Book Review: Prerna Singh, How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 295
Is it the case, for instance, that cases under citizen standing have a greater propensity to become omnibus
and polycentric? Equally, why did the representative standing merit so many justificatory statements by
Justice Bhagwati and others while citizen-standing cases are pragmatically presented as a consequence
of governmental failure, requiring little justification? Is it that governmental failure or the primacy of
legality over justice was the new normal of the 1990s and 2000s? And if so, can a purely internalist
critique focused on procedures alone adequately account for these transformations or for the larger than
life presence that PILs have come to acquire? Evidently, Bhuwania does not think so, and right through
the book one comes across tantalizing statements regarding how else one may read PILs—from cine-
matic presence of PILs in the introduction to links between courts and civil society and to repeated
remarks about the media as the cheerleader of the courts. One misses, however, any analysis of what
Sundaram calls the ‘legal event’, something that Bhuwania is well equipped to address. Finally, there is
his preferred method of constitutional ethnography and his location in the city of Delhi. Bhuwania asks,
why was the PIL route taken to transform Delhi? He may well have asked too, what accounts for the
emergence of Delhi as the primary urban lab of PIL courts? Alas, there is but a minor speculation here,
in the form of a footnote citation from legal scholar Lavanya Rajamani suggesting that the judges focused
on Delhi because this is where they lived! This may well be true, but perhaps the symbolic presence of
Delhi among the cities of India could do with further inquiry.
None of this is to detract from the central argument of the book which Bhuwania presents forthrightly,
and with elegance and style. It is a pleasure to read and is highly recommended.
Awadhendra Sharan
Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
New Delhi, India
Prerna Singh, How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India. New Delhi:
Cambridge University Press. 2016. 332 pages. `495.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023017727992
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the earth is a family), a verse from the Maha Upnishad from the vedic period
(c. 1500–500 bc) is engraved in the entrance hall of the Indian Parliament. ‘One is a relative, the other
stranger, say the small minded. The entire world is a family, live the magnanimous’ (Maha Upanishad,
Chapter 6). At the heart of the rational modern state, is the idea that human beings belong to a single
community. The political arrangement of cosmopolitanism is that we enter relationships of mutual respect,
despite differing beliefs of identity, religion and political affiliations. Hence, Prerna Singh’s idea that
social development is intrinsically linked to the development of a subnational identity is a rather bold one.
This came to mind on the basis of the title that emphasizes subnationalism. But I have to admit that
Singh makes quite a strong case on ‘how the shared solidarity that emerges from collective identification
can generate a politics of the common good’ (p. 5). She wishes to point out that this understanding is a
departure ‘from the dominant view of the negative implication of identity for welfare’ (p. 5), as the book
demonstrates ‘how differences in the strength of affective attachment and cohesiveness of community
can be a key driver in social policy and welfare’ (p. 5). This is not just a departure from an understanding
based on class, as she points out, but also of understanding social fissures at the subnational level on the
basis of agrarian relations, gender, caste and religion, problematizing slits within the idea of ‘we-ness’
or looking at ‘regions’ within subnational levels. It also goes against the emerging literature on the

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