Votes, Publics and Political Action in Contemporary India

In this double Morgenstierne seminar Nicolas Martin and Lisa Björkman analyze defining aspects of Indian democracy

The 'Free Vote' in India

Scholars have noted that while the Indian state may frequently deny or violate its’ citizens fundamental rights, the one right that it has upheld is people’s right to the free and secret vote. Moreover scholars frequently claim that ordinary voters—Dalits in particular—have broken the chains that once shackled them to their upper caste political overlords. But is the vote in India always free and secret, and is it truly the case that the erosion of caste-based power structures means that everyone can now vote freely? Evidence gathered during the Punjab Block Samiti elections of 2013 suggests not. In this presentation, Nicolas Martin will illustrate some of the mechanisms through which Indian voters can still be monitored and coerced despite the formally secret vote.


'Publics' and 'Customers': Mass Assembly as Political Speech in Mumbai

This talk explores a somewhat curious use of the word 'public' in the political life of Mumbai, where the word is used to describe cash-compensated crowds assembling for political gatherings - protest marches, road blocks, campaign rallies. Popular and scholarly discourse tends to dismiss paid crowds as inauthentic, even fraudulent forms of political assembly – reducible to instrumentalist and transactionalist logics. In this presentation, Lisa Björkman explores a different form of political relationality that may be at work by attending to the way the word 'public' circulates in a very different context in Mumbai, where it is used to describe audiences of lavani dance when the dance is performed in the context of a theatrical stage show. When performed in any other context or venue – in a Sangeet Bari theatre for instance – the audience is described not as a public but rather as customers. The paper unpacks the meaning of public in relation to its opposite – customer – in the context of lavani audiences in order to make sense of theatrical dimensions of cash-mediated mass political assembly in Mumbai. Understanding public as the opposite of customer insists that we take theatrical forms of mass assembly quite seriously as a form of political utterance and representation.


Tags: India, Politics, Democratization, Anthropology
Published Jan. 31, 2018 9:22 AM - Last modified May 24, 2018 6:56 PM