasi the Prime Minister, claims a viral video, actually used the first person “I” to declare that he himself had gone into Pakistan to kill terrorists.

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