This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
[This copyright line was revised on 04 June 2014.]
I would like to thank Ananya Roy, Gillian Hart, Michael Watts, Mike Dwyer and three IJURR referees for insightful comments on earlier versions of this article. All errors remain my own. This research was supported by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award, a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award (#0622927).
Recent scholarship has highlighted the central role of India's ‘new middle class’ in gentrifying and ‘cleaning up’ its cities. According to this literature, this class experienced a political awakening in the 1990s and began mobilizing to reclaim urban space from the poor. Using the example of Delhi's Bhagidari scheme, a governance experiment launched in 2000, I argue that urban middle-class power did not emerge from internal changes within this class itself (as is commonly argued), but was rather produced by the machinations of the local state. In particular, I show how Bhagidari has realigned the channels by which citizens can access the state on the basis of property ownership. In so doing, it has undermined the electoral process dominated by the poor, and privileged property owners' demands for a ‘world-class’ urban future. By examining the ‘new state spaces’ it constructs, I show how Bhagidari has effectively gentrified the channels of political participation, respatializing the state by breaking the informal ties binding the unpropertied poor to the local state and thereby removing the obstacles to large-scale slum demolitions. In making this argument, the article introduces a unique approach to mapping state space that aims to reveal the relationship between state form and political participation.
Des recherches récentes ont souligné la place centrale de la ‘nouvelle classe moyenne' dans la gentrification et ‘l'assainissement' des villes en Inde. D'après ces études, cette classe s'est éveillée sur le plan politique dans les années 1990 et s'est mobilisée peu à peu pour récupérer l'espace urbain occupé par la population défavorisée. En examinant le programme Bhagidari de gouvernance expérimentale lancée à Delhi en 2000, ce travail affirme que le pouvoir de la classe moyenne urbaine n'est pas né de mutations internes à la classe elle-même (comme avancé généralement), mais résulte plutôt des manæuvres de l'État local. Il montre en particulier comment Bhagidari a réorganisé les canaux d'accès des citoyens à l'État en se fondant sur la propriété immobilière. Ce faisant, le programme a non seulement sapé le processus électoral dominé par les pauvres, mais aussi privilégié les demandes des propriétaires immobiliers en faveur d'un avenir urbain ‘d'ordre international'. En examinant les ‘nouveaux espaces de l'État' qui se sont créés, cet article montre comment Bhagidari a bien ‘gentrifié' les canaux de la participation politique, redéfinissant l'espace de l'État en rompant les liens informels entre les pauvres non propriétaires et l'État local, ce qui a éliminé les obstacles à une démolition à grande échelle des quartiers défavorisés. Cette démonstration présente une approche unique de la cartographie spatiale de l'État visant à dévoiler le rapport entre configuration étatique et participation politique.
Scholarship on the Indian urban has exploded in the past decade, just as India's largest cities have launched ambitious redevelopment programs, undergone remarkable socio-spatial transformations and sought to place themselves on the map of ‘world-class’ cities. The large-scale clearance of slums, the surge in capital-intensive real estate and infrastructure development, and the expulsion of industry and informal economies have been widely discussed in this literature.1 Yet scholarship on urban change in India is divided. On the one hand, recent studies have focused on the critical role of the ‘new middle class’ in driving liberalized land development and anti-poor urban policy (see e.g. Baviskar, 2003; Chatterjee, 2004; Fernandes, 2004; 2006; Gandy, 2008). According to this literature, the newly global ambitions of this class are leading to the reconstitution of the Indian urban, what Partha Chatterjee (2004) calls a process of making ‘Indian cities bourgeois at last’. These works have a tendency to presume that the emergence of this new elite in and of itself explains the consolidation of the ‘world-class’ city-building project at hand. The mushrooming of malls, flyovers, gated communities and designated infrastructure — and the concomitant demolition of slums, criminalization of hawkers and banishment of industry — is simply the supply response to the rising demand created by the ‘new middle class’.
On the other hand, there is a growing body of literature on the informal means by which the urban poor have historically prevented official plans and policies from being carried out, especially those that would deny their claims to land and urban services. Whether described in terms of ‘political society’ (ibid.), the ‘porous bureaucracy’ (Benjamin, 2004) or the ‘vernacular’ state (Kaviraj, 1991), scholars are in widespread agreement that an array of state spaces have arisen in postcolonial India that lie below the radar of formal planning, and that are attuned directly to the needs of vast sections of the urban population denied the formal privileges of civil society. It is the dense webs of political association binding the local state to the urban poor described by this literature that must be overcome in order to enact a new bourgeois urbanism. Yet the first body of scholarship has yet to explain how new forms of urban governance have facilitated this process, and how new visions of urban space are practically imposed on those lower levels of the state that have for so long reinterpreted state plans to meet the demands of the poor.
This article seeks to address this shortcoming by examining an urban governance experiment launched by the Delhi government in 2000 that has reconfigured state space to facilitate this process. Based on an extended ethnographic study of the Delhi government's Bhagidari scheme,2 I show how this widely praised ‘good governance’ program has created a parallel governance mechanism, divorced from the electoral process, that provides associations of private property owners privileged access to both upper- and lower-level state workers. If gentrification consists of the usurpation of formerly lower-class spaces by the upper class (Smith, 1996), then Bhagidari, I will show, achieves nothing less than the gentrification of state space, or of the channels of political participation more generally. Specifically, by creating venues in which low-level state workers, whose ‘ethico-political’ duties were once harnessed to the demands of the poor, are required to address the demands of Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) — groups of private property owners organized at the neighborhood level — the unpropertied poor have been displaced to the periphery of state space, breaking the bonds that have enabled them to defend their precariously won tenure security. The displacement of more than a million slum dwellers from Delhi over the past 10 years and the freeing up of hundreds of acres of land they once occupied for private development,3 therefore, needs to be seen not simply as the symptom of an emboldened middle class, but rather through the lens of the respatialization of the local state.
In this manner, this article represents an effort to link ongoing debates on the liberalization of urban development in India with the growing literature on the neoliberalization of urban governance (see the recent symposium in this journal on this subject, introduced in Guarneros-Meza and Geddes, 2010; see also Swyngedouw et al., 2002). It does so by building on Brenner's (2004) work on ‘new state spaces’ in order to not only intervene in the growing literature on Indian urbanism, but also contribute to a method of studying political participation and class formation that is attentive to the relationship between the spatial organization of the state and the practice of citizenship. Brenner's (ibid.: 72, original italics) insistence, following Lefebvre (2003), on evaluating the geographies of the state (its spatial organization, scalar hierarchy and territorial extent) not as ‘fixed, stabilized settings’ in which state regulatory operations occur, but rather as ‘stakes of sociopolitical contestation’ offers a particularly productive point of departure. But rather than focusing on how global and regional political–economic change and macroeconomic regulatory shifts restructure local state space, as Brenner does, I introduce a novel method of mapping state space capable of revealing the equity impacts of urban governance restructuring and the channels of democratic participation. Introducing a spatial ontology of the state to studies of participation, urban politics and democracy, as the Delhi case shows, represents a fruitful avenue for analyzing how the organization of the state might be shaped for more or less inclusive cities.
I begin in the next section by describing the contrasting bureaucratic and political channels through which the elite and ‘subaltern’ classes have accessed the state historically in India, with particular attention to the extensive spaces of political negotiability in the lower reaches of the Indian bureaucracy that have allowed slum residents to enjoy relatively secure tenure, despite their extra-legal status. I subsequently locate these channels of state access within the administrative structure of Delhi, demonstrating the importance of a spatially attuned ontology of the state for understanding the practice of urban politics. The article goes on to review prevalent explanations for the rise of middle-class power, the driving force behind the onslaught of slum-clearance drives since the late 1990s. The penultimate section returns to the local state in Delhi by describing the Delhi government's Bhagidari scheme, a program launched to increase ‘citizen–government partnership’ through RWAs. In contradistinction to existing explanations of the rise of elite power, I here demonstrate how the Delhi government cut the cord linking slum dwellers to the local state by re-engineering state space and sidelining elected representatives. While Bhagidari has earned widespread praise for its efforts to foster ‘good governance’, enhance transparency and deepen popular participation in government, it has effectively disenfranchised the non-propertied classes of the city. Stepping inside the ‘new state spaces’ it creates, I examine ethnographically how Bhagidari elevated and formalized the political status of RWAs and reduced the role and influence of local electoral politics in the administration of urban space. The conclusion of this article offers remarks on class and state formation in Indian cities, and comments on the importance of the state in fostering forms of political association that on the surface appear to be spontaneous, just ‘happening upon’ each other (Simone, 2009).
Differentiated state spaces and zones of political negotiability in the Indian state system
The starting point for most studies of local politics in India is the observation that the modalities through which one can exercise political agency are highly determined by socio-economic status. Therefore, the manner in which a wealthy English-speaking homeowner ‘problem solves’ starkly differs from how a Hindi-speaking slum-dweller ‘fixes’. Scholars of Indian state form have thus long observed a broad division in how different categories of society access the state (see Frankel, 1978; Rudolph and Rudolph, 1987; Chandra, 2004; Corbridge et al., 2005). Kaviraj (1991), for example, notes the inability of the modernizing bourgeoisie at the time of Independence to exercise cultural leadership. While Independence freed the nation from the reins of colonial rule, it failed to put in place the cultural instruments necessary to translate the state's new development priorities (e.g. social reform and economic redistribution) into the nation's vernacular spaces. Yet, Kaviraj shows, the central and state governments depended precisely on these vernacular spaces to implement policy. As the planning apparatus — intended to operate in ‘relative autonomy’ from electoral politics, but in fact closely aligned with the ruling classes (Frankel, 1978; Chatterjee, 1994) — sought to extend control over ‘larger areas of social life, it had to find its personnel, especially at lower levels, from groups who did not inhabit the modernist discourse’ (Kaviraj, 1991: 91). Thus, with the extension of the state into more vernacular spaces — and the incorporation of bureaucrats of different class backgrounds into the state apparatus — we see the concomitant expansion in the gap between, on the one hand, elite bureaucrats who inhabit the ‘modernist discourse’ of bureaucratic rationality and, on the other hand, lower-level personnel ‘whose “everyday vernacular discourses” were not structured around principles of formal rationality at all’ (Fuller and Harriss, 2000: 8). Because the state ‘had feet of vernacular clay’ (Kaviraj, 1984 quoted in Fuller and Harriss, 2000: 8), elite bureaucrats found their mandates ‘reinterpreted beyond recognition’ by the time they reached the implementation stage ‘very low down in the bureaucracy’ (Kaviraj, 1991: 91).4
Kaviraj's analysis shows that differently situated state bureaucrats not only interpret the meaning of policies differently, but are also embedded in contrasting ethico-political contexts. Thus, the ties that link India's elite to upper-level bureaucrats and policymakers are not just ones of economic stature and influence; they are also based on shared cultural formation and positionality.5 Similarly, the subaltern classes' ability to extract benefits from or exercise influence over lower-level bureaucrats is not a secondary game of spoils, described in political science literature in terms of ‘state scarcity’ (see Weiner, 1962; Rudolph and Rudolph, 1987; Bardhan, 1990), but rather a different cultural space in which the poor are more suitably equipped to establish shared meanings and obligations with state agents.
Chatterjee (2004) too premises his more recent discussion of postcolonial politics on a disjuncture between a more formalized elite domain reserved for culturally equipped citizens and a sphere marked by a more ‘paralegal’, fluid and vernacular mobilization of demands.6 He refers to the former as ‘civil society’, premised on the ideals of democratic liberalism under which all citizens are considered equal before the law. The latter is called ‘political society’, the residual realm in which all those denied access (either legally or culturally) to the formal protections of civil society must tread,7 relying on more makeshift mechanisms of political patronage, bribery and sometimes coercion in order to negotiate political benefits.
Drawing on Foucault's (2007) differentiation between sovereign power and governmentality, Chatterjee interprets ‘civil society’ as the ethico-political domain extending from the formal arrangements of sovereign power and ‘political society’ as the domain produced out of the calculative techniques of governmentality. Thus, Chatterjee suggests that those within civil society are treated as citizens under sovereign law (with natural rights that automatically accrue to them), whereas those in political society are managed as ‘populations’— targets of various technical programs aimed at strategically guiding individuals toward ‘convenient ends’ (ibid.). Not concerned with the delivery of equal rights or individual freedom, as in ‘civil society’, governmental programs operate upon political society to produce desired effects within the population as a whole: hygiene, public decency, low crime rates or ‘civic sense’.
Whereas Foucault highlights the role of governmental technologies in managing and directing ‘the population's’ interests from a distance, without requiring direct intervention, Chatterjee suggests that the categories that governmental programs establish (e.g. ‘below poverty line’ or ‘Scheduled Caste’ in India) can also be invested with ethical value and used to make claims upon government. He thus suggests, in a way more forcefully elaborated by Li (2007), that governmental programs can also politicize population groups, allowing them to mobilize new demands and claims outside of the domain of law. This ‘politics of the governed’— practiced by those denied the formal privileges of civil society — then, is an attempt ‘to give the empirical form of a population group the moral attributes of a community’ (Chatterjee, 2004: 57); that is, it operates through the cultural and political affinities that bind low-level bureaucrats and political representatives to those groups denied rights and protections under the law.
Recent ethnographic work by Benjamin (2004; 2008) elucidates perhaps most clearly the complex workings of ‘political society’. Benjamin argues that behind what is commonly simplified by academics as ‘patron clientelism’ and derided by the elite and high-level bureaucrats as ‘vote-bank politics’ lies a set of constructive interactions producing democratic outcomes for the unpropertied poor. Due to the highly centralized planning process in Indian cities, elected representatives and bureaucrats in city government have little formal input into land-use and development decisions: master plans are created by planners in the state government (and the central government in Delhi), who then pass their plans to municipalities for implementation. This leaves little if any room for the modification of plans based on the inputs of local representatives or residents, creating a clear gap in the democratic process by occluding municipal intervention.
In contrast to the picture of disinterested planners removed from place-specific demands, municipal bodies face constant pressure from constituents — especially from the informal poor who are not recognized by the plans — to extend infrastructure, ensure tenure security, prevent evictions and sometimes permit business or industrial activities in ‘non-conforming areas’. Slum dwellers typically exert this pressure upon and through elected representatives and low-level bureaucrats — the former acceding to demands in exchange for votes, the latter to avoid scorn from elected officials, to earn extra income through petty bribes or as a result of camaraderie arising from their own semi-legal residential arrangements (cf.Harriss, 2007; Anand, 2011). As Benjamin (2004: 183) says: ‘Politicians and associations push local bureaucrats to act on these demands by using loopholes and a flexible interpretation of bureaucratic procedures’. The multiplicity of access points and means to such political ‘fixing’ has led Benjamin to call these arrangements a part of India's ‘porous bureaucracy’ and the strategies by which the poor negotiate them ‘politics by stealth’. Benjamin (ibid.) estimates that 50–75% of India's urban population — mostly those without formal property rights — use these channels for accessing land and employment. These channels are available to these otherwise politically marginal classes because the poor in Indian cities vote en masse, vastly outnumbering wealthier residents' voter turnout (Yadav, 2000; Lama-Rewal, 2007). Local elected representatives therefore have to at least entertain the demands of the urban poor, which is untrue of higher-level bureaucrats who see slums as ‘illegal’, falling outside the formal domain of planning.
My fieldwork in Delhi's slums, described elsewhere (Ghertner, 2011), confirms that in moments of difficulty, slum residents are remarkably effective in negotiating favorable outcomes when they mobilize through established political networks. Whether it was in threatening local workers to re-establish electricity connections after the power provider cut its free service, or in securing ‘stay orders’ for demolitions from the courts by convincing the police, through their municipal councillor, to withhold timely support for a demolition drive, slum residents utilize established patronage systems in times of need to protect tenuously won tenure security and service provision. This suggests, following Benjamin, that the presence of elaborate patronage networks does not necessarily mean that slum dwellers are merely passive supplicants. It also signals an awareness of how to access and manipulate the state.
Although (1) the informal channels of accessing the state apparatus are structured by seniority, kin, gender and party affiliation (Roy, 2004), (2) unelected pradhans (slum headmen) usually heavily influence the collective demands of slum settlements (Harriss, 2005; Jha et al., 2007), and (3) elected officials and leaders do structurally benefit by preserving relations of political dependency and patronage, we nonetheless see that a set of vernacular state spaces have arisen that are directly attuned to electoral pressure. This does not mean that these spaces should be celebrated as emblematic of the democratic (or entrepreneurial) spirit of the poor, a lade Soto (2000). Nor should it cause us to rethink Castells' (1984) declaration that such urban populism occurs only in ‘cities without citizens’, for Chatterjee is right to point out that vast swaths of India's urban population today are denied the substantive benefits of citizenship. Indeed, these vernacular spaces arose as makeshift attempts to secure temporary material security in the face of exclusionary citizenship. Until democratic representation is expanded, however, these zones of negotiability are all that the poor have. What do these spaces look like in Delhi, and how have Residents Welfare Associations and elite activism been able to subvert them?
‘Political society’ and slum prevalence in Delhi
Figure 1 shows a simplified version of Delhi's administrative structure, including an illustration of the zone of negotiability (labeled ‘political society’) in which the urban poor have historically been able to exercise political claims to the city. Because Delhi is India's capital and only city–state, it has a unique administrative structure, with municipal, state and federal bodies overseeing different, although sometimes overlapping, administrative functions. Delhi does not yet have full statehood, which means that the Government of India (GoI), the central government, retains direct oversight over state and municipal government. For example, the Legislative Assembly, the legislative arm of the Delhi (state) government, is constrained by the fact that any act it tables must first by approved by the Lieutenant Governor, who is appointed by the GoI. There is thus a dual executive wing in the Delhi government: the unelected Lieutenant Governor, who is a senior officer in the Indian Administrative Service, and the Chief Minister, chosen from the elected members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Within the municipal government, the elected councillors, who choose the Mayor, constitute the ‘deliberative wing’ of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) — a primarily consultative role that frames thematic committees and has limited financial control — whereas the GoI-appointed MCD Commissioner heads the executive wing, which actually frames policies and drafts the budget.8
Local electoral politics are further removed from executive and planning decisions by the fact that the central government retains control over the domains of police, ‘social order’, and land management and planning in Delhi. Thus, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is responsible for the acquisition, development, management and disposal of land, operates under the GoI. This means that the elected representatives (MLAs and councillors) do not have any direct input into urban planning in Delhi. All this accentuates the divide between the plans placed on Delhi by the central government, and the practical realities and political compulsions that bureaucrats and elected officials face in the municipal and state governments. That is, the bureaucratic chains linking planners and implementers are indirect or discontinuous in many sectors in Delhi, which leads to more negotiability in how plans are implemented than in other Indian cities. I now describe some of these zones of negotiability, and later in the article will return to examine how Delhi's Bhagidari scheme has reconfigured the organization of state space shown in Figure 1.
The presence of slums is itself the outcome of the negotiable boundaries between central government plans and state and municipal implementation. Since 1957, the DDA has been assigned the task of preparing and implementing a Master Plan for the development of Delhi land. The Master Plan is a statutory document that supplies land-use codes, building by-laws, development norms, and infrastructure and planning standards, and is a standard instrument of modernist planning. As part of a policy of socialized land framed during Prime Minister Nehru's rule, a key component of the Master Plan (until its most recent revision in 2007) was that 25% of all residential land in the city was to be reserved for low-income groups. While the DDA has effectively acquired the bulk of land notified through the Master Plan, land disposal has proceeded at a much slower pace. This is especially true for low-income housing: the DDA has been far more effective (but still behind schedule) in allocating land for middle- and higher-income groups, but has completed less than 10% of its low-income housing projects (DDA, 2006). As a result, slum dwellers, who constitute a quarter of the city's population, occupy less than 3% of city land today (Batra, 2007).9
The DDA's failure to provide adequate shelter for the city's poor has not, however, dissuaded new migrants from coming to Delhi. In 1981, according to the Census of India, 1.8 million of Delhi's total population (of over 5.7 million) were slum dwellers. The number of slum dwellers had risen to 2.25 million (of 8.4 million total) by 1991 and 3.25 million by 2001 (of 12.25 million total).10 According to the Municipal Corporation, the number of households living in slums increased from 260,000 in 1990 to 480,000 by 1995, with the number of slum clusters rising from 929 to 1,080 over the same period.
In common parlance, slums are areas with sub-standard housing whose residents do not formally own or lease the land on which they reside.11 This land can be private or, more often, public. Because the DDA is by far the largest land-owning agency in Delhi, the majority of slums (700 out of 1,080 as of 2002)12 are located on land that it manages. Due to the vast under-provision of low-income housing and the wide availability of vacant public land, Delhi's working classes have historically settled on vacant land with little difficulty. It is important to emphasize here that this does not constitute an unsolicited act of ‘squatting’, as is commonly depicted. Rather, most existing slums were deliberately settled by government or private labor contractors in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. These contractors, lower down in the state hierarchy, recruited and hired laborers from neighboring states to build the new DDA-planned areas of the city for middle- and higher-income groups, while the DDA consistently failed to meet the Master Plan's provisions for low-income housing. Instead, contractors created labor camps on government or private land beside their worksites.
This type of ‘squatting’, then, took place with government approval in the majority of cases: that is, slums arose as planned violations of the Master Plan, or what Benjamin (2008) aptly terms ‘occupancy urbanism’. As many construction projects at the time necessitated establishing entire residential colonies (municipal infrastructure, roads, buildings, etc.), the labor camps became semi-permanent. As these camps grew, local politicians (councillors and MLAs) recognized the possibility of mobilizing the laboring population for their own electoral advantage. Thus, bureaucrats in the Delhi government and local politicians seeking to solidify or expand their electoral base offered ration cards to slum residents, usually within the first few years of the establishment of a slum, in exchange for political support. Until the late 1980s, these ration cards were the sole requirement for exercising the vote. Up until the 1990s, slum dwellers, elected officials and local bureaucrats also treated these ration cards as proof of legal residence, with slum dwellers believing (and being told) that such proof provided tenure security and the right to public services, even though the DDA deemed them unplanned ‘encroachers’ because they were not formally allocated the land they occupied. While upper-level bureaucrats in the state government and central government planners and bureaucrats deride this divide between the plan and the city's actually existing residential geography as the outcome of political corruption and failed plan implementation, this system mutually benefited the local state, slum residents and, it must be added, the city as a whole through the availability of cheap labor subsidized by low-cost housing. Thus, a highly favorable reading of this arrangement would suggest that in the absence of the resources to develop formal low-income housing, India's developmental state extended the right to occupy public land to the working poor as a type of social welfare. These arrangements, however, did not solely benefit the poor since, according to the Municipal Corporation, 70% of all land development in Delhi — by slum dwellers and wealthy property owners alike — violates the Master Plan.13 Indeed, most of the privileged few in Delhi who own private land received it at highly concessional rates from the government. Furthermore, the vast majority of land used outside of the formal oversight of the state is occupied and used by the wealthy (Verma, 2002).
The point then is not to romanticize the bureaucratic negotiability that occurs in the local state, but to recognize that only through these arrangements were India's unpropertied poor able to secure the tenuous access to the city they enjoy today. The ‘porosity’ of the lower bureaucracy and the multiple, fluid channels of accessing the local state have hence prevented the complete embourgeoisement of the state and thus the city. Efforts by planning officials in the DDA and the Delhi government to bring Delhi's land-use scenario into line with the Master Plan, which increased in the 1990s as land prices climbed and more profitable opportunities for urban land development arose, were thus consistently thwarted (Ghertner, 2010). These arrangements, however, are today disintegrating rapidly. The pace and scale of slum demolitions increased starkly in the early 2000s, with conservative estimates suggesting at least a tripling of the pre-2000 pace (Dupont, 2008).14 According to most scholars, the increasingly anti-poor orientation of Indian cities arose because of an emboldened elite, often referred to as ‘the new middle class’. This class has indeed played a key role in this new drive to transform Delhi into a bourgeois, ‘world-class’ city, but not for the reasons widely affirmed in the literature.
A necessarily ‘chaotic concept’ that conflates and equates diverse social groups (Deshpande, 2006), ‘middle class’ remains the term widely used in the literature on urban politics (see e.g. Baviskar, 2003; Chatterjee, 2004; Fernandes, 2006; Gandy, 2008; Mawdsley, 2009) to describe the category of people driving the bourgeoisification of Indian cities. This association of the ‘middle class’ (often in quotation marks) with a political and moral leadership role — that is, class more as a form of political agency than an income bracket — is consistent with historiographical research on the Indian nationalist movement (see Sarkar, 1983; Chatterjee, 1993). As Pandey (2009: 328) writes: ‘middle classes had to represent and lead into the modern’. The middle class hence becomes synonymous with those who define the ideal nation or, in this case, those who set the urban agenda. I retain usage of the term here to make clear that I am talking about the same actors as these scholars of the Indian urban, although, as I will now argue, we might best define this class, in the Delhi context at least, as the owners of property in officially ‘planned’ residential colonies.
Bourgeois cities: the rise of the new middle classes
If the ethico-political bonds between the lower classes and the lower bureaucracy militate against the urban elite's best efforts to impose rational order on Indian cities, what explains the upswing in slum demolitions and city beautification projects over the past 10 years? How have bourgeois visions of the urban future gained enough political traction to reshape these cities' physical landscapes, despite their prolonged stubbornness for change, or ‘feet of vernacular clay’? These are the underlying questions motivating Partha Chatterjee's highly influential essay ‘Are Indian Cities Becoming Bourgeois At Last?’ (Chatterjee, 2004) and a spate of recent scholarship on the ‘new middle class’ in India. Let us begin by looking at how Chatterjee responds to the research question he sets before himself.
Chaterjee starts by charting the gradual thickening of ‘political society’ that put in place new paralegal arrangements benefiting directly the burgeoning ranks of the urban poor. While the poor were gaining political ground through the 1980s, Chatterjee argues, the middle class retreated and disengaged from the messy politics of the city. In the 1990s, however, ‘the tide turned’ (ibid.: 61) and those cordoned off in ‘civil society’ fought back:
there has been without doubt a surge in the activities and visibility of civil society. In metropolis after Indian metropolis, organized civic groups have come forward to demand from the administration and the judiciary that laws and regulations for the proper use of land, public spaces, and thoroughfares be formulated and strictly adhered to in order to improve the quality of life of citizens. Everywhere the dominant cry seems to be to rid the city of encroachers and polluters and, as it were, to give the city back to its proper citizens (ibid.: 140).
From where did this shift in ‘civil society’ arise? What is the origin of this newfound middle-class power? The triggering event, for Chatterjee, occurred when ‘a new idea of the post-industrial city became globally available for emulation’ (ibid.: 142). After rehearsing the common definition of ‘the global city’— a service-based, culturally branded city, operating as a node in the global network of finance capital and information (cf.Sassen, 2001) — he notes that this global image arose through new media representations and the middle classes' increased access to international travel. Somehow, according to Chatterjee, the sudden exposure to the image of a post-industrial city not only spurred a political awakening among the elite, but also endowed those in ‘civil society’ with the capacity to put pressure on the local state to stop ‘helping the poor subsist within the city’ (ibid.: 144) and instead move Indian cities in the direction of this new image.
For Chatterjee, who earlier critiqued Anderson's (1983) argument in Imagined Communities that ‘the historical experience of nationalism in Western Europe, in the Americas, and in Russia had supplied . . . a set of modular forms from which nationalist elites in Asia and Africa had chosen the ones they liked’ (Chatterjee, 1993: 5), it is surprising to find his explanation of the new Indian city stemming from a simple borrowing of Western modular forms (‘the post-industrial global image’). While descriptions of the desires, aspirations and political goals of the middle class are useful, I want to argue here that we should not confuse a class's political goals with its strategy, nor the ideology of a class with the institutional mechanisms by which its ideological position is consolidated. In other words, in asking what the forces remaking Indian cities today are, our conclusion should not be the political aspirations or urban visions of the elite. This tells us very little about how change occurs. Instead, we have to show concretely through what political mechanisms and strategies these goals get translated into real outcomes.
If Chatterjee's brief consideration of the making of bourgeois cities was but an appeal to pay greater research attention to how middle-class power is consolidated, then more elaborate studies of this class have done little to further elucidate the concrete practices by which the gains of the urban poor have been slashed so quickly. Some have argued that the expansion of ‘political society’ and what Hansen (1999: 8) calls the ‘plebianization of the political field’ led to a set of ‘elite revolts’ against the loss of political and cultural control (Corbridge and Harriss, 2000). But these arguments (about elite backlash to the rise of ‘political society’) have been made primarily in terms of large-scale electoral equations and economic policies that are not directly transferable to the context of municipal politics. Further, they deal primarily with the upper echelons of state contestation, not the lower-level bureaucracy upon which political society depends. In other words, while there has been extensive research on the ties that bind the urban poor to the local state (discussed earlier in this article), there has been almost no attention paid to how these ties have attenuated to enable the making of ‘bourgeois cities’.
For Fernandes (2004; 2006), who has engaged in by far the most in-depth study of India's ‘new middle class’ to date, the remaking of Indian cities is driven by ‘new suburban aesthetic identities and lifestyles that seek to displace visual signs of poverty from public space’ (Fernandes, 2006: xxii). Like Chatterjee, Fernandes sees middle-class power arising from new urban visions and demands within this class itself. But if, as Fernandes (ibid.: 26) says, ‘this social group has in fact historically been concerned with the assertion of civic order, a quest that has tended to rest on the exclusion of marginalized social groups that have threatened to disrupt this order’— that is, if middle-class urban visions and aesthetics are not new — then what is new about the rise of middle-class power?
Just as Chatterjee argues (quoted above) that ‘organized civic groups have come forward to demand’ a new type of city, Fernandes (ibid.: xxiii) suggests that ‘the rise of a new middle class identity begins to take the form of organized associational activity as segments of this social group form civic and neighborhood organizations in order to reclaim public space’. Therefore, for them, it is not just an emboldened middle-class vision that is remaking the Indian city, but also the organization of that vision into new associational practices. But, once again, the spur to the remaking of Indian cities is seen to emanate from internal changes within the middle class, without accounting for how these new visions are imposed practically on the lower levels of the bureaucracy. State power in this analysis figures in only after middle-class demands are secured and given official sanction, but these authors provide no sense of how this class and the local state intersect to transfigure the linkages between the lower-level state and the lower classes. For example, Fernandes and Heller (2006: 516) argue that ‘The growth of civic organizations represents an emerging trend in which the NMC [new middle class] has begun to assert an autonomous form of agency as it has sought to defend its interests against groups such as hawkers and slumdwellers’. They go on to call this a ‘de-representation of politics, as the middle-class has shifted its political practices from representative structures to civil society structures’ (ibid.: 517). Their argument hence is that the elite have asserted authority over the city by disengaging from the state. Both Chatterjee and Fernandes, then, seem to endorse the view of middle-class activism held by the middle class itself: as a Delhi-based monthly magazine covering civic associations suggests: ‘middle class anger pays. The louder you scream the better’ (Civil Society, 2005) The problem with this view, however, is that the middle class has been screaming for years, but nobody had to listen. Current analyses provide little insight into what (to develop the metaphor) brought the megaphone to their lips.
In contrast to Fernandes and Chatterjee, Roy (2004) shows that the new forms of liberalized urban development in contemporary Calcutta are the outcome of emergent strategies of state spatial regulation. She specifically argues that the state has begun to employ new strategies of accumulation that seek to privatize state assets and valorize undercapitalized spaces. The state secures legitimacy in this process, she claims, by destabilizing existing patronage politics through the selective application of the law and the randomization of political support — the ‘indeterminacies of exclusion and inclusion’, she says. Her analysis thus suggests that beyond the rise of an emboldened middle class — which she does not herself address — we have to look at new spatial strategies and configurations of the local state to understand the redevelopment of Indian cities. I now turn to the spatial reorientation of the local state in Delhi, and how it contributed to the rise of middle-class power. My argument, then (in contrast to prevalent views), is that only through a reconfiguration of urban governance structures — that is, a respatialization of the state — was the middle-class vision of urban space able to gain traction and become hegemonic.
Gentrifying urban governance
Delhi's administrative context throughout the 1990s continued to be defined by a wide gap between residents and their elected representatives on the one hand, and the planning mechanisms of the state on the other, as shown in Figure 1. In 2000, however, Delhi's system of urban governance took a radical turn. Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi and a member of the ruling Congress Party, launched an ambitious program called Bhagidari, which means ‘participation’ or ‘partnership’ in Hindi. Bhagidari was conceived, according to the Chief Minister's Office, to respond to:
[t]he deteriorating condition of environment, traffic, and public utilities . . . ‘Delhi’ was synonymous with overflowing sewers, littering on public places [sic], poor roads, long traffic jam coupled with vehicular and industrial pollution. To make matters worse, the administration was overburdened, and the conventional methods of problem solving were not yielding the desired results (GNCTD, 2007).
These ‘conventional methods’ were the existing system of fragmented governance — that is, the space of political negotiability between the planning apparatus and implementation that enabled the poor to subvert official plans and policies. Dikshit's vision since taking office in 1998 has been to transform Delhi into a ‘world-class city’.15 Making a world-class city entails the thorough physical upgrading or redevelopment of dilapidated and undercapitalized areas of the city, and it is hence no secret that, as the Chief Secretary of Delhi said: ‘A world-class city means a slum-free city’.16 Garnering legitimacy and popular support for slum removal and ensuring full buy-in from the lower branches of the state — a weakening of the political ties in ‘political society’— though, required a restructuring of the state itself. This is the context out of which Bhagidari emerged, the goal of which, according to the Chief Minister, is ‘to build a “clean, green, hassle-free quality of life” in Delhi, and transform Delhi into a “world-class capital city” ’ (GNCTD, 2004a: xiii).
In 2000, the Chief Secretary of Delhi developed the concept of Bhagidari. Reflecting back on the Chief Minister's enthusiasm for the project, he told me in an interview in 2006 that:
Citizens were unhappy with the state of the city, but all they did was complain to the government. What could we do? Colonial rule and rule by kings before that created a psyche that government had to do everything . . . Bhagidari was created to tell people ‘you are a part of government and have equal duties and responsibilities’. It is a change management process . . . Bhagidari tries to establish a structural and formal relationship with the government and people.17
Following Chief Secretary Reigunathan's initial idea to create a new institutional mechanism to bring citizens directly into the governance process through workshops and consultations, the Chief Minister hired the Asian Centre for Organisation Research and Development (ACORD), a consulting organization specializing in ‘change management, strategic planning, and human development’ (ACORD, 2006) that has worked for industrial organizations and corporations, local governments and NGOs in building more efficient organizational structures. After initial consultations with ACORD, a Bhagidari Cell was created inside the Chief Minister's Office that was envisaged as the centre for recruiting participants, called ‘Bhagidars’, and coordinating Bhagidari programs. The Bhagidari Cell quickly defined three primary ‘stakeholders’ considered worthy Bhagidars: market/trader and industrial associations, bureaucrats across the municipal, state and central government departments operating in Delhi, and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) based in DDA-approved residential colonies, membership of which is open only to property owners. This meant that residents of slums and unauthorized colonies18 (as well as renters across the city) were excluded from the ‘citizen–government partnership’, the voices of whom, the Delhi government claimed, were represented by RWAs, the so-called ‘grass-roots citizens associations’ (GNCTD, 2006b: 3). From the beginning, then, Bhagidari was designed as an instrument to incorporate the voices of private property owners into urban governance and exclude non-private property owners, making it a type of elite ‘invited space’ (Cornwall, 2004). As Reigunathan said: ‘Its goal is to make RWAs more powerful and responsive’. Despite declarations that Bhagidari had become ‘elitist’ by politicians in both the opposition and ruling parties, its exclusion of the 69% of the population living in slums and unauthorized colonies has not wavered (The Hindu, 2006). When I asked Renu Sharma, the Secretary to the Chief Minister (one rank below the Chief Secretary), who oversees the Bhagidari Cell, why Bhagidari was not open to slum residents, she began by describing the legal and administrative challenges of working in such areas, but concluded by saying: ‘In the end, the city shouldn't look like a slum’.19
Despite its overtly exclusionary basis, Bhagidari bureaucrats and documents depict Bhagidari as an inclusive program aimed at fostering ‘good governance’. As a Bhagidari brochure (GNCTD, 2007) states:
A change process was required to bring the citizens into the centre of governance. Thus the scheme of ‘Citizen–Government Partnership: Bhagidari’ was formulated to develop a democratic framework wherein citizen groups can interact and partner with government functionaries for resolution of simple, day-to-day civic issues. It encourages citizen volunteerism and sharing of responsibilities between the government and its people. It facilitates public scrutiny of government functioning and works towards policy interventions in support of popular empowerment and betterment of civil society.
We thus see that the first goal of Bhagidari, stated explicitly in documents and Bhagidari workshops and conveyed to me in interviews, is to incorporate citizen concerns and activism into the practice of government — that is, to ‘governmentalize the state’ (Foucault, 2007) by training RWA members through workshops (described below), and the public more broadly through publicity campaigns, to see themselves and act as if they are government. In addition to this effort to produce participation, Bhagidari arose out of a second, perhaps more deeply felt need to change the organization and operation of the state bureaucracy itself. As the Secretary to the Chief Minister said of the inefficiencies of the bureaucratic process:
Government workers don't respond to the demands of citizens. They don't follow directives outside of their immediate command either, and they sometimes don't even follow those . . . We saw the need for Bhagidari to coordinate the demands of citizens [read: RWAs], so citizens wouldn't have to negotiate the maze of different departments and so those departments would become more responsive . . . This was difficult early on because it was difficult to get government bureaucrats to move. Over 5 years now, there's been a change of mindset so that initial barriers are overcome.
Bhagidari seeks to not only transform citizens into the ‘eyes and ears of government’, as Bhagidari bureaucrats like to say, but also insert a new set of incentives and bureaucratic arrangements into state space itself, so that government workers are more directly tied into and responsive to the demands of RWAs. As Ferguson and Gupta (2002) remind us, state spatial order as well as scalar and bureaucratic hierarchy have to be continually reproduced. In Delhi today, Bhagidari represents an active strategy to reaffirm the chain of command and retune bureaucratic responsiveness, and thus the class configuration, of the state. This attention to state spatiality, I argue, is understudied in research on democratic citizenship and political participation. While there are three primary Bhagidari activities — membership workshops, thematic workshops and monthly meetings — due to space constraints, I will focus only on the membership workshops and monthly meetings.
The membership workshop
Three-day Bhagidari membership workshops are held approximately three times a year and are a forum in which new Bhagidars are inducted into the program and undergo training on how to ‘participate’. These workshops are held in large, air-conditioned, decorated conference halls with dozens of round tables seating a mixture of bureaucrats and RWA representatives. The workshops are inaugurated by the Chief Minister and followed by comments by the Chief Secretary of Delhi and the Director of the Bhagidari Cell, who proclaim the importance of the new Bhagidars in the efficient administration of the city. In a workshop I attended in October 2006, the Director followed the Chief Minister by saying:
It is time to showcase the city, to showcase the country in the city. The Beijing Games are coming before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and you can count on China showcasing its economic and military power. This is what countries do. The 1986 Asiad Games [hosted in Delhi, in 1982 not 1986] did this for Delhi. The city's first two flyovers came then. Color TV first came to India then. Now, we will construct 24 new flyovers before the Commonwealth Games . . . Sports offer a stimulus to get any upgradation done: wider roads, the Metro, new stadiums — improving the city. We are here today to make sure this happens, to help make Delhi the best city, a world-class city.
He thus began by establishing the vision of a world-class city as the national goal of citizen and government alike, before proceeding to describe how the relationship between Bhagidars and the state is formalized by laying out the structure and organization of the Bhagidari process. Bhagidars, he explained, have four primary points of contact with the state.
First, monthly Bhagidari meetings are held in each of Delhi's nine revenue districts, in which member RWAs and lower-level bureaucrats as well as a top-ranking bureaucrat from all relevant government departments meet under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner, who is the officer in charge of the District Office. In addition to these monthly meetings, which I will describe below, RWAs can directly contact the Bhagidari Cell, which then forwards the aggrieved RWA's request to the relevant department. The third line of contact between RWAs and the state is in Bhagidari thematic workshops, which address a single issue (e.g. water delivery) over the course of three days of discussions. The fourth line of contact between RWAs and the state is through direct communication, usually via telephone or office visits.
The Bhagidari Cell insists that a major goal of Bhagidari is to make RWA members and bureaucrats not only partners in urban governance, but also friends. Their goal is to open lines of communication by which residents can call the relevant department's staff when there is a leaking pipe, a downed power-line or a truant waste-collector. As the chairman of ACORD told me during a workshop,20‘a lot of bonding takes place [in Bhagidari]. New friendships are made. People exchange phone numbers. Then, when RWAs have problems, they can just call up officials and get things fixed up’.
After the four primary channels of Bhagidari interaction are described, the workshop moves on to individual sessions, where Bhagidars are taught the administrative structure in their district, who works for whom, and the procedures by which they can access and communicate with various branches of the state. In addition to participating in small group sessions where new RWA Bhagidars interact with bureaucrats to understand the nature of their future interaction, membership workshops have two other primary functions. The first is to instill in Bhagidars a set of norms and expectations as to how the city should appear and function. While RWAs join Bhagidari with a pre-formulated set of civic concerns and existing neighborhood problems, these workshops sketch out broader urban problematics that are presumed to be shared by all legitimate urban residents: residents should pay taxes, discourage littering and public urination, prevent electricity theft, ensure that residents in an area are registered with the police, report suspicious individuals to the authorities, help Delhi become world class, support the ‘planned’ development of the city and the project of ‘greening’ Delhi, discourage encroachments on public land, among others. While the organizers repeatedly raise these challenges over the course of the workshop, a key way in which a normative picture of Delhi emerges is through small group exercises in which Bhagidars are asked to identify ‘positive things in Delhi’ and ‘negative things in Delhi’.
In these exercises, Bhagidars (both RWAs and bureaucrats) from diverse locales across the city are placed in groups of 8–10 and instructed to debate the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ aspects of Delhi, and which citywide civic problems should be tackled on a priority basis. At the end of the session, the Bhagidari staff collect written recommendations and priority problems from the small groups so they can be summarized and discussed by the large group before the day's end. This summary sheet shows Bhagidars what the consensus ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’ are in Delhi. During one workshop, top ‘positives’ included the Delhi Metro, new flyovers and highway construction, ‘Green Delhi’ and the Commonwealth Games. Top ‘negatives’ included ‘uncontrolled population growth’, ‘unauthorized occupation of parks, roads and public places’, ‘water and electricity supply’ and ‘lack of cleanliness’.
Over the course of the workshop days, a handful of problems are selected from the preliminary discussions, and training sessions are run to show Bhagidars how past problems have been resolved within neighborhoods and districts. For these sessions, groups of 8–10 are given mock situations that ask the RWA members, in conjunction with the bureaucrats at their table, to write up a proposed solution to the problem at hand. The answers discussed at each small group are then shared with the large group and written responses are collected by Bhagidari staff so they can be summarized for the next day. These summaries are then passed out to all new Bhagidars, showing them the consensus strategies that should be adopted for the particular problems discussed. This establishes procedural protocols for civic action, guiding RWA concerns and conduct toward certain problem areas and pre-defined improvement strategies.
A related function of these workshops, thus, is to define RWAs as governors, to train them to conduct themselves and attempt to ‘conduct the conduct’ of others in a way amenable to Delhi's world-class ascent. Bhagidari becomes an exercise, in part, of cultivating a pattern of self-government among the middle class, but more importantly of instilling a set of civic concerns within a privileged segment of the population that can demand adherence to ‘world-class standards’ from the lower branches of the state. After membership training, RWA representatives return to their neighborhoods and are expected to pursue the problem-solving strategies learned. They are handed workshop summaries broken down by problem type and given a final instruction sheet on how to educate other RWA members and neighborhood residents.
Monthly Bhagidari meetings
The most important Bhagidari activity is the monthly district-level meeting. These meetings bring high-ranking officers from each government department at the district level to the district office once a month for a two-hour meeting, during which all RWA Bhagidars from that district can attend and raise grievances specific to their neighborhoods. Monthly Bhagidari meetings were institutionalized through an executive order from the Chief Secretary of Delhi, which required each department in the Delhi government to designate a nodal officer who would meet RWA Bhagidars on a monthly basis to design ‘Action Plans’‘to be implemented within the department's budgetary provisions for the year’ (GNCTD, 2004a).
The Deputy Commissioner (the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the Delhi government at district level) chairs these monthly meetings and begins each session by asking about progress in addressing problems tackled at the previous meeting. If these have been resolved to the satisfaction of the RWA concerned, they are removed from the list. If not, then the Commissioner asks when work to solve the problem will begin and what progress has been made, which usually leads to a discussion of timeline and the proposed remedy. If the RWA is dissatisfied with the response (which is often the case), it can push the Commissioner to bring pressure to bear on the relevant officer. As a result, RWAs have a tremendous amount of influence over problem definition and resolution. Over the course of the three monthly meetings I attended, RWA concerns were taken seriously, and if a satisfactory solution was not reached after multiple months, the officers in charge faced some sort of public embarrassment or reprimand from their superiors. For example, in one case where an RWA had complained about waterlogging in a park that had not been addressed in three months, the Commissioner picked up his mobile phone and called a more senior official in the Delhi Water Board on the phone, asking him why the drain had not yet been cleared when the officer present knew about the problem for so long. In this instance, the officer in the meeting quickly promised that he would take care of the issue by the next month.
By forcing low-level bureaucrats to directly address the concerns of RWAs under the watch of higher-level bureaucrats and constructing a common space in which RWAs can engage all relevant government departments, Bhagidari monthly meetings reconfigure state space significantly. Bhagidari, as Figure 2 shows, has created a centralized governance space in which cross-departmental and cross-sectoral decisions and concerns are deliberated, and to which only a privileged segment of society is given access. Via Bhagidari, RWAs (which represent only the 25% of the population living in DDA-recognized residential colonies) are elevated above the common citizen and placed within the apparatus of the state itself. By bringing upper- and lower-level bureaucrats together, the idea was that there would not be a need for the complex space of political negotiability through which abstract plans have been reworked historically to meet local needs, since action plans would be designed to address the problems faced by low-level state workers. However, Bhagidari, I now want to argue, has not eliminated the space of political negotiability (labeled ‘political society’ in Figure 2). Rather, it has gentrified it in two ways.
First, Bhagidari creates a parallel governance mechanism through which RWA interests earn the special attention of government officials. Whereas those outside of Bhagidari have to go through the existing grievance-redress processes, RWAs have direct access to the relevant officials, both in monthly meetings and through personal communication. This is illustrated in Figure 2 by the insertion of RWAs higher up the state administrative hierarchy. As the chairman of ACORD told me: ‘Everyone starts at the local office, and if that doesn't solve their problem, then they go to the district office. If this doesn't work for Bhagidars, they go to their monthly district meeting and talk directly with the nodal officer, who has a much higher position than the district officer’.21 My interviews with RWAs indicate that the first steps described here — going to the local then district offices — are rarely even considered by RWA Bhagidars. Instead, they go straight to a higher officer, either by phone or at the monthly meeting. In a survey of 25 RWA members actively involved in Bhagidari that I randomly selected during monthly meetings and through the Bhagidari Cell's RWA directory, 22 said they agree or strongly agree with the statement ‘Because of Bhagidari, you know more government officials and contact them more often’.22 I often asked RWA members and bureaucrats if they had each other's phone numbers stored in their mobile phones to confirm this increased familiarity. Without fail, bureaucrats involved in Bhagidari had the names of secretaries from the most active RWAs on hand and said they were in regular contact.
Bhagidari monthly meetings also establish a direct line of communication between RWAs and the Chief Minister's Office, giving RWAs a platform to indirectly influence policy decisions and frame the debate on urban issues. As the supervisor of the South District Office said: ‘ultimately, if a problem isn't addressed it'll go to the CM's Office . . . If we have a problem we can't address, we tell the CMO and they call a high-level meeting in chairmanship of the CM with the highest officers. This is how bigger issues get addressed’.23 For example, consistent complaints by RWAs in West Delhi about the unresponsiveness of district officers in the Municipal Corporation led the Chief Minister's Office to send a request to the Municipal Corporation District Office to officially investigate officer performance. The Chief Minister and the Delhi Cabinet have also called special meetings with RWAs on multiple occasions to address issues ranging from the government's approach to water privatization (The Times of India, 2006), cable television fee structure, and the approach to mixed land use and commercialization. In the case of charting out the government's policy on mixed land use, a highly contentious issue at the time, the Chief Minister said the recommendations received from RWAs would be summarized and forwarded directly to the group of ministers charged with devising central government's policy on the matter (Shukla, 2006).
Bhagidari monthly meetings are a forum in which any RWA can develop a one-to-one relationship with public officials working in a particular ward or sector. They also directly introduce RWAs to those most capable of implementing change at the neighborhood level. As the secretary of a relatively high-income neighborhood in South Delhi said: ‘We no longer see them as some babu in a government office; we understand their constraints and are assured that our problems will be resolved. And they are resolved most often’ (quoted in Chakrabarti, 2007: 62). Bureaucrats also prefer to discuss problems directly with the RWA rather than have to face scrutiny in the public meeting or by the Deputy Commissioner. As the above-quoted RWA secretary said: ‘They [MCD officers] give us numbers, sometimes personal cell phone numbers; we know who to call for our water problems or for maintaining roads, or our garden. Earlier we wasted all our time being redirected from one office to another to register our complaints. This was definitely a change’ (ibid.). The secretary of a North Delhi RWA expressed a similar point: ‘We have a close relationship with the DC [Deputy Commissioner] thanks to Bhagidari. Before we'd try calling an officer and his PA [personal assistant] would say he's busy or in a meeting. Now, we know these officers well. Bhagidari has made a huge difference in our ability to make our point and voice heard . . . We are the government now!’.24 As another RWA leader said: ‘My RWA business card has the most powerful logo in the city, the Bhagidari logo. It opens doors, makes officials sit up and listen’ (Lakshmi, 2008).
Twenty out of the 25 RWAs who completed my survey agreed with the statements ‘RWAs have been empowered because of Bhagidari’ and ‘Because of Bhagidari, government departments listen to you more’.25 I was unable to secure enough responses to a survey I designed for bureaucrats on their perceptions of Bhagidari, but informal conversations with officers in various departments in the Delhi government confirmed that they personally know the leaders of RWAs in their area, understand their perspectives, find out about problems in RWA neighborhoods more quickly, receive more complaints from citizens and solve RWAs' problems more quickly thanks to Bhagidari.26 Government officials also often expressed a belief that citizen groups not in Bhagidari would be more powerful if they became Bhagidars. Most bureaucrats further agreed that they spent more time engaging with RWAs thanks to Bhagidari.
The frequency and intimacy of RWA–bureaucrat interactions make monthly meetings a context in which middle-class sensibilities enter into the day-to-day culture of governance. As bureaucrats absorb commonly held RWA concerns and perspectives, their priorities shift to accommodate RWA civic sense. Although not all RWAs in Delhi perceive the same threats/challenges to healthy neighborhoods, a cross-RWA platform has emerged that the removal of slums and ‘encroachments’ on public land and space is a necessary step in urban improvement. Copies of monthly district meeting summaries, as reported to the Bhagidari Cell, show that RWAs regularly raise this issue. I obtained these summaries for four of the nine districts in Delhi for three consecutive months. Each summary showed at least one grievance related specifically to a slum, with at least 15% of problems in each meeting pertaining to encroachments (e.g. slums, hawkers, illegal parking) on public land or roadsides. For example, one summary stated: ‘Road on south of Soami Nagar Colony and MCD flats from Savitri Nagar corner upto [sic] Chirag Delhi nala [drain] is heavily encroached by jhuggis [slum huts]’ and reported that the Slum Wing of the MCD had been deputed to address the issue. Bhagidari thus represents one important site in which slum removal gains official recognition, a point that Deputy Commissioners confirmed in interviews with me.
In addition to strengthening RWAs, incorporating their problem definitions as part of the ‘mentality’ of government, and giving them privileged access to upper- and lower-level state workers, Bhagidari's second effect is the weakening of the electoral process and forms of bureaucratic ‘fixing’ upon which slum dwellers have historically been most dependent. Thus, whereas on the one hand Bhagidari builds new bonds and strengthens old ones between the middle class and the state, on the other hand it weakens the linkages between residents of slums and the lower-level bureaucracy, and diminishes elected councillors' influence on both the bureaucracy and development decisions. If we examine Figure 2, we see that the lowest branches of most government departments are now pulled into the sphere of Bhagidari, which elevates the concerns of RWAs above all others and reconfigures the chain of command such that low-level bureaucrats, who have typically been effective ‘fixers’ in negotiating benefits for slum residents, now face more regular oversight from senior officers. The shaded area in Figure 2 marked ‘political society’ indicates the effect of this. On the one hand, this space has been narrowed, meaning the urban poor can access fewer state departments now, as these departments' primary citizen contacts have been formally defined as RWAs. On the other hand, this space of political negotiability has become shallower, meaning the urban poor now have to traverse a greater distance (an often impossible task) in order to reach the same level of the state, and their elected representatives have less influence over state workers that have been drawn into the Bhagidari fold and pulled higher up the state administrative hierarchy. This reflects ‘the decline in the ability of existing structures of representation to provide poorer social groups influence over policy’ that Harriss (2005: 1041) has observed.
That Bhagidari has led to an enervation of representative democracy is perhaps best illustrated by municipal councillors' views of Bhagidari. Bhagidari's first couple of years of operation led to conflicts between the MCD and Chief Minister's Office, with the former claiming that the latter was encroaching on its political space. As The Hindu (2005a) reported: ‘Interestingly, the Congress [the ruling political party] Councillors have from the very beginning opposed the Bhagidari scheme, describing it as an attempt to clip the wings of the elected representatives’. The councillors had earlier claimed that the Chief Minister was trying to run the MCD ‘through a remote control called the “Commissioner” and implementing her plans in the name of “Bhagidari” ’ (The Hindu, 2002). This led councillors to demand that ‘MCD's Zonal [district] staff be stopped from attending the district-level “Bhagidari Workshops” ’, because during the workshops the zonal offices were empty and thus unable to address regular public grievances (The Hindu, 2005b).
During my fieldwork in Delhi's informal settlements, residents often expressed frustration that their councillors appeared powerless to confront the threats of eviction, police harassment and service loss they once routinely took on. Residents often described this powerlessness through a sense of being abandoned, even though I heard councillors in numerous instances say that tackling issues of eviction and resettlement was beyond their reach, as these matters were now (unlike in previous years) decided by bureaucrats and judges over whom they had little political influence. This is not to say that the unpropertied poor have lost all ties to the state, but the challenges of retaining secure tenure in the face of both the diminishing power of their elected representatives27 as well as the upper classes' increased influence over low-level bureaucrats through Bhagidari are made clear by the extent of slum demolitions over the past decade.
The sidelining of elected representatives and weakening of the avenues by which the non-Bhagidar public can access the state are points celebrated by many active RWAs. As the president of one RWA told me:
Before, only the poor people voted and had voice. Politicians lived off these vote banks. Middle class didn't vote. Because of Bhagidari, middle class has come up and expresses its right. And, we now have very active participation in government policies . . . RWAs are platforms for this movement against illegal activities of the land mafia: commercialization and slumification; these are what we stand against . . . We perform the duties of the active representatives.28
Here, RWAs' increasing role in neighborhood and district-level governance is viewed as a positive step toward increased efficiency, transparency and equity in government, despite the entirely unrepresentative nature of RWAs.
Adding fuel to the debate over representative structures and democratic process, in 2004 the Bhagidari Cell first proposed extending Rs. 5 million (US $125,000) to each district that would be allocated to RWAs on the basis of project proposals. Elected politicians (both councillors and MLAs), who rely on the dispersal of their annual development funds (Rs. 7.5 and 20 million respectively) to garner political support, claimed this proposal was ‘not only undermining the role of the legislator but also throwing up a parallel administration by creating a new system and a new set of administrators’ (The Hindu, 2005c). Although this proposal was finally approved and implemented in 2007, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party perhaps best summarizes the implications of this program:
This shows that Ms. Dikshit [the Chief Minister] has been trying to bypass the deliberative wing of the MCD. ‘This is undemocratic,’ he alleged. ‘This is an insult to the MCD,’ he observed. ‘We as responsible opposition cannot let this happen as this is nothing but an attempt to throttle grassroots democracy in the Capital,’ he stated (The Hindu, 2004).
By extending almost as much development money29 to RWAs in Bhagidari as the elected councillors have for their wards, this money, called the ‘My Delhi, I Care’ fund, further establishes RWAs as the de facto representatives of wards and neighborhoods and bestows official sanction on middle-class urban development norms.
While RWA members acknowledge Bhagidari's initial role in spurring RWA activism, the program has come under heavy criticism from RWAs for not transforming Delhi thoroughly or quickly enough. These RWAs complain specifically that Bhagidari does not produce real results and that they themselves have to lobby and act to make things happen. As an RWA member active in Bhagidari said: ‘Bhagidari is a bit of a disappointment. Bhagidari monthly meetings tend to be dominated by discussion of single areas . . . Bhagidari is too slow’.30 Harsher criticism comes from RWAs not actively involved in Bhagidari. As the president of an RWA told me: ‘it is just a game for the Chief Minister. If you want to get anything done, you have to do it yourself. Nothing happens in those meetings’.31
Criticism of Bhagidari, however, has a surprising effect. While it certainly weakens the public's perception of the ruling Congress Party, it treats Bhagidari only in the limited sense of its official workshops and meetings, and ignores the larger reconfiguration of governance structures that Bhagidari produces. While the Chief Minister's Office imagines Bhagidari as a way to inculcate a middle-class consumerist modernity (cf.Srivastava, 2009), it is in fact a product of this very experience of the urban. People coming to Bhagidari already believe in the dream of making Delhi ‘world-class’. Bhagidari is so successful in reconfiguring state space, even though rarely acknowledged, because it presents its premise — a consolidated, property-owning class ready to intervene into state practice — as its outcome — an activist ‘citizenry’. Even when criticized, Bhagidari reinforces the vision and desire for a ‘world-class’ city because criticism of Bhagidari is based on the claim that it does not implement this vision fast enough. In provoking this criticism though, Bhagidari simultaneously provokes the demand for greater RWA power, which is precisely the goal of Bhagidari in the first place. That is, Bhagidari has effectively governmentalized the state, fostering the sentiment among elite RWAs that they should be and are becoming Delhi's governors. As the secretary of one of Delhi's largest RWA federations told me: ‘Bhagidari isn't working very effectively, but it has brought authorities closer to RWAs. Now, the government can't ignore RWA issues. This is largely because RWAs are getting more media attention. The newspapers have even appointed special RWA correspondents’. Here, the suggestion is that RWAs have sprung up and taken charge, forcing the government to respond: the causal arrow points from RWAs to the state. But, as I have shown, this ‘empowerment’ of RWAs was the very intention of Bhagidari in the first place. Now, RWAs see their governing role as natural and necessary, operating outside of, but upon, the state. The fact that a reconfiguration of state space itself gave rise to this rationality is consistently elided in RWA accounts, especially among those less active in Bhagidari. As a journalist for The Times of India's special weekly RWA supplement said of the effect of Bhagidari: ‘It was as if all of a sudden people started seeing governance, seeing their lives and seeing space in the city differently: new concerns emerged in a very short period that all of a sudden were considered noteworthy and important to people’.32 My argument here is that Delhi's property-owning classes were positioned to stamp their will upon the city, but the program put in place through Bhagidari: (1) consolidated, or at least partially combined, these groups' normative stance vis-à-vis urban disorder and modernity; (2) cultivated their desire to act upon this normative stance; and (3) put in place the conditions necessary for them to intervene in and through the state.
This article has shown how the Delhi government's Bhagidari scheme has reconfigured state space to facilitate the rise of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) as a new player in neighborhood and citywide urban governance. Whereas the unpropertied poor in India have historically enjoyed close cultural ties to the low-level bureaucracy and local representatives, allowing them some degree of tenure and economic security, Bhagidari has re-engineered Delhi's administrative hierarchy, loosening these ties and diminishing the influence of local representatives. It has done so by creating a parallel governance mechanism outside of electoral politics that is accessible only to RWAs (cf.Chakrabarti, 2008). Specifically, Bhagidari has forged multiple ‘new state spaces’ (Brenner, 2004), in which low-level bureaucrats are put into direct contact with RWAs and held accountable for implementing their visions for urban change. If gentrification is broadly defined as the displacement of a lower class from a space into which a wealthier class is entering, then Bhagidari brings about nothing less than the gentrification of political participation, or the gentrification of spaces of political association once open to the public. As the lower-level state has been pulled under the closer watch of more senior bureaucrats who are beholden to the interests of RWAs, the elected councillors — who have historically had the closest ties with the urban poor — have increasingly had to cater to the demands of RWAs in order to maintain their political relevance and visibility.33
While academic literature has noted that participatory governance programs often work to manage and direct, rather than empower, deprived social classes (see, for example, Cooke and Kothari, 2001; Leitner et al., 2007; Blakeley, 2010), I have shown here how the re-spatialization of the state can structure the conditions of access to participatory programs in the first place. This analysis of state spatial reorganization combines the more ethnographic attention to how citizens access and make claims on the state found in the literature on participation with the focus on state form more often discussed in the urban governance literature. In doing so, I have offered a novel approach to mapping state space in relation to political participation. I have used this approach to show that the relative depth (how far up in the state one can reach) and width (how many issues one can confront) of the spaces of political contact and negotiability open to ordinary city residents (represented by the shaded areas in Figures 1 and 2) provides a useful lens for evaluating the relative inclusiveness of different configurations of urban governance. As the Bhagidari case shows, programs designed to increase citizen–government partnership can have the surprising effect of making this space shallower and narrower, reducing the avenues of political participation open to the poor.
While the tendency for the elite capture of voluntary partnership structures is well documented (see Fyfe, 1995; Raco, 2000; Swyngedouw, 2005), and research on urban politics has attended to the class and equity impacts of shifting scales of governance (see Swyngedouw et al., 2002), the Bhagidari case demonstrates the need to examine participatory governance programs as instruments of state restructuring that not only provide differential access to new avenues of political participation, but also rearrange existing political space. Seeing struggles over urban space as simultaneously struggles over state space, I have here suggested expanding the use of the term ‘gentrification’ from a focus on land and housing (physical space) to political space as well. While previous debates on participation have been framed in terms of ‘marginalization’ and ‘exclusion’, Bhagidari shows that the concept of ‘gentrification’, with its emphasis on how different class groups occupy space over time, might reveal distinct patterns through which political space once open to the lower classes is appropriated by the upper classes.
Bhagidari has been justified as a program to increase government transparency, reduce corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, and produce ‘good governance’ in Delhi. It won the 2005 UN Public Service Award on the basis of its performance in these areas and is being implemented in other states in India as an example of participatory ‘best practice’.34 The media, government, NGOs and high-level state officials have celebrated Bhagidari for its effectiveness in rooting out ‘vote-bank’ politics and government corruption, even while acknowledging that it has made property-owning residents of Delhi, who represent less than 25% of Delhi's population (GNCTD, 2004b), de facto citizen representatives. Just as processes of gentrification in housing have increasingly been ‘sugarcoated’ and interpreted as a sign of urban progress by policymakers and academics (Slater, 2006), so too here does the gentrification of participation get read as a necessary step toward more efficient, modern and world-class cities. The irony is that the same forms of bureaucratic contact — forms of negotiation and ‘fixing’ that operate through pressure, threats and embarrassments on the low-level state workers — once called ‘dirty’ and ‘corrupt’ when practiced by the poor are today celebrated as ‘efficient’ and ‘transparent’ when exercised by the elite. As an RWA correspondent for The Times of India told me while praising the merits of Bhagidari: ‘the conclusion is obvious: transparency, anti-corruption and good governance lead to more money, more power and control for the middle class’.35 This article thus shows that the division between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ (or civil society and political society) reflects not an ontological distinction between fundamentally different modes of political practice, but rather an active construction made and maintained by the state.
Whereas most scholarly analyses suggest that internal changes within India's middle class itself explain its recent rise in power, I have argued here that only by looking at how this class's interests articulate with the local state is the origin of this power revealed: that is, the state must be examined as a key arena out of which sociospatial inequality is produced. Specifically, I have shown that the consolidation of a ‘middle-class’ leadership (or an RWA vanguard) in Delhi took place only through its institutionalization in the Delhi government's Bhagidari scheme. Like Wacquant's (2008) criticism that recent gentrification research leaves out the central role of the state in producing both physical space and the cultural spaces of consumption, I here argue that contemporary inquiries into India's ‘new middle class’ propagate neoliberal rhetoric that current social trends are but the natural fruition of transformations in ‘civil society’ (see Chatterjee, 2004; Fernandes, 2004). To make this argument, I drew from scholarship on postcolonial state form in India — in particular, Chatterjee's distinction between ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’. However, I found that to come to grips with the complex dynamics by which state and class formation articulate — and to treat these two domains of class society as actively produced through political contestation, rather than as fixed categories inhabited by corresponding fixed class segments — it was necessary to adopt the more spatially attuned conceptualization of the state I have outlined here. Thus, while discussion of India's middle class through the 1980s never strayed far from a coupled discussion of ‘the developmental state’, today's analyses of middle-class politics presume that just as the state has shed its developmental stance, so too has it stepped away from its ‘ethico-political’ function. This is a fallacy that must be countered through concrete historical analysis, an attempt at which I have offered here.
This article is based on four months of field research conducted between 2006 and 2008 on Bhagidari and Delhi-based Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs), which was part of a larger study of urban restructuring, housing and displacement.
Combined demolitions (notoriously under-)reported by the DDA and Slum Wing of the Municipal Corporation from 1997 to 2007 lead to the conservative estimate of 710,000 displaced residents. The City Development Plan of Delhi (GNCTD, 2006c), prepared by private consultants, on the other hand, estimates that 1.8 million residents were displaced between 1997 and 2001 alone.
Frankel (1978: 111) makes a similar point in describing the lack of shared goals and willingness to cooperate between the central and state governments and the upper- and lower-level bureaucrats in the early decades of state planning: ‘But in the last analysis, the local development officers were themselves drawn mainly from the village population, and responsible to superiors in the administrative services and the ministries of state governments, many of whom had very little genuine enthusiasm for the tasks of social education [and reform]’.
This notion is endorsed by research showing how the elite and educated classes not only took on important administrative and ideological roles, but also a symbolic importance as ‘a “proxy” for the nation’ (Deshpande, 2003: 150).
For an earlier articulation of a similar point in the context of the Middle East, see Bayat (1997).
Also see Chatterjee (1993: 12–13) for a framing of ‘elite’ and ‘subaltern’ politics in terms of ‘the nation’ and ‘its fragments’. Chatterjee (2004) develops this distinction based on an earlier formulation from the Subaltern Studies project, that theorized a split during the Indian nationalist movement between a more organized, vertically mobilized and ‘controlled’ elite domain, and an unorganized, more horizontally mobilized, subaltern domain of ‘spontaneous’ politics (Guha, 1982).
This commissioner system is in place in most Indian cities, Kolkata being a major exception (Lama-Rewal, 2007: 59, note 6).
The Report of the Committee on Problems of Slums in Delhi, compiled by the Planning Commission (2002), confirms the gross underprovision of land for the poorest segments of the population: ‘DDA claims that 20% of the residential area [of Delhi] is earmarked for Economically Weaker Sections/squatter population under the integrated development project. DDA has not allotted any land to Slum & JJ Department [responsible for slum housing] during 1992–97 . . . Prima facie, the allocation of land for the housing of the urban poor has been insufficient to meet the requirements, and below the proportion of their share [provided through the Master Plan]’ (29–30).
See Ramanathan (2005) for an elaboration of how slums are defined in law. The central act on slums, namely, the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956 defines slums as ‘any area (where) buildings . . . (a) are in any respect unfit for human habitation, or (b) are by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation, or any combination of these factors, are detrimental, to safety, health or morals’.
Okhla Factor Owner's Association vs. GNCTD (Delhi High Court, 2002), Civil Writ Petition No. 4441 of 1994, final judgment, paragraph 18. This estimate is based on the prevailing situation in 1998; because up-to-date estimates of Delhi's slum population have not been completed in more than a decade (Dupont, 2008), the MCD and DDA are in the habit of quoting 1998 numbers for all later dates.
Writ Petition No. 4582 of 2003 and CM No. 587 of 2006 filed in the Delhi High Court, order dated 18 January 2006.
For a discussion of the shifting political technologies used to put in place the vision of, and administer the shift to, a slum-free, ‘world-class’ city, see Ghertner (2010).
See, for example, The Hindu (2007). The Delhi Budget 2006–07 makes frequent reference to Delhi becoming a ‘world-class city’ in justifying its financial allocations, as does the newest update to the Delhi Master Plan (DDA, 2007). For a discussion of the judiciary's insistence on the importance of Delhi's ‘world-class’ transformation, see Ghertner (2008).
Documentary film directed by Ravinder Randhawa (2006), Hazards Centre Productions, New Delhi Pvt Ltd, 64 minutes.
Interview with Mr S. Reigunathan, 24 November 2006.
Unauthorized colonies are plots of land purchased via ‘power of attorney’ sales that are typically registered with the Revenue Department, but are not formally recognized by the DDA because they do not conform to or exist within the district or area plans. They are primarily subdivided agricultural tracts of land, often developed and sold by property dealers, without DDA approval of land-use conversion.
Interview in Chief Minister's Office, 26 April 2006.
Bhagidari thematic workshop, 22 October 2006.
Conversation with Dr George Koreth, chairman of ACORD, 13 October 2006.
Two of the remaining three respondents neither agreed nor disagreed, and only one disagreed. This data was collected using a mail-in survey sent out to 85 randomly selected RWA members (response rate of 29%) using a database provided by the Bhagidari Cell of the Chief Minister's Office. I made initial contact over the phone and sent surveys to those who expressed a willingness to participate. In four instances, upon the respondents' request, I administered the survey over the phone.
Interview, 30 November 2006. Mr S. Regunathan concurs: ‘The government has on many occasions consulted RWAs directly on the drafting of civic policy. It sought cooperation on provisions of certain acts and infrastructure provision in general at the neighborhood level’.
Interview, 3 February 2007.
Only two respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with these claims, with one respondent in each case neither agreeing nor disagreeing. A public perception survey conducted by the Delhi government shows that RWAs report an overall increase in the quality of service delivery. Of the 240 RWAs surveyed, 40% and 43% respectively found their interactions with the MCD and DDA (which do not fall under the command of the Bhagidari Cell and Delhi Government) to be ‘successful’, meaning these interactions showed a marked improvement thanks to Bhagidari (GNCTD, 2006a: 95).
This partially contrasts with RWA members' responses, which showed only a slight agreement with the statement ‘Government departments respond to you more quickly because of Bhagidari’, and five of the 25 respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘Bhagidari has helped you solve your neighborhood problems’.
It should be noted that this is not an effect of Bhagidari alone. Large-scale urban development projects considered of strategic importance, such as the Commonwealth Games and the Delhi Metro, are increasingly implemented in a top-down manner whereby central and state government departments make executive decisions, in consultation with private developers, with only a token advisory role for elected representatives. This reflects a trend of neoliberalized governance observed widely in India (see Kamath and Baindur, 2009) and Europe (see Swyngedouw et al., 2002).
Interview, 17 November 2006.
Bhagidari staff indicated in 2007 to RWAs in thematic workshops and to me in conversation that the fund is expected to grow in size from Rs. 5 million to 10 million in the near future.
Interview, 28 November 2006.
Interview, 12 February 2007.
Interview with Ms Uttara Rajinder, 15 November 2006.
India's first national-level report assessing urban poverty, jointly published by the Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation and the UN Development Program, thus finds that: ‘A substantial portion of the benefits provided by public agencies are cornered by middle and upper income households’ (Indian Ministry of Housing and UN Development Program, 2009).
See ACORD (2006), which describes the Asian Centre for Organisation Research and Development's work to extend Bhagidari to the city of Jaipur. Also see Baud and Nainan (2008) for an example of a similar, but less extreme, program in Mumbai, where neighborhood associations are delegated responsibilities for local waste-management.
Interview with Ms Uttara Rajinder, 15 November 2006.