ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The Coming Crisis in West Bengal

The studies in this special issue on local government and politics in rural West Bengal that were carried out in 2003-06 ask the question, "What explains the extraordinary stability of Left Front rule in West Bengal?". The papers - one based on a large sample quantitative survey across all districts and the others on close ethnographic observation of six purposively selected gram panchayats - find merit in both the explanations suggested in the literature on contemporary West Bengal politics: one, the institutional effectiveness of the structures of rural government and mobilisation of political support built by the Left Front and, two, a form of clientelism in which the Left parties hold their supporters under some sort of permanent dependence. The studies, however, propose several nuanced modifications of the arguments and also offer some new explanations for our consideration. However, several critical events have taken place in West Bengal since 2006 (Nandigram, Singur, the results of the panchayat election of 2008). Is it then possible to shift our perspective and read the results reported in these studies as an answer to a different question? Instead of the question that has been conventionally asked about West Bengal, could we ask: "What are the reasons internal to the institutions of government and politics in rural West Bengal that might endanger the stability of Left Front rule?". This brief introduction to the special issue offers the beginnings of such a reading.

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