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Anti-Politics Machine in India

Anti-Politics Machine in India

State, Decentralization and Participatory Watershed Development

By Vasudha Chhotray

This book assesses the validity of ‘anti-politics’ critiques of development, first popularised by James Ferguson, in the peculiar context of India. It examines the extent to which it is possible to keep politics out of a highly technocratic state watershed development programme that also seeks to be participatory.

Hardback, 280 Pages


January 2011

£70.00, $115.00

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  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents

About This Book

This book assesses the validity of ‘anti-politics’ critiques of development, first popularised by James Ferguson, in the peculiar context of India. Ferguson’s memorable metaphor of development as an Anti-Politics Machine – that serves to entrench state power and depoliticize development – continues to appeal to those cynical of the widespread tendency of development discourses to treat various issues apolitically. The book examines this problem in India, a country where development planners after independence adopted a scientific stance and claimed to distance themselves from mass politics, but also one where the groundswell of democratic political mobilization has been considerable in recent decades. In a country with an extremely differentiated landscape of authority and diverse politics, what does it mean for the state to undertake a project (or indeed, projects) of depoliticization; for as scholars inspired by Foucault and Gramsci have variously agreed, depoliticization is a tentative project where outcomes are far from certain. The book examines these questions within the new context provided by decentralization, the potential of which to reorganize relationships amongst different levels of the state greatly complicates the very pursuit of depoliticization as a coherent state practice. It looks at these issues through a highly technocratic state watershed development programme in India that has witnessed key transformations towards participation in recent years.


'Vasudha Chhotray has written an intelligent, incisive and sometimes witty account of the politics of anti-politics in contemporary India.  Her important book shows us that bureaucratic development is never anti-political, however anodyne many of its formulations have become; rather, is political in particular ways and with important social consequences.' —Stuart Corbridge, Professor of Development Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science

'This is a fascinating account of how “development as anti-politics machine” actually plays out in practice… To weave this understanding through detailed empirical cases of actual development interventions and governance reforms, as based on a thorough primary research effort, is an admirable act of synthesis. Last but not least, the text is very well-written, with complex theoretical ideas, processes and events all clearly articulated.' —Samuel Hickey, Senior Lecturer, IDPM, University of Manchester

'This is an ambitious book that examines why the idea that development should be non-political continues to have a broad appeal, while tracking the political entanglements of development interventions through a comparative, empirical analysis. The focus on India’s national development regime is a welcome balance to studies of transnational interventions.' —Tania Murray Li, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Political-Economy and Culture of Asia-Pacific, University of Toronto

Author Information

Vasudha Chhotray is a lecturer in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, UK.


Anthem South Asian Studies

Diversity and Plurality in South Asia

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Maps; Acknowledgements; Introduction: The Anti-Politics Machine in India; Chapter 1: The Idea of ‘Anti-Politics’; Chapter 2: The Indian ‘Anti-Politics Machine’; Chapter 3: The Anti-Politics Watershed Machine: The Making of Watershed Development in India; Chapter 4: Two Landscapes of Decentralization; Chapter 5: Depoliticizing Local Institutions? Panchayats and Watershed Committees; Chapter 6: The Dialectics of Consent in Participatory Practice; Conclusion; Notes; References; Index

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