Let’s de-territorialize Urban Populism! Notes from an Extended Case Study of RWAs in Delhi’s Valmiki neighbourhoods

Authors: Aditya Mohanty*, University of Aberdeen
Topics: Political Geography, Qualitative Methods, Asia
Keywords: Urban Informality, Populism, Brokerage, Subaltern Politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper argues that in order to fully understand the emerging tropes of urban politics, one needs to decouple the ideological from the political. I attempt to so by using an ethnographic vignette, that examines as to how does the introduction of neighbourhood associations in marginalised neighbourhoods i.e., Valmiki Colony in Mandir Marg, Delhi, both unsettles and re-invents the traditional modes of community leadership viz., pradhans, which have hitherto used a patron-client mode of populism. It shall also help us understand as to how under the guise of participatory urban governance, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) were used as conduits of populism by different political parties in Delhi. But in so doing, I build on the civil v/s political society conceptual dichotomy offered by Chatterjee (1998) and reiterate that urban ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ are not binaries but rather co-constitutive of each other. By In so doing, I argue that rather than merely focusing on the political economy of urban politics, a deep ethnography of kinship and ritualistic ties shall help us dissect the emergent patterns of brokerage i.e., the new template of State-civil society relations in urban India and its implications on engineering of urban populism. Thus, although at an empirical level, the paper is a case study of neighbourhood associations among subaltern communities in Delhi, yet at a theoretical level, it adds to the conceptual repertoire of themes like 'urban marginality' (Wacquant 1996) and 'people as infrastructure' (Simone 2004) that emanate from studies done in other non-South Asian contexts.

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