7 The reign of terror of the big cat: bureaucracy and the mediation of social times in the Indian Himalaya



This paper describes the arrival of a man-eating leopard in a small Himalayan town in India and the local state's subsequent struggle to control the big cat. By focusing on what went on within the apparatus of the state during this period, this paper attempts to contribute to the study of modern time in bureaucracy. It argues that the startling inefficiencies in the effective governance and regulation of the big cat stemmed from a clash of various social times that were unfolding simultaneously. It outlines five distinct forms of social time that were in play during this period, which led to long periods of waiting and allowed for the articulation of a searing critique of the Indian state by town residents. Ultimately this paper contributes a rethinking of current theories of bureaucratic time that focus on the production of disempowered waiting, risk analysis, and anticipation. Instead it argues that a study of low-level bureaucrats and citizens shows that a central task of bureaucracy is to attempt to mediate conflicting forms of social time. Moving away from accounts of bureaucratic indifference, this paper depicts failure as an impasse arising out of attempts to bring incommensurable forms and representations of time into congruence. These failures importantly imperil the legitimacy of bureaucrats and can lead to a radical critique of the state.