Book review: Pradip Ninan Thomas, The Politics of Digital India: Between Local Compulsions and Transnational Pressures

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
304 Book Reviews
‘movement states’ more than emotive social issues, the concern for economic mobility is prioritized
whereas in the ‘non-movement states’, there is ‘in-bloc’ caste consolidation to achieve political power.
The book offers a nuanced and creative method to examine the plurality of Dalit politics in
contemporary times. It does not have the narrow ideological perspective by which the Dalit social and
political actions are often judged, instead the author has presented empirical evidence showing that
Dalits are politically heterogenous and adopt creative methods to achieve their goals. The greater
emphasis is to demonstrate how the social and political mobilizations of the Dalits have significantly
democratized the public sphere and forced the dominant elites to take a sensitive cognizance of the Dalit
presence. The Dalits are examined as rational players, capable of tilting the power relationships in their
favour. The author suggests that the emergence of the BJP as a dominant national party at the Centre has
become possible because the right-wing party has succeeded in bringing an influential segment of the
Dalits under its fold. The Dalit consciousness is prudent and pragmatic and can shift to the sides that
have traditionally been seen as enemy camps.
There are three critical points to add. First, the book lacks a discussion of the conception of power that
is intrinsic to the Dalit discourse. The Dalits have entered into political processes not only to become a
pressure group or an audible voice of a historically deprived community; they have a normative political
programme to replace the conventional political authority and allow the socially disempowered people
to become the ruling elite. The author has neglected analyzing the revolutionary political ambition of the
Dalit political movement, but rather examines it as loose federal arrangement. It appears that the author
judges the Dalit movement only as a passive force that improvises changes in the democratic institutions
and influences the political processes but lacks any radical alternative.
Second, that the Dalits are now joining other political outfits as a pragmatic option disturbs the idea
of ideological conformity and also dislodges the possibility of collective social location. The author
concludes that the Dalit parties have failed to develop uniform Dalit social identity or electoral unity, and
that has caused the withering of Dalit politics (p. 205). However, this observation only proposes that the
Dalit shall operate as a single ethnic unit, or develop strong political consolidation. The nuanced
engagements of the Dalits with different political and economic endeavours are thus judged critically.
Finally, while the book demonstrates the presence of varied political realities connected to the diverse
social life of Dalits, it still wishes to call Dalits a closed ethnic community. Though the Dalit parties are
dominated by the Dalit leadership and the majority of their support comes from the Dalits, these cannot
be the characteristics that can define them as ‘ethnic’ parties. Rather, Ahuja overlooks various means by
which Dalits have escaped the social identity given to them and often operate as free rational beings in
democratic processes.
Harish S. Wankhede
Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi, India
Pradip Ninan Thomas, The Politics of Digital India: Between Local Compulsions and Transnational Pressures.
Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2019. 231 pp. `995. ISBN-13: 9780199494620 (In “Media Dynamics in
South Asia” series edited by Adrian Athique, Vibodh Parthasarathi, and S. V. Srinivas)
DOI: 10.1177/2321023020963437
India can no longer be identified as a land of snake charmers; rather, it is a land of IT industry and a
viable destination for foreign investors. In August 2014, the Digital India programme was approved by

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