ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles By John Harriss

The Politics of Dignity and Development

Tamil Nadu has done relatively well, for sure, but whether the state presents a “model” is doubtful. In the wider context of the politics of development, the argument that Tamil Nadu shows that an approach, based in a politics of dignity and focused on status inequality can deliver, by institutionalising “an inclusive populist mobilisation leading to a comparatively egalitarian developmental trajectory” is not proven.


Land, Labour and Caste Politics in Rural Tamil Nadu in the 20th Century: Iruvelpattu (1916-2008)

The "Slater" villages of Tamil Nadu that were first surveyed by the University of Madras economist, Gilbert Slater, and his students in 1916, were resurveyed in the 1930s, 1960s and the 1980s. This paper reports and discusses a 2008 resurvey of Iruvelpattu, one of the five Slater villages in Tamil Nadu. The 2008 study tells the story of persistence of landlord power, continuing dependence of a majority of households on agriculture in spite of the significant diversification of employment that has taken place, and an apparent stagnation in the agricultural economy after the relative success of the green revolution in the 1970s. It also brings out a tightening in the labour market and dalit political mobilisation as well as a shift in agricultural wage rates. However, the level of state intervention in the interests of social security through primary healthcare provision, schools in which teachers are actually present, and the maintenance of a universal public distribution system as well as the operation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, all distinguish Iruvelpattu generally from villages in other parts of the country.

Antinomies of Empowerment

Since the 1990s, and coinciding with the onset of liberalisation, a "new politics" aimed at associating the hitherto disempowered with aspects of governance appears to have taken shape across India's urban, especially its metropolitan, centres. "Civil society" organisations that seek to make politics more accountable to the "consumer citizen", are invariably, as this study based in the city of Chennai argues, middle class dominated, and while working to bridge the democratic gap between the ruling class and the governed, do not really involve themselves in primary concerns of the "urban poor". That the urban poor then have no option but to seek the redressal of their concerns by associating themselves with political parties is just one of several contradictions that this new politics throws up.

Globalisation and World's Poor

Globalisation is an extremely powerful ideology being projected as having no alternative. There is resistance, even if not coherent as yet. The practical basis for an alternative is to be seen in the progress being made in different parts of the world, often by left parties, to make a reality of deliberative democracy, as in the experiments with people's planning in Kerala or with participative budgeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil.