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One of the great joys of academic life is learning from others, and here I have in mind other academics as well as respondents in ‘the field’ in India. I have been lucky enough to work in several great universities, but I will always look back with affection on the London School of Economics (LSE) and in particular my time in its Department of International Development. Two colleagues, Tim Allen, an anthropologist, and Diana Weinhold, an economist, put on a course each year for our Masters students, which really encouraged everyone to think critically about some of the different methodologies they held dear. And it was fun in my own seminars to see really smart students with an economics background critique books which maintained that the failure of aid project A was evidence in itself of the failure of ‘Development’. Of course it wasn’t. Generally, the author was describing a principal-agent problem in a small project that mattered hardly at all to long-run income trends, even at a local level. Development is largely about the accumulation and distribution of capital. But it was also exciting to see the table turned, especially when a student with many and sustained experiences in ‘the field’ challenged the plausibility of some of the data sets that were being taken for granted in large-n statistical studies.
Some of the most pressing debates in development studies have concerned the relative merits of states and markets, or the means by which markets might be regulated by a range of public institutions from the local to the global scale. These debates have taken shape, most famously, in the contrasting cases of sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, and they have an obvious and continuing relevance in countries as diverse as Brazil, Nigeria, India and China. Yet if debate on these issues continues to be fierce, there appears to be general agreement that ‘strong states’ or ‘free markets’ need to be kept in check by vibrant civil societies. Indeed, it is a common proposition in development studies that this hazy zone of ‘freedom’ between the family and the state is a source of unparalleled strength for ordinary men and women, and a source of development itself and even economic growth.
Robert Putman has made this claim as strongly as anyone. His suggestion that economic growth is promoted by a prior build-up of social capital – of people's engagements with a dense network of civic associations – has become a staple of World Bank thinking since the mid-1990s. Even where the causal propositions of Putnam are refused, it is clear that the virtues of civil society are widely admired. Arturo Escobar looks to civil society as a breeding ground for oppositional movements and experiments. It functions for him, and perhaps also for Ashis Nandy in India, as a potential zone of resistance to the dehumanizing claims of developmentalism.
The discipline of development studies does not have a good reputation among students of post-colonialism. Indeed, it is hard to think of two intellectual and political traditions that are further removed. Post-colonial scholars are deeply suspicious of the Eurocentric and depoliticizing instincts of development studies. This is a common thread in the work of Partha Chatterjee, Arturo Escobar and James Ferguson, however much they are divided on the possibility of development ‘itself’. Chatterjee and Ferguson do not fully share Escobar's pessimism about the past fifty years: the age of misdevelopment that supposedly brought about only famine, debts and immiseration. But they do insist that the ambitious plans of the development industry are repeatedly frustrated by structures of power and politics that are opposed to easy talk of citizenship, good governance and benign economic growth.
In the everyday worlds of ‘popular politics’, Chatterjee maintains, deals are struck by poorer people with those who mediate for them in exchanges with the state and governmental agencies. This is the dirty and sometimes dangerous world of political society. For Ferguson, meanwhile, the necessary and repeated failure of development projects to secure their stated aims is linked to the extension of state power over potentially rebellious populations. The development business, and the counterpart discipline of development studies, is neither ineffective nor especially insincere, but its power effects are often profoundly disempowering for poorer people.
Michel Foucault once told an interviewer that it was important to be humble in the face of apparent social irruptions. We should be properly alert, he said, to continuities of history and geography, and not constantly on the look out for markers of ‘the new’ or what today might be called ‘the post-’. This is surely good advice, and we need to bear it in mind when discussing issues like participation and good governance. The idea that states in the past have not been concerned with good government is clearly wrong. The emergence of biopolitics is one strong indicator of the responsibilities that governments are meant to have to their populations. Nevertheless, there is a strong perception in the development community that state failure and bad governance have become important issues since the 1970s, and this perception has been linked to a broader critique of rent-seeking behaviour, simple predation, and dirigiste development.
In the next part of the chapter we review some of the debates that have attended the rise of the good governance agenda. We shall also follow Adrian Leftwich and Rob Jenkins in drawing attention to the ways in which the agendas of good governance can be said to depoliticize accounts of development and rule. They do so, not least, by refusing to pay close attention to questions of state capabilities, and the incapacity of some regimes to secure control over their territories.
In recent years there has been a sea-change in the ways in which the state in India has sought to present itself to its poorest citizens. To listen to leading members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2004 one would think that the year 2000 (or even 2001 or 2002) was something like Ground Zero in this respect. Ministers from leading human development departments were in the habit of swatting away criticism of their ministries on the ground that everything was in flux. In a world of village education committees, citizen scorecards and newly vibrant panchayati raj institutions, not to mention a new era of public–private partnerships, it apparently made no sense to criticize ministers for faults that may or may not have dogged previous administrations.
This was nonsense, of course, for many of the innovations that were being trumpeted by the NDA were first given shape by the Congress and United Front governments of the 1990s, when village education committees and joint forest management were launched with appropriate pomp and fanfare. It would also be unwise to assume that new rhetoric about a kinder and more responsive system of government must correspond in any clear way to the perceptions of poorer or more vulnerable people. All democratic governments are tempted by the fruit of exaggeration, and Partha Chatterjee is right to insist that poorer people in ‘most of the world’ (2004: 3) are very often compelled to meet the state as members of social groups ‘that transgress the strict lines of legality in struggling to live and work’ (Chatterjee 2004: 40).
Special employment and poverty alleviation programmes
(a) Rural self-employment programmes
IRDP Integrated Rural Development Programme
50% centrally sponsored scheme with national coverage since 1980 (1976–80 pilot scheme in selected Blocks). Aims at providing self-employment through acquisition of productive assets and skills through provision of subsidy and bank credit. Targeted at rural BPL population, largely small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans. Special safeguards for SC/STs, women, physically handicapped; priority to assignees of ceiling surplus land, Green Card holders under Family Welfare Programme and freed bonded labourers. Performance during Eighth Plan: total allocation (Centre and State) = Rs. 5,048 crores; 108 lakh families covered.
TRYSEM Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment
50% centrally sponsored facilitating component of IRDP since 1979. Aims at providing basic technical and managerial skills through training. Targeted at rural BPL population between 18 and 35 years. Special safeguards for SC/STs and others, like IRDP. Performance during Eighth Plan: total allocation (Centre and State) = Rs. 370 crores; 15 lakh youth trained.
DWCRA Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas
Sub-scheme of IRDP started in 1982–3 on pilot basis, later extended to all Districts. Aims at improving living conditions of women and, thereby, of children by promoting women's income-generation activities through self-help groups and providing access to basic social services. Targeted at groups of 10 to 15 women among BPL families. 50% to SC/STs. Performance during Eighth Plan: total allocation (Centre and State) = Rs. 190 crores; 1.9 lakh groups formed; 30 lakh beneficiaries.
What follows is a report on the 1999 parliamentary election in Hajipur, Vaishali, that was written for the research team by our co-worker, Vishwaranjan Raju. Many of the themes that Vishwaranjan teases out here (gender issues, the relationship of local and national political figures, the temporary ‘stopping’ of the development state) are not specific to Hajipur. Several of them can be observed in elections in West Bengal, for example. Nor should we assume that the everyday qualities of political life in a District are captured in extremis by the events that occur at election time. This report should rather be read as a complementary piece to the accounts of political society in Vaishali that we built up in part II of the book.
For the record, the parliamentary seat of Hajipur was won in 1999 by Ram Vilas Paswan for the Janata Dal (United). The Janata Dal (United) was part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance which swept to power in New Delhi. Ram Vilas Paswan had won the seat in 1998 for the Janata Dal. At this point he was an ally of Laloo Yadav. The runner-up in the 1999 elections was Ramai Ram for the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Ramai Ram would have been required to resign his position as an MLA and State Minister in the government of Bihar had he won the parliamentary seat of Hajipur. Ram Sunder Das was placed third (in 1998 he took second place for the Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya)).
We have said that one aim of this book is to consider how differently placed men and women see the state in rural India. Some of these individuals will be employees of the state, or external advisers to the Government of India and its constituent states and Union territories, although many more will be farmers or labourers. Some will be political fixers and members of the Backward Classes, while others will be farmers, Class IV government servants and adivasis at the same time. But what does it mean to talk about ‘seeing the state’?
We are used to the idea of the state seeing its population or citizenry. Visuality is at the heart of many theories of power and governmentality. Michel Foucault, most notably, has shown how the birth of modern forms of education and welfare provision corresponds to the emergence of biopolitics as a ‘form of politics entailing the administration of the processes of life of populations’ (Dean 1999: 98). Populations emerge when changes in working practices give rise to economic government and the discipline of political economy, and they get bounded by new exercises in mapping and measurement, including the production of censuses, cadastral surveys and expeditions. Biopolitics then refers to those government interventions that seek to improve the quality of a population as a whole, and these procedures produce that which we name the state as the effect of these interventions.
In this part of the book we draw on fieldwork in Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal to comment in more detail on how different actors come to see and engage the state in eastern India. chapters 4–6 offer different and yet complementary takes on what is necessarily an interlocking set of issues. In chapter 4 we consider why and how (and if) people participate in a range of ‘development’ schemes, including the Employment Assurance Scheme and Village Education Committees. These schemes make important assumptions about the construction of citizenship and civil society in rural India. In chapter 5 we direct our attention to the career paths of various government servants, and to the ways in which they construct working lives and practices that may or may not agree with the agendas of good governance now being promoted by New Delhi and the international development institutions. In chapter 6 we focus on the ways in which poorer people's encounters with the state are structured with close regard for the conventions of the political societies that operate in our study areas. We also take up the question of corruption here, as we do in chapter 5.
In this chapter we want to say something about the livelihoods and social networks of poorer people in our study areas. We will introduce some of the individuals (for example, brokers and ‘local uppers’) who become key figures in the stories we tell in chapters 4, 5 and 6, and we shall comment on the ways in which poorer men and women use their non-state social networks to access the state or keep it at a distance.
The idea that ordinary people should have a say in the ways in which government programmes in the United Kingdom are run on their behalf is so well established that it has become a commonplace. Parents there have long been afforded some of the rights of scrutiny and decision-making which are now being extended to parents in rural Bihar through Village Education Committees. In principle, too, they are able to exercise some control over local planning and budgetary decisions through their participation in local government elections – again, just as in India. We know, however, from the UK and other richer countries, that turnout rates in local elections are often quite dismal, and that the democratic process can be undermined by backdoor deals with commercial interests, including property developers. It would be odd, then, if we didn't expect similar patterns of disinterest, subversion, and/or elite capture to hold in rural India. And yet even a cursory reading of some of the more ebullient texts of the Government of India, or of development agencies like DFID or the World Bank, suggests that such recognition is often played down or is simply missing. ‘Participation’, according to Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari, is threatening to become a ‘new tyranny’. It is a discourse that wishes away conflicts of interest and power, and which promises the poor not just direct sightings of the state but powers of oversight as well.
In the past four chapters we have tried to say something about the spaces of empowerment that open up for poorer people in their dealings with government officials and other authority figures around the EAS and primary education provision. In some cases these spaces can be enduring and quite extensive, as we saw in Debra Block, Midnapore. For all that the CPI-M attempts to fill the political society of this Block, poorer men (and some women) are given opportunities to work on government schemes, and they have some say, too, about the running of those schemes and their local public schools. Political society is also quite thick and competitive in Bidupur Block, Vaishali, although as yet the Scheduled Communities have not managed to make much headway against the Yadavs and other OBCs. In Old Malda Block, political society is less open to the voices and interests of the poorest, and spaces of empowerment are harder to detect. Poor levels of literacy and information circulation conspire against the agendas of participatory development and good governance, and such successes as we could report tend to be episodic and sometimes short-lived. Poorer households tend to fare worse here than in Bhojpur or Ranchi, where patrons are often more responsive to their clients.
In the final part of the book we want to extend our terms of reference to include a broader range of political encounters across India.