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“I serve therefore I am”: Youth and Generative Politics in India

  • Craig Jeffrey (a1) and Jane Dyson (a2)

This paper uses qualitative research in Uttarakhand, India to highlight the vitality of civil society and the involvement of young people in everyday “civic” politics. Much recent academic literature emphasizes the ubiquity of narrowly self-interested patronage politics in South Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as captured in the saying sometimes attributed to politicians in Cameroon: “I graze therefore I am.” But in specific moments or conjunctures, more “civic” forms of politics come to light, perhaps especially among youth. Building on intensive, qualitative field research, we show that a new generation of educated, underemployed youth in the village of Bemni serve their community in key ways. They also make strong arguments about the nature of “politics” and how it might be re-imagined as “generative”—concerned with building resources—rather than “allocative”—a zero-sum game of competition for power. We draw attention to the potentials of this practice and discourse of politics as well as its limits, particularly that it is dominated by young men and tends to reproduce caste and gender inequalities. We also call for more concerted study of youth community activism in contexts of predatory clientelism.

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