Abstracts organised alphabetically by author
Voice without Choice: How parties of the marginalized succeed and fail in representing them
The popular attainment of representation by the marginalized is viewed as one of the greatest achievements of Indian democracy. Specifically, India’s Dalits, the world’s largest and longest marginalized group, have mobilized to form political parties and some of these parties have been electorally successful. Dalit parties are viewed as an embodiment of recognition and voice that Dalits were denied for centuries. But scholars have also lamented the failure of lower caste parties, including Dalit parties, to translate the benefits of the politics of recognition to the politics of redistribution. In this paper I will recount the benefits of the electoral representation of the marginalized and discuss the new forms of neglect the marginalized are exposed to by the electoral success of their parties. In doing so, I will dwell on how the different forms of mobilization of the marginalized impact their quality of representation, in particular effects of welfare policies directed at them.
What do descriptive representatives describe? Minority representative claims in the 2014 election campaign
How do minority candidates reach out to a mixed electorate in contexts of majoritarian nationalism? Building on the recent constructivist turn in representation, in particular, the notion of the representative claim, this paper seeks to extend its theoretical and empirical scope. It provides a comparative analysis of claim-making by Dalit and Muslim BJP representatives during the 2014 Indian election campaign. Whereas minority identities tend to be seen as singular, fixed and distinct from the majority, an examination of identity-work by minority representatives highlights their multi-faceted and contextual character, and the respects in which minority and majority identities may overlap. Furthermore, the political party plays a central role in mediating the relationship between representatives and constituents, enabling minority candidates reach out to a mixed electorate but also limiting the constructive work of representative claims.
Public Office Qualifications: Why Disparate Impact Matters
The right to vote is often grouped together with the right to hold public office. However, restrictions on suffrage can often differ from those applied to holding office. The latter have recently attained significance in the light of educational qualifications imposed on local office in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Haryana, and upheld by the Supreme Court. This article offers a normative critique of such qualifications. I begin by examining the treatment of public office qualifications in the Indian Constituent Assembly and highlight how these were viewed more favourably than restrictions on adult suffrage. Next, I outline a possible argument for restricting office to those deemed most competent for its exercise. Finally, I demonstrate why this argument fails, appealing to the deliberative costs entailed by the disproportionate impact of such qualifications on disadvantaged social groups.
From Popular Sovereignty to Parliamentary Victories: A brief history of violence
In the last few years, the longstanding violent conflict between members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Hindu-Right in Kannur District of Kerala has repeatedly grabbed headlines. My paper draws on autobiographies of two leading political figures of the region to plot the pre-history of this violence (from 1925-1965) that often involved not only communists but also local-level workers of various socialist formations (especially the Praja Socialist Party), the Congress and Muslim League. Each self-narrative aids in discerning the contours of political subjectivities and rivalries that began emerging in North Kerala as a new political ethos anchored in ideas of equality, popular sovereignty and representative institutions started taking shape. Here egalitarianism intersected with workings of pastoral power, sovereignty with righteous masculine assertions, and the search for representation amongst deprived communities with adversarial energy linked to the liberal democratic form. The political field so constituted has been characterized as much by narrow parliamentary politics as by violent antagonistic conflicts between members of different parties. I suggest that it is important to unpack the relationship between the two in order to contribute to broader theoretical understandings of contemporary democracies.
Media Involution: Metamorphoses of Popular Politics in Tamil India
With the recent passing of Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, a half century of politics dominated by film stars appears to be coming to an end in Tamil Nadu, India. This paper examines the shift from cinematic populism to forms of digitally enabled publicity, focusing on two new political formations: The first concerns the rise of a vigilante murderer and how WhatsApp, in particular, has reconfigured access to the airwaves of political publicity, allowing this outlaw to become a celebrity caste leader. The second formation, also enabled by social media, consists of a mass protest movement that occupied the main beach in Chennai to demand the right to practice an ancient bull wrestling sport that few in the city have actually experienced. Neither can be understood as the logical outcome of the collapse of cinematic populism; rather, the concept of media involution – a turning inward that is also a moment of connection enabled through a new plane mediation – is introduced to better understand these new claims to representing popular sovereignty. The paper further argues that adopting an approach attentive to media involution might allow us to use some of the insights about heterogeneous time that have emerged in the age of viral media to revisit broader questions in the postcolonial history of media and politics.
Representation and the Will of the Voters: Factions, Political Parties and the Law of Defections
This paper will look at the evolution of ideas about voter freedom and the operation of political parties in India, beginning from the time of the 1919 colonial reforms in British India up until the passage of the Anti-Defection Law of 1985. Anti-Defection legislation was prompted by a perceived crisis of representation linked to rampant party-switching, but the roots of the issues this legislation raised were far older and tied to the relationship between law and freedom of choice in constituting Indian democracy.
To probe the background to this, this paper will examine the relationship between “faction” and “party” and how these contrasting concepts shaped conceptions of representation during the colonial period. Then, it will examine how ideas about the nature of party representation led to a perceived crisis at the time of the 1967 elections, with the loss by Congress of its hegemonic position in Indian politics. This led to a parliamentary committee appointed to examine defections in the late 1960s, and ultimately to the passage of the 52nd amendment to the constitution in 1985 to legally constrain party defection. But the amendment hardly resolved the problem, which was rooted in ongoing conflict over the meaning of political parties as both an expression of voter freedom of association, and, at the same time, as a perceived constraint on that freedom, intended to “rationalize” India’s democratic structure.
The last section of the paper will examine how these tensions played out in the structure of the 52nd amendment itself and in its subsequent workings. It will conclude by analyzing the ongoing tension between law and freedom of choice as a critical, unresolved tension that continued to define the working of Indian democracy. These issues highlighted in this paper are in no way peculiar to the history of democracy in India—as they can be found in differing forms virtually everywhere that elections are held—but the distinctive trajectory of legal writing and litigation of these issues in India suggests the distinctive ways that law and politics have interacted in shaping the still-contested character of India’s democratic norms.
Personal is Political: Prospects for Women’s Substantive Representation in Pakistan
Despite de jure guarantees of equality, various forms of political inequality between men and women persist in democratic settings in South Asia. In this paper I draw attention to intra-household inequality as a determinant of gendered inequality in the substantive representation of citizen preferences.
I explore how hierarchies within the household shape both the content of men and women’s political preferences, and their relative willingness to express those preferences. Drawing on an original survey of 800 households in the Faisalabad district of Pakistan, I show that men and women within the same household prioritize systematically different public goods and services, and that these preferences are rooted in the context-specific sexual division of labor. Using a novel behavioral measure of political communication, I show that women attach a lower value to their distinctive preferences than men, and are less willing to communicate these preferences to political representatives.
The gendered asymmetry in preference expression has implications for how we understand the link between citizen preferences, participation and representation. At least under conditions of deep household inequality, the representational gains from nominal increases in women’s political participation may be limited. Under such conditions, women are demonstrably reticent to use opportunities to participate to assert their own preferences. The prospects for women’s substantive representation are especially low when the stakes are highest, i.e. when women’s preferences are substantively distinct from those of men, since that is when women are least likely to express their preferences.
Ideas of Representation before Independence
This paper demonstrates how a conspicuous feature of Indian political thought in the years prior to the end of colonial rule was the absence of a conception of representation that was free from communal affiliations. Whether one attends to the intellectual orientation of major Muslim leaders, key actors within the Indian National Congress, or Hindu nationalists, one encounters either resistance to the question of representation or little attempt to picture a polity centered on individual freedom. Many thinkers, I argue, appear to have been condemned to colonial categories in thinking about citizenship under conditions of diversity. For others, identities imposed by the colonial state were escaped by denying that representation posed any real problem. These failures, in which some of India’s most progressive and serious minds were complicit, marked a profound crisis over representation — a crisis brought into sharp focus by the partition of British India in 1947. This paper explores the wide-ranging failures in theories of political representation in the years before Independence. The larger aim is to capture the extent to which the decision at India’s founding to discard communal representation in favor of the individualization of identity was unprecedented, and was one that marked a major departure from the extant traditions in Indian intellectual history.
Challenging Unfitness: Some Ideas of Political Representation in Nineteenth Century India
My paper will map ideas of political representation present in the writings and speeches of some Indian leaders and thinkers in nineteenth century India. In 1861, the colonial government in India introduced a legislative council separate from the executive council of the Governor-General and allowed for native “representatives” as government appointees in this new council. This measure along with the 1882 reforms in local bodies, which increased the preponderance of elected natives in these bodies, were ways in which the colonial officials in India implemented J.S. Mill’s formulation of “representative institutions without representative government” for “backward” societies like India. The colonial representative institutions were to act as schools to train the native for a future self-government. In this a new model of representation – “the tutelary model of representation” – with “representative as pupil” was unveiled in India for the purposes of governing the colony. This undemocratic governance model of representation rested on the understanding that Indians are unfit for representative self-government. This paper focuses on the challenge mounted by Indian thinkers and leaders on native unfitness, in three different moments of the history of colonial India in the nineteenth century, through tracing their ideas on political representation of Indians and the way in which they imagined a representative constituency of their own class. The first two are moments prior to the 1861 Act, but had implications for its enactment. The first is the early nineteenth century liberal-constitutionalist moment exemplified in Rammohan Roy’s political thought. The second is the immediate aftermath of the rebellions of 1857 and Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s response to it. The third is the formation of the Indian National Congress and the views of its early liberal leadership which I present through the speeches and writings of Dadabhai Naoroji, Mahadev Govind Ranade and Pherozeshah Mehta. On many counts, in particular with respect to Indian masses, Indian thinkers agreed with the colonial view of native unfitness. Strict democratic equality was not the underlying principle for claims to representation made by Indian leaders. Even though their ideas questioned the hierarchy produced by colonial rule between the British rulers and native subjects, they did not problematize the hierarchical relationship between Indian classes (the educated and the propertied) and the Indian masses. In this process, seeing themselves as the natural leaders of Indian masses they constituted themselves as an appropriate constituency for the selection or election of the native representative. At the same time, using Western liberal ideas or pointing to indigenous ideas of government, governance and representation they offered a partial challenge to the idea of unfit native. I argue that the justifications for political representation of Indians offered by Indian thinkers bear a dual relationship with the tutelary and governance model of representation for natives advanced by the British in India. In this the ideas of political representation advanced by nineteenth century Indian thinkers while reproducing hierarchical visions also opened up democratic possibilities.
Circuits of Protection and Extortion: Popular Sovereignty in a Provincial North Indian Town
This paper is concerned with exploring the interrelationship between sovereignty and ideas and practices of political representation that are shaped by local socio-cultural logics and practices of protection/extortion. More specifically drawing on fieldwork conducted in a provincial town in Western Uttar Pradesh, I examine practices of protection and extortion – as ‘offers one can’t refuse’- and detail situations and traditions in which the protector (and often the ‘elected representative’) is both the source of violence and the provider of protection from the violence it produces (or threatens to produce). How are these formal and/or de-facto forms of ‘representation’ justified, normalised, condemned and rejected? I answer these questions by showing how ‘protection’ functions as a vector between domains which are usually kept apart: the terrain of money and organized criminal systems of protection; the protection of women and domestic violence; established indigenous statecraft models of virtuous kingly protection and related theologies of protection and ideas of territorial/caste democracy. Mapping the moral ambivalence of protection/extortion in different spheres of life helps to identify who is entitled to protect/represent (and who is not) in a town which is witnessing unprecedented economic transformations and a marked democratisation of violence across caste and class. Ultimately this study unravels the complex and confused terrain of complicities, collaborations, violent impositions and systems of fear which allow democratically elected mafia raj to function with dispersed and contingent consent.
Dadabhai Naoroji and the Theory of ‘Living Representation’
The years from 1903 to 1906 witnessed the rise of legislative representation as a central problem of Indian constitutional politics. Disagreements between the Indian National Congress and the imperial government, between different factions of the Congress itself, as well as between the organization and a range of newly mobilized social and religious interest groups, began to turn on the question of how to allocate access to law-making bodies. Who should get to author the laws that governed British India? This paper explores a distinct and influential vision of legislative representation advanced during these years by the economist and Congress leader Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917). The paper reconstructs Naoroji’s theory of “living representation” as a means of achieving swaraj (self-rule) and collective control over national economic life. By “living representation,” Naoroji meant the need to have colonial subjects directly participating in legislative institutions, instead of having their interests be represented and acted on by elite experts or administrators. The paper illustrates how Naoroji arrived at his views on the nature and purpose of legislation by reworking older liberal theories of virtual representation in parliament, especially in the writings of John Stuart Mill. Reconstructing arguments for “living representation” allows us to re-evaluate the intellectual origins of thinking about political participation and legislative sovereignty in colonial India.
M. Madhava Prasad
Prospects for self-representation: on citizenship and identity
With the sub-continent in the grip of capitalist transformation, new avenues for expression have cropped up for people long denied such opportunities and condemned to live in enclaves of objectified identity. Critical discourses that lump all identity expressions together as equally regressive show a lack of appreciation of the intimate link between self-expression or self-representation and democracy. Using a number of examples from popular culture and other sources, this paper will try to throw light on the kind of constraints on self-representation that the people of India have had to live with and the kind of opportunities for self-expression that capitalist development has thrown up. I will argue that identity struggles, whether at the level of nation or community or individual, are a necessary part of liberation struggles.
B.R. Ambedkar and the Means and Ends of Dalit Representation
This paper offers a novel reading of B.R. Ambedkar’s democratic thought and practice, focusing especially on the decade between his most famous work, Annihilation of Caste (1936) and his acceptance of the invitation to chair the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constituent Assembly (1947). Against prevailing views of this period, which take Ambedkar to be engaged in a conservative mode of identity politics, I argue that Ambedkar’s advocacy of guaranteed Dalit representation as an essential part of the means for realizing a robust vision of democracy in India. After reconstructing Ambedkar’s diagnosis of caste society as well as the alternative he proffered – an adapted version of Deweyan democracy – the paper argues that Ambedkar perceived a key obstacle standing in the way of reform and transition from caste society to self-government: the communal majority. This was a complex fusion of caste-based oppression in social life with modern democratic institutions. The paper concludes with an extended analysis of what I call ‘interruptive Dalit representation’ – the method he saw fit to break the grip of the communal majority. This method linked guaranteed Dalit representation with the transformative power of the state to generate recognition of Dalits as politically salient agents and to coercively remake caste society.
Lineages of Populism: Outsider Politics and the Long 1970s in India
This essay is about populism’s backstory. Departing from the exceptionalist and presentist narratives about the populist zeitgeist, I argue that the surge of populist outrage politics in India today is a legacy and modulation of an older project of democratic critique and renewal that has enjoyed political, cultural, and institutional legitimacy for the past thirty years. The specific lineage that I trace is that of outsider politics, the distinctive institutional and normative formation that took root in the 1970s in and around the period of the Indian emergency. Scholarship on populism has focused mostly on the people/elite opposition as the defining feature of populist discourse. But the idea of the political outsider as the agent of populist redemption, the normative justification of populist movements and leaders in terms of their distinctive outsider status, and the location of representational authority in some putative pure space outside politics, are equally foundational to the populist imagination.
My main focus is the project of “democratic restoration” that was carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Indian emergency by state institutions like the Shah Commission of Inquiry and the Supreme Court, and by a range of non-state actors such as media, civil society, and social movements, often acting together in networked formations. Departing from prevailing views of the emergency as a temporary aberration in Indian politics, I show how these post-emergency efforts to restore democracy in fact carried forward ideas and practices of outsider politics and populist logics of extra-electoral representation that were consolidated during the emergency itself.
Conceptualization of ‘the People’ and Political Representation in Hindi Political Discourse: Early 20th Century
The proposed paper seeks to explore the conceptual history of political representation in India in its connection with the concept of ‘the people’. As historians of the concept of political representation have shown variously, from the very beginning of its emergence, the discourses of political representation had to operate at the intersection of two crucial conceptual meanings of ‘people’ – ‘the people’ as ‘one’ or the figure of ‘the people’ as a symbol of unity representing the political community (the conceptual ground of popular sovereignty) and people as differentiated (constituencies, federal units, castes, classes, majorities-minorities etc). The latter meaning also reflected the consequences of the governmentalization of the state in the 19th century. The colonial states in India through its own operations of governmentality as well as of setting up initial representative political institutions established basic conditions for the discourses of ‘enumerated’ communities to emerge. However, as historians have shown, the subsequent discourses of communities based on their self-definitions were also significantly at variance with the colonial discourse. From late nineteenth century onward these discourses were also affected by and intersected with the nationalist discourse of the overarching national community of ‘the people’ constituting the Indian nation and staking claims of sovereignty. The broad focus of the paper will be on understanding the way the concepts of ‘the people’ and political representation historically evolve in the Hindi vernacular social imaginary in the early decades of the twentieth century. Further, I will focus more narrowly on the works of the prominent Hindi speaking politicians and public figures of United Provinces: like Madan Mohan Malviya, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Dr. Sampurnanand and others.
Women and democratic representation in contemporary India: reflections on achievements and challenges
This paper reflects on some of the major achievements and significant challenges for the democratic representation of women in contemporary India. It focuses primarily but not exclusively on the political participation of women as aspiring and elected representatives in India’s political institutions at both national and state levels. It engages with some established developments in contemporary Indian politics, such as the increasing focus on subnational states and the second democratic upsurge (Yadav) to ask what these developments have meant for the inclusion of women in democratic politics, intersectionally speaking. It engages with both scholarly debates and empirical developments to offer an assessment of how different institutional spaces across multiple levels of governance, different modes of representation, such as voting mechanisms and representative claim-making, and different measures of representation, including metrics and modes of accountability but also memorialisation, affect how we assess the inclusiveness of democratic politics in India for women in particular and thus more broadly. It seeks to extend questions of women’s representation beyond focused debates on passing the Women’s Reservation Bill to understand how challenges to the political inclusion of women are intimately connected with the broader terrain and challenges of democratic representation in contemporary India.
Secret Ballot and the Sphere of Electoral Publicity
While the open ballot has had its illustrious defenders, the institution of the secret ballot has had a bad name among political theorists. Some have gone so far as to call it a “blemish” in the “crown of democracy” (Brennan and Petit, 1990). Drawing upon ethnographic research conducted in recent elections in India, my paper offers a theoretical defense of this rather popular democratic institution. It is only owing to the secrecy of the ballot, I argue, that the election result is understood as representing the will (मत) of an abstract majority — the Janata (जनता). It suggests that the idea of a general social actor, irreducible to any sociologically identifiable group, ought to be seen as a consequence of the workings of the secret ballot. I make my case by examining two sets of para-electoral practices enabled by this concept: (1) Electoral campaigns of political parties, which seek to create a Hawa (हवा) in the run up to polling; and (2) A peculiar kind of discursive practice, which consists in rationalizing the election result by attributing intentions, emotions, and opinions to the Janata.