Book Review: Dayabati Roy, Rural Politics in India: Political Stratification and Governance in West Bengal

AuthorNeelanjan Sircar
Published date01 December 2014
Date01 December 2014
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 253
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 2 (2014): 243–257
Ogden also discounts other non-ideational factors that might have imposed constraint. For instance,
the limited capacity of the foreign policy establishment—the smallest among the G20 countries—meant
that bold political initiatives had little chance of being followed through. Similarly, overt nuclearization
(a major BJP ‘gearshift’) meant that military options (even with the ‘cold start’ initiative) were severely
Although the book warns against the perils of prediction and cautions that the analytical process
‘remains indicatory rather than deterministic’ (p. 193), Ogden himself succumbs to the temptation. Thus,
he predicts Narendra Modi will follow the ‘harder dimensions of Hindutva’ (p. 194) and that the BJP’s
emphasis on economics will lead to a ‘reassertion of core Hindutva values versus external threats—
be they from minorities, Pakistan or China, or the global financial system’ (p. 196). While Modi’s open-
ing moves—reaching out to India’s neighbours and engaging China—cannot be seen as reflecting the
harder approach, it is also inconceivable that the BJP’s economic agenda can be sustained in competition
to the global financial system. Instead, as Ogden’s thesis suggests, there is likely to be more constraint
on the part of the Modi government and more continuity with the past.
These foibles apart, both these books make valuable contributions to a subject that has not got the
attention that it deserves and for trying to provide a better understanding of India’s security culture,
security identity and security priorities. For this endeavour alone, both the authors and their books have
to be commended.
Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu
Brookings India
Dayabati Roy, Rural Politics in India: Political Stratification and Governance in West Bengal. New Delhi:
Cambridge University Press. 2014. 279 pages. ` 895.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551883
After 34 years of uninterrupted rule in state of West Bengal, the Left Front, led by the Communist Party
of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), relinquished power in 2009. Today, it is a shell of its former self, winning
only 2 out of 42 possible parliamentary seats in the 2014 general elections. Through painstaking research,
and careful ethnographic work in two villages in 2006, Dayabati Roy provides a detailed picture and
analysis of CPI(M)’s final years of rule.
The study takes place in two villages, Kalipur and Kadampur, the latter in Singur, where agitation
against land acquisition for a Tata car factory was one of the principal causes of the CPI(M)’s defeat. The
reader is treated to a front-row seat from which to observe the peasant movements that led to the party’s
ouster. Much of the book is focused on the operation of the panchayat and related village-level institu-
tions, and their inability to fully serve the interests of peasant classes in a manner consistent with Leftist
ideology. Roy traces the dysfunction in these institutions to two main factors: (a) local institutions per-
meated by partisan forces which are given the power to establish patron–client relationships with the
population; and (b) patterns of gender- and identity-based discrimination in society which are reflected
in who can exercise voice in such institutions.

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