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

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The Importance of Being a Patron

Patronage as Politics in South Asia edited by Anastasia Piliavsky, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2014; pp xvi + 469, Rs 895, hardback.

Images and stories of politicians dispensing benefits to their followers are too common in South Asia to generate serious academic interest. They tend to be seen as relics of feudal loyalty or as rewards for “vote banks.” Some people would assume that such relationships are on their way out as electoral democracy in its ideal form takes roots. It is not often appreciated that relationships like these have a history, are often long-term, are formed of mutual dependence, and make use of a moral discourse of selfless service which invests them with value. Patronage as Politics in South Asia reminds the students of politics and history of the many dimensions of patronage relations, especially its cultural dimension, and shows why this is a fascinating as well as an elusive subject for the social scientist.

The book is the product of a large collaboration between anthropologists, historians, and political scientists. The list of contributors is impressive and makes for an unusual mix. It includes Mattison Mines and Pamela Price, two scholars who have published influential works on the persistence of precolonial norms in Tamil politics of the colonial and postcolonial times; Sumit Guha, who has worked on caste and 18th century Maharashtra; David Gilmartin, historian of Sind and of law, including electoral law; Steven Wilkinson, a political scientist who has worked on ethnic violence; Filippo Osella, an expert on Kerala and the Malayali diaspora; and 11 others besides writing on subjects as varied as Tibetan manuscripts and Bangladesh gangsters.

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