PresenterGHOSAL PRATIM - UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, OXFORD DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, OXFORD, United Kingdom
Panel22 – The present democratic crisis in South Asia: causes, distinctive elements and historical precedents
Indian democracy’s turn towards authoritarian populism has coincided with the growing power of business in the country’s economic and political life. This double movement has been a key aspect of Hindutva’s dominance today. While engaging with a growing scholarship, which has mostly taken a macro view of this coming together of (Big) Business and Hindutva, this paper takes a different pathway by focussing on the provincial segments of India’s business class, that I term the Provincial Business Class (PBC), and their engagement with Hindutva. Zooming in on the city of Surat –a commercial centre which is home to a significant segment of the PBC and a bastion of the BJP– I construct an emic account of how the PBC engages with a political order that has been dominated by the Hindu Nationalists for close to three decades. Framed by the statement of an interviewee, that business and politics in the city is animated by ‘Dhanda aur Danda [Business and the Stick]’, this paper unpacks the different mechanisms through which this elite support for the BJP is actualised and structured. In doing so, the paper opens up the world of a highly informalised economy dominated by diamonds, textiles and real estate; electoral mobilisations; the coercive use of governmental powers; and the role of a local strongman. This paper draws on semi-structured interviews, non-participant observations and a close reading of vernacular sources collected during fieldwork in Surat between 2021-22.