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Managing Political Space : party practices and marginalised people’s agency in the governance of rural West Bengal Glyn Williams, S Nandigama, D Chakrabarty,

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Presentation on theme: "Managing Political Space : party practices and marginalised people’s agency in the governance of rural West Bengal Glyn Williams, S Nandigama, D Chakrabarty,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Managing Political Space : party practices and marginalised people’s agency in the governance of rural West Bengal Glyn Williams, S Nandigama, D Chakrabarty, D Bhattacharyya BV Thampi and D Narayana Embedding Poor People’s Voices in Local Governance (An ESRC-DFID funded project)

2 Governance, Political Society and the Poor A move away from ‘good governance’ debates: From formal to informal structures of power From a state-focused perspective to thinking about the implications for (and strategies of) the marginalised. Starting points for understanding: Blom Hansen and multiple/fractured authority Chatterjee and ‘the politics of the governed’

3 Blom Hansen: parallel forms of authority – the formal state, the ‘big man’, and the community To control the government, the state and the powers of legislation are important dimensions of the exercise of power in India. These forms of authority are also easily subverted and negotiated, and can be challenged in multiple ways because their efficacy depends on the informal sovereigns depicted earlier. (Blom Hansen, 2005: 191)

4 Chatterjee: the politics of the governed as a productive space for negotiation [T]he actual transactions over the everyday distribution of rights and entitlements lead over time to substantial redefinitions of property and law within the actually existing modern state. The paralegal, then, despite its ambiguous and supplementary status in relation to the legal, is not some pathological condition of retarded modernity, but rather part of the very process of the historical constitution of modernity in most of the world. (Chatterjee, 2004: 75)

5 Governance, Political Society and the Poor For both authors, informality: is a vital part of actually experienced forms of governance has its own structures of legitimacy Implications of informality for the poor: locking the poor within patronage relationships? a space for the de facto renegotiation of rights?

6 West Bengal – political society or party society? West Bengal’s exceptional political history: The ascendancy of the Left Land reform Decentralised governance. Understanding the LFG’s longevity: The panchayats new site of brokerage The CPI(M) as provider of ‘discipline and development’ Current challenges – a loss of moral authority?

7 The CPI(M)’s dominance of party society: “ It can act like a family for the socially marginalised women giving them access to social justice. It can make use of the traditional family as a ground of mobilization. Again, the party can endorse selective distribution of benefits in some contexts. It can allow an underbelly of petty corruption and crude mechanisms of coercion.” (Dasgupta, 2009: 80)

8 Rural Governance: key questions Empirical Questions: How is political authority established and exercised? How do poor people express their agency within West Bengal’s party-politicised public space? Wider Questions: How should we understand political society? What are the implications for intentional programmes of governance reform?

9 Our West Bengal study areas… The study areas: Dubrajpur Block, Birbhum Mayureswar 1 Block, Birbhum Core contrasts: Party political composition Agriculture and economy

10 Exercising Power: Controlling Political Space Patronage and resource distribution: Dubrajpur – the CPI(M)’s as ‘universal patron’ Mayreswar I – agrarian-based patronage Authority, Mediation and Violence: Dubrajpur – hegemony and mediation Mayreswar I – competition and open violence Surveillance and the Control of Public Space: Dubrajpur – all public activity as visible to the CPI(M)

11 “…last term another party [i.e. the CPI(M)] favoured a part of the [panchayat’s] population who supported it for being in beneficiary lists, through active exclusion of non-supporters. This time around, the opposite is happening. The ruling alliance will take care of the other half that was excluded last time around from the beneficiary lists… all is well for everyone.” (Senior bureaucrat, Mayureswar-I Block office: interview 10/11/09).

12 Exercising Power: Controlling Political Space Patronage and resource distribution: Dubrajpur – the CPI(M)’s as ‘universal patron’ Mayreswar I – agrarian-based patronage Authority, Mediation and Violence: Dubrajpur – hegemony and mediation Mayreswar I – competition and open violence Surveillance and the Control of Public Space: Dubrajpur – all public activity as visible to the CPI(M)

13 “The present leaders do not feel the need to come and meet the local people, rather the common people are supposed to approach them for help. The party leaders are no longer interested to stand by the side of the people like in earlier times and often make false promises to the people. The common people are tired and fed up with the false promises.” (interviewee: Dubrajpur, 26/03/09)

14 Exercising Power: Controlling Political Space Patronage and resource distribution: Dubrajpur – the CPI(M)’s as ‘universal patron’ Mayreswar I – agrarian-based patronage Authority, Mediation and Violence: Dubrajpur – hegemony and mediation Mayreswar I – competition and open violence Surveillance and the Control of Public Space: Dubrajpur – all public activity as visible to the CPI(M)

15 The Space for Poor People’s Agency Dubrajpur: Agency expressed through the party – via strategies to access key party representatives Mayreswar I: A greater degree of choice - ‘floating voters’ able to reinvent their political allegiances

16 DubrajpurMayureswar I Patterns of Authority Patronage Largely monopolised by CPI(M) and (rhetorically) embraces whole panchayat. Rival landowner-based support groups, and overtly partisan distribution of state resources by party in power Coercion Generalised and controlled threats against anyone resisting CPI(M) rule, actual violence more rare. Violent and dramatic public rivalry between political actors – but not directed at the public in general. Surveillance Strong – a clear sense that the CPI(M) will note all public acts and speech throughout the panchayat. Weak – self-censorship largely restricted to formal public arenas; open criticism of politicians elsewhere. Strategies of the Poorest ‘Key Supporters’ Public performances of loyalty, good links to key CPI(M) power- brokers. Public performances of loyalty, clear expectations of support from AITC. ‘Political Neutrals’ Attempts to build links with well- placed CPI(M) figures. Opportunities to lobby and/or switch allegiance to new power-holders. ‘Political Outcasts’ Limited – covert search for alternative sources of support. Reliance on rival CPI(M) patrons for non-state based forms of support. Authority and Agency in the Case Study Panchayats…

17 Wider Questions: Understanding party society – Chatterjee or Blom Hansen? Evidence for ‘the politics of the governed’ - but not all struggles are directed at state resources Official governance practices still symbiotically linked with informal authority Implications for governance reform: Reforming formal governance is only part of the picture Poor people’s agency does not equate to ‘emancipation’ Reform processes must understand the informal


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