ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Patient-Citizen: Health as a form of politics in Delhi


Smith Robert D - Geneva Graduate Institute, Anthropology and Sociology, Geneva, Switzerland


15 – Hospitals in South Asia: Historical and Ethnographic Perspectives


 In 2015, Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) established the Mohalla Clinics. In this paper, I show that the AAP uses the Mohalla Clinics to employ health as a form of (electoral) politics across two scales: political and material. Politically, Mohalla Clinics’ branding as infrastructures that will complete ‘Universal Health Coverage’ fosters an expediently cunning promise of the coming of a health utopia. Materially, the Mohalla Clinics’ walls have inscribed AAP party slogans, paintings of party leaders, and comfortable, seemingly privately funded healthcare amenities. These sensible infrastructures appease patients’ frustrations with a structurally violent biopolitics; no matter how frustrated patients become while waiting, patients resign their anticipation of the AAP’s promises, exhibiting patience. Here, I argue that patients sustain their patience because the Mohalla Clinics are articulated as a gift which employs a sovereign power, positioning patients within a patronage relationship that demands their patience. This cultivates the patient-citizen: a patient that is taught to patiently wait upon the state’s promises. This extends medical anthropologists’ analyses of citizenship because the state does not retrospectively respond to citizenship demands, but proactively intervenes to cultivate patient-citizens before they place demands upon the state. This paper is based upon ethnographic research conducted between 2020 to the present, and 70 interviews in Mohalla Clinics.