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

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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.

E conomic liberalisation in India, as elsewhere, is intimately associated with transformations in the role of the state. The strong formulations of neoliberalism of the 1980s, arguing for the drastic diminution of the role of the state in both economy and society, have themselves by now been rolled back with the recognition that the state has an essential role to play in the establishment of the institutional conditions that are necessary for a successful market economy. The case was perhaps first set out in the World Bank paper on Governance and Development of 1992, which highlighted transparency and accountability as defining features of the good government that was now seen as being essential if economic reforms were to be successful. Now governance defined, for notable example, by the World Bank as the traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised for the common good1 is frequently regarded as the central problem of development. The concept of governance is clearly broader than that of government alone, and thinking about what is required for effective governance embraces arguments not only about the reform of institutions of government itself, but also about the possible role of market mechanisms in the efficient delivery of services, and about community deliberation and action as a means whereby people may develop the voice that they need in order to improve the accountability and the efficiency of government. One of the leit motifs, indeed, of governance in the context of liberalisation is the idea of the desirability of partnership both between government and the private sector, and government and citizens. In this paper I am concerned especially with the role of such community deliberation and action, in regard to local governance in Indias great metropolitan cities, drawing on research in Chennai.

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