Book review: Lisa Mitchell, Hailing the State: Indian Democracy Between Elections

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorKunal Kishore
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterBook Reviews
144 Book Reviews
Lisa Mitchell, Hailing the State: Indian Democracy Between Elections. Ranikhet: Permanent Black and
Ashoka University, 2023. 320 pp. `695.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230241235364
In this book, Lisa Mitchell provides us with the theory of the practices of ‘doing democracy’. Though the
arguments in the book about ‘hailing the state’ are drawn from Indian experience, particularly her
fieldwork in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region of South India, Mitchell claims that theoretical
insights drawn from them are applicable to other parts of the world. Her goal is to uncover the limits of
the dominant theories of liberal democracy and its competing variants in contemporary times. Mitchell’s
argument is that theories of democracy can be better appraised through analysing the role of ‘collective
assemblies’ shaping its everyday experience and existence between elections rather than by studies based
on citizens’ participation during elections.
Mitchell unpacks the ideas of civility/uncivil, public/political and individual/collective speech-action
associated with the understanding and experience of the state as an ‘institution’ and ‘space’ in the
ordinary lives of the historically marginalized citizens in India. Mitchell also problematizes the dominant
understanding of the ideological hegemony of the liberal-democratic state in shaping the normative
ordering of society by critiquing Althusser, Foucault, Marx, Engels and Gramsci, noting that citizens
view the state as a legitimate instrument of social change and that they are neither ‘co-opted’ nor ‘passive
ideological subjects’. According to Mitchell, this provides us with a vivid and complex reimagining and
mediations of state-society relations through the politics of collective assemblies. Mitchell suggests that
collective assemblies create ‘conditions’ for recognition, as opposed to recognition as a political outcome,
for historically marginalized citizens, in ‘amplifying’ their shared interests and demand to make the state
accountable and inclusive.
The book is organized into seven chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter deals with the conceptual
shift in the meanings of sit-ins (dharnas) in the eighteenth century—as a dispute resolution mechanism
between private parties—to its nineteenth-century understanding of the state being the primary target.
She argues that the nineteenth-century politics of collective assemblies reinvigorates this democratic
practice in contemporary times. She further argues that the practice of sit-ins is deployed by less powerful
people against the more powerful in the society to seek public attention and their desire to be heard.
In the next chapter, the author analyses the theoretical debates around the perceived notions of civility
reflected in the discourses on the political mobilization of minority or historically marginalized groups,
and critiques the dominant idea of civility understood as ‘difference’ in terms of elites/subaltern groups
‘style/culture’ of doing politics. She argues that forms of political communication are ‘available to all’
and departs from the argument laid down by Partha Chatterjee that the strategies and tactics of historically
marginalized groups termed as ‘subalterns’ are different from the elite. Mitchell argues instead that the
modes of political communication of historically excluded groups for access to representation, inclusion
and recognition depend on the response of the state authorities. She departs here from the theoretical
framework offered by Ranajit Guha and Eric Hobsbawm in understanding popular democratic politics as
resistance to the existing state sovereignty. She looks at the political mobilizations of the historically
marginalized groups as their attempt to draw the attention of the state towards them and make the state
accountable to recognize their status as its full and equal citizens.
The third chapter develops a response to the critique of deliberative and agonistic models of
democracies suggested by thinkers like John Dryzek and Chantal Mouffe, Mitchell argues that these
theories fall short of understanding the ‘conditions’ which allow individual speech action to be recognized
and heard. She argues that the failure of individual speech action being heard sometimes creates
possibilities of politics of collective assemblies. The next chapter takes up the comparative study of

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