Book review: Christophe Jaffrelot. Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Indian Democracy

Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
146 Book Reviews
informal slum leader gradually climbs up to a dominant position in local distributive politics. Monitoring
the acts of problem-solving, strengthening one’s social prominence, gaining access to party patronage in
exchange for the election time mobilization of dwellers and improving the settlement for one’s own
good—all translate as the motivations for the slum leaders to constantly engage in leadership activities,
as pointed out by the author. The fifth chapter contains the findings from the qualitative fieldwork done
in eight squatter settlements, presented in the form of separate case studies as historical narratives that
trace the emergence of informal authority, the formation of party linkages and public service delivery in
each settlement from the initial period of squatting to the present. The narratives convincingly depict the
instrumental role of slum leaders in local problem-solving in their respective settlements, with the slums
with dense networks of party workers witnessing better infrastructural development and access to public
services. Further, based on the statistical analyses of an original survey of 2,545 dwellers, in Chapter 6,
Auerbach strengthens the arguments developed in the preceding chapters. Through six key indicators,
namely paved roads, streetlights, water taps, sewer connections, municipal trash removal and government
medical camps, he further establishes a positive relationship between party worker density and public
service provisions. In the penultimate chapter, he takes up the antecedent question as to why the
settlements show significant variations in the presence of party workers. Population sizes and ethnic
diversity are presented as two key variables for this unevenness, with larger settlements and those with
higher levels of ethnic diversity seen to have a better density of informal leaders. The last chapter
concludes the findings of the book. Identifying another variable of marginalization—based on the
political characteristics of settlement—Auerbach insists the state prioritize settlements that suffer from a
weak organizational capacity and a lack of political connectivity while designing development programs.
The book presents several interesting findings for studies of distributive politics. The mixed methods
adopted by Auerbach should well serve students, first-time researchers and even the ones who have been
in the field for a long. One major contribution of the book is that in assessing the strength of party
organizations, it has widened the focus to the everyday activities of the slum settlement party workers.
Indeed, the election-eve handouts come second to the public support generated through day-to-day
problem-solving. Auerbach himself states that owing to being fundamentally shaped by the existing
ethnic diversity in India, its multiparty democracy and the quasi-federal structure of governance, most of
the arguments and findings of the book are less applicable to similar settlements outside of India.
What’s more, since the qualitative and quantitative data were collected at a time, from 2010 to 2016,
when India witnessed a large-scale anti-corruption movement, followed by a change of government at
the centre, one perhaps needs to be cautious about the findings. Such transitional phases often cater to
relatively much more active political workers than the other times.
Lastly, owing to its focus on the bottom-up approach, the book also serves as an essential read at a
time when the entire world struggles to recover from the impact of COVID-19. With the urban-poor
further distanced, the state should make use of the informal channels described by the author to deliver
much essential public services to them.
Manjesh Rana
Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi, India
Christophe Jaffrelot. Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Indian Democracy. Westland
Publications. 2021. 639 pages. `899.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221083399
Of late, liberal democracy seems to be in retreat everywhere. The world’s largest democracy, India, is no
exception, manifesting visible democratic ‘backsliding’ and ‘regression’ and, if unchecked, may slip into

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