Book Review: Ujjwal Kumar Singh and Anupama Roy. Election Commission of India: Institutionalising Democratic Uncertainties

Date01 June 2021
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 135
Catholics, particularly the supporters of ‘Konkani in Roman script’, eventually lose out. He presents a
fascinating account of how Catholics have been ‘subalternized’ and ‘effectively excluded from the realm
of civil society’ (p. 143), making a case about the challenges and limits of citizenship practice as a ‘free
and equal membership to a political community’.
To analyse the Catholics’ experiences in Gaud Saraswat Brahmin–dominated post-colonial Goan
politics, the author mainly relies, almost uncritically, on Partha Chatterjee’s conception of ‘political
society’ and Sanjay Palshikar’s conception of ‘humiliation’. He argues that the Goan Catholics’ sense of
vulnerability and feeling of ‘lack of authentic’ culture and identity forced them to deploy political society
tactics. Political society, for the author, is a location in the polity in which the large segment of the
subjects are ‘de jure citizens,’ but ‘do not de facto enjoy the privileged relationship with law that one
assumes to be the case for those individuals located in civil society’ (p. 17). He does note the limits of
‘political society’, as individuals, groups and communities often oscillate between ‘civil’ and ‘political’
spaces, but its excessive and somewhat uncritical application overshadows his own fascinating and rich
ethnographical account of citizenship practices.
The book’s stated objective is to understand the ‘citizenship practices in a caste polity’ particularly by
Goan Catholics (p. 16), but it mainly explores elite formation in the region. It is unclear whether the
author wants to explore the making of ‘Konkani as written in Nagari script’ as the marker of Goan
identity and modernity; or the status and claims of the supporters of ‘Konkani in Roman scripts’. Or is it
about Goan Catholics’ experience of post-colonial politics and citizenship-space in Goa? The book
would have benefitted from a comparative analysis of Konkani with similar linguistic movements, such
as Maithili, Bhojpuri, Assamese, Odia. As in the Konkani language movement, they are still very far
from creating a ‘public space’ with equal access to every group and community.
While this book is a fascinating account of contentious language politics in post-colonial Goa and is
rich in terms of ethnographic details and anecdotes on citizenship practices, its claim to provide an
‘anthropological study of citizenship’ (p. 21) beyond the legal-political status (pp. 30–31) is somewhat
exaggerated, as its focus remains on inherent limits and tensions in ‘elite formations’ in post-colonial Goa.
Mithilesh Kumar Jha
Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati
Ujjwal Kumar Singh and Anupama Roy. Election Commission of India: Institutionalising Democratic
Uncertainties. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press. 2019. 366 pages. `1,100.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023021999215
Since the conclusion of first general elections in 1952, issues such as the gigantic increase in the size of
electorate, the shift from ballot box to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the introduction of Voter
Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), the changing nature of electoral campaigns, political competitiveness
and strategies of parties, have posed deep challenges to the Election Commission of India (ECI) in
conducting free and fair elections in contemporary India. A consensus has emerged among scholars that
the post-Emergency period brought vitality to this institution, and it ‘resurged’. Since the 1990s, there
has been a significant moment of departure in its functioning. During this period, the democratization of
the social base of representative institutions and the proliferation of political parties had a lasting impact
on the functioning of public institutions. Extra-parliamentary institutions like the ECI and the judiciary
became visibly assertive, while qualms about performance of parliament and government gained ground

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