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National Power and Local Politics in India: A Twenty-year Perspective

  • Paul R. Brass (a1)

The study of federal political systems, particularly parliamentary or representative federal political systems, such as those in the United States, Canada, or India involves complexities that do not exist in unitary states such as Great Britain or France. In the first place, there are three or more institutional levels in such systems, each of which has its own arena in which political struggles take place. Second, the balance of power among the levels in federal systems varies in different systems and in the same system at different times. Third, the study of the extraparliamentary organizations, such as political parties, and of social movements, also becomes a more complex task since it cannot be assumed that a political party or social movement with the same name is the same sort of formation in New York and Mississippi or in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Moreover, in federal systems with a high degree of regional cultural diversity, each federal unit in the country may have a distinctive configuration of extraconstitutional political formations and social forces. This is certainly the case in India, the most culturally diverse of all existing federal parliamentary systems in the world today. Fourth, politics in federal systems takes place between levels as well as within levels, again in far more complex ways than in unitary systems.

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This article is an expanded version of my Kingsley Martin Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge and delivered on March 2, 1983. It is based on research conducted in India between September 1982 and January 1983, during the tenure of a Faculty Research Fellowship of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS). During much of my stay in India, I was a guest of the Institute of Public Administration, University of Lucknow, to whose Director, Dr D. P. Singh, I owe a great debt for his hospitality and patience. The article was written during my residence at St John's College as an Overseas Visiting Scholar for two terms. During my residence at St John's College, I also held a grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) (U.S.) in support of my research. This article is part of a larger project on Structures of Local Power in Contemporary North India, supported by both AIIS and SSRC. Mr Sunil Singh assisted me in the field research and Ms B. Mann in the newspaper research and the typing of various versions of the original manuscript. I am grateful to the agencies and persons named above, none of whom, however, bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the facts and interpretations provided in the article.

1 These contrasts were noted at the time in two important articles: one by Morris-Jones, W. H., ‘India's Political Idioms’, in Philips, C. H. (ed.), Politics and Society in India (London: Allen and Unwin, 1963), pp. 133–54, and another by Meiner, Myron, ‘India's Two Political Cultures’, in his Political Change in South Asia (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1963) pp. 115–52.

2 Scheduled Castes is the official term used for persons of low or ‘untouchable’ caste in India, who are also often referred to as Harijans.

3 See Brass, Paul R., Factional Politics in an Indian State: The Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), ch. iv.

4 The information in the rest of this section is drawn primarily from interviews conducted by me in Gonda district in November 1982.

5 See Brass, , Factional Politics, ch. vi.

6 Genda Singh and Ramayan Rai.

7 The information in the rest of this section, unless otherwise indicated, is drawn primarily from interviews conducted by me in Deoria district in October 1982.

8 In February 1983, in a cabinet reshuffle, Mr C. P. N. Singh lost the portfolio of Science and Technology, among others, and was left with only Non-Conventional Energy Sources: Hindu February 5, 1983. He resigned from the government a few days thereafter.

9 Unless otherwise indicated, the information on the Narainpur incident in this section comes from my interviews in Deoria district in October 1982.

10 Indian Express and Times of India, January 29, 1980.

11 Leader, January 30, 1980.

12 Hindu, February 9, 1980.

13 Leader, February 1, 1980.

14 Hindu, February 9, 1980.

15 Ibid. On the Pantnagar police firing, which also occurred during the period of Janata rule in U.P., see Brass, Paul R., ‘Institutional Transfer of Technology: The Land-Grant Model and the Agricultural University at Pantnagar,’ in Anderson, Robert S. et al. , Science, Politics, and the Agricultural Revolution in Asia (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1982), pp. 103–63.

16 Statesman, February 8, 1980.

17 Leader, February 1, 1980.

18 Leader, February 8, 1980.

19 Leader, February 11, 1980.

20 Leader, February 12, 1980.

21 Times of India, February 9, 1980.

22 Hindu, September 11, 1982.

23 Times of India, January 29, 1980.

24 All information in this section is derived from interviews conducted by me in Gonda district in November 1982.

25 Brass, Paul R., ‘Pluralism, Regionalism, and Decentralizing Tendencies in Contemporary Indian Polities’, in Jeyaratnam Wilson, A. and Dalton, Dennis (eds), The States of South Asia: Problems of National Integration (London: C. Hurst, 1982), pp. 223–64.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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