Over the last 15 years, India in Transition has brought readers brief, analytical perspectives on the ongoing transformations in contemporary India based on cutting-edge research across a wide variety of subjects. This year, IiT is bringing you another way to engage with insightful scholarship on India: in-depth interviews with researchers, where we hear directly from them on what inspired their work, how they are choosing to dig deeper into the subject, and how it adds to our understanding of the country.
Send feedback and suggestions on our new feature to CASI Consulting Editor Rohan Venkat, by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
The general image of politics in Indian slums is one of exploitation, corruption, and violence. Movies and TV shows, as well as the mainstream Indian press, tend to paint a picture of violent mob leaders overseeing the distribution of alcohol and bribes while compliant slum residents are easily coerced into voting based on their caste, with little political agency.
Migrants and Machine Politics: How India's Urban Poor Seek Representation and Responsiveness (Princeton University Press, 2023), by CASI Director Tariq Thachil and CASI Non-Resident Visiting Scholar Adam Auerbach (American University), seeks to upend these clichés. Building on a decade of fieldwork and research in Jaipur and Indore, the book paints a much more complex picture of slum politics, one where residents have a genuine say in who leads them, where education is a much more reliable factor in predicting the success of a political leader rather than ethnicity or the use of violence and where competence—rather than coercion—gets rewarded.
CASI Consulting Editor, Rohan Venkat spoke to Tariq Thachil about the book and how its findings nuance our understanding of Indian urban politics.
Rohan: Before we get into the details of the book, can I ask for the elevator pitch, and how it came about?
Tariq: What brought my colleague and longtime co-author Adam Auerbach together to start having the conversations that gave rise to the book was a longstanding interest in urbanization. For many people who may or may not know, India is historically and even currently a rural majority country, but it's one that has been urbanizing. And over the next 30 years it is projected to add over 400 million people to its cities, which is by far the largest projected increase in the world during that time span. So, for me, there's always been an interest in understanding at the broadest level: how are Indian politics changing as the country urbanizes?
One unique feature of Indian electoral politics and democratic politics has been that democratic institutions and competitive elections preceded urbanization. Many of our theories of voting or political parties, justifiably, came from the countryside. But how is that shifting as the median voter in Indian politics will increasingly become a resident of the city? That's the overarching interest that we had. Within that, we try to understand: who are the communities that are moving to cities? And the community that really interested us is low-income migrants from the countryside who come and settle in cities. Many, if not most of those migrants settle in informal settlements or what some people term slums. So, the question became, what does politics in slums look like?
Here we were dissatisfied with the popular view in both academic scholarship and Bollywood-eye narratives of Indian cities, which is that basically slum residents are one of two things. They're either the unthinking "vote banks" who just sell their vote cheaply for whichever politician is buying them off with cheap trinkets, or they are actively oppressed by local dons, thugs, kingpins, etc. In either vision, they're passive or coerced. And that didn't really feel correct to Adam and me. So, we came together to analyze this question, using ethnographic research from slums in Jaipur and Bhopal, which are our field sites, and large-scale household surveys from over a hundred slum settlements across both cities.
We basically find that the stylized picture of slum politics is incorrect. In fact, migrants who are moving into Indian cities are often powerful agents of their own political lives and are shaping the political organizations that not only form within their slum communities, but end up connecting them to political parties. And in doing so, they actually shape the nature of local party politics in these cities. In other words, these migrants are actually very deeply connected to the formation of urban politics and not simply peripheral citizens. They're at the heart of urban politics. And that's one of the key arguments we're making in the book.
Rohan: Before we go into some of the results, it seems like quite a large undertaking—10 years of work across numerous sites, both the household surveys and ethnographic research. Tell us about the research.
Tariq: It was a lot of work not just for us, but for our many collaborators on the project. Adam and I first started talking about the book in 2013, and the book came out in 2023, so it was a decade. I should say that, prior to this, Adam had been working on his own first book on slums in Jaipur, in Bhopal. But for the two of us, our project started first with both of us going together and visiting several settlements in Jaipur and Bhopal, and getting a sense of how politics and particularly local politics, as it related to electoral politics in the city and party politics in the city, was taking shape. This involved not just speaking to local residents, but also local informal leaders, which practically every settlement has. One of the points we make in the book is that those leaders are both pervasive and numerous within each settlement. And becoming a leader is quite a competitive and politically competitive process in itself.
We were interviewing leaders and residents and settlements to get a sense of what their political demands were. What are the ways in which they involve themselves in political life in the cities? What is their relationship to political parties and big politicians in the city? Those interviews and visits developed into richer case studies. Based on that, we designed a series of surveys and tried to survey three levels of political actors in the city. The first was slum residents themselves, whom we surveyed in 2015. The second was political leaders in these settlements, whom we surveyed in 2016. And then the final was local party operatives and local politicians in the city, whom we surveyed in 2017 and 18.
Each layer of data collection informed the next. Through all of that, we were able to trace the anatomy of political networks that connect ordinary slum residents with the heart of city politics. But that was painstaking work, which is why we could only really do it in two cities, even though it took us a decade.
Rohan: The book is titled Migrants and Machine Politics. So just for the reader, could you tell us what machine politics are? And how you tackle not just the lack of this kind of work in India, but also the stereotype of these cases that comes partly out of western research?
Tariq: Political machines or machine politics was a term that was used to describe a different form of politics that didn't focus so much on what elected officials or political parties promised to do when elected into office in terms of policies. Machine politics was much more about offering specific targeted material benefits to voters in return for their support. So, rather than say “I'll implement policy X or Y,” it's more that “I will give you a particular good,” and that could range from a cash handout before an election, to a hospital bed, to an admission for your child in school, to a streetlight or a road. And in return, you are to give me your support. And that kind of quid pro quo, very localized material politics was a hallmark of something called a political machine.
In order to dispense these benefits, political parties set up these hierarchical pyramids that flowed from the top down into localities. Political machines were these dense hierarchical organizations that penetrated into local neighborhoods and the local agents of these machines were people who would make these promises to voters on behalf of the machine. They would be the eyes and ears of these operations saying, "Hey, we will give you this good, you'll give us your vote in return.”
They were the people who monitored and often enforced that exchange, making sure that voters returned the favor at the polls. This form of politics is very hierarchical. Local material politics is often termed in the literature, “machine politics.” And in the US example, it came out to capture a form of politics that took deep root among local immigrant communities. The classic examples of political machines were ones that operated within Irish-American or Italian neighborhoods. The idea being that these transplanted immigrants clustered in these dense enclaves—"vote banks” to use an Indian term. And because they were these disoriented new arrivals who lacked political connections or social clout or even economic standing, they were seen as especially amenable to machine politics.
A very similar logic that came up in the US setting has now been applied to 20th century politics in low- and middle-income countries. You can think of this in terms of how elections are covered in India most times, certainly how slums are covered in Indian elections. There are a lot of write ups about daru, sharab (alcohol) or biryani being distributed in X slum or Y slum. And then the neta comes and asks for votes. And the implication of those articles is that the slum residents returned the support and that these are the vote banks that allow netas in India to win elections without actually serving the people in terms of policies. In all of these narratives, the voter is a passive person who is allowing themselves to be used to almost subvert democracy. Using the example of slums in India, we push back and say that machines can actually be built from the bottom up as much as the top down. And because of that, they can actually be accountable and responsive to even very poor and "peripheral voters" in ways that this literature has not really expected.
Rohan: Why are these two findings—one, a bottom up construction of politics in these slums; and two, a large amount of competition within this local politics—so surprising?
Tariq: A lot of my work has been trying to understand and dispel myths about low income voters in low income polities like India. The idea is that there are these powerful political actors who essentially are able to hold democracy hostage, mostly on the backs of manipulating poor voters. By buying voters on the cheap, they're often able to stifle real competition and stifle the ability of voters to hold parties accountable. In the scholarship in political science this has often been called “perverse accountability,” where actually politicians hold voters accountable for their vote, having given them some kind of benefit or handout, and so inverting what we should expect, which is voters holding politicians accountable.
In India, that mythology has been furthered by pictures of low-income voters as susceptible to only thinking about things like their caste groups—voting their caste at the polls, not thinking through their vote, not basing it on any kind of performance or competence of the elected representative. All of these things aggregate to a picture where low-income voters are not being able to exercise accountability and democratic rights, but are pawns in the subversion of democracy.
I think the picture we are trying to uncover—and again, we're not trying to romanticize the lives of these voters or how easy they have it with an Indian democracy, far from it—but what we are actually saying is that, if you actually look at politics, not just during elections and not just in a fly-by-night operation during an election, but consistently between the vote, what you see is that poor people are extremely active in political life.
They are demonstrating, they are protesting, but they are also organizing politically to create their own nodes of political authority. And that's a point that often has been missed by scholarship on India. Even scholarship that accounts for and makes the claim that poor people are very politically agential and active. What we are saying in the book is, in the average Indian settlement, slum residents are actually actively choosing who emerges within them to become a leader. Far from having some don or some political party decide that for them, they are actively choosing the people who have political authority within the settlement. Moreover, they do so in ways that lead to the local political environment being very competitive.
Far from being just captured by one or two people, slums are very politically competitive with on average between five and nine local leaders per settlement we studied in, jockeying for position and trying to win the affection of residents. In order to do that, they have to actually show local residents that they're getting things done. That involves local residents evaluating and reevaluating which slum leaders are actually competent in getting goods and services for their settlement—everything from streetlights to garbage removal to sewage and septic tanks. And so, there is this local politics of competence.
If a leader proves to be less efficient or effective than another, we show and make the claim in the book, they actually get replaced or lose their following to leaders who demonstrate greater competence. Further, these local leaders then actually ascend into political parties, because parties are trying to figure out a way to win votes within these dense slums that have so many votes for the taking. In order to do that, they have to integrate these local leaders who are emerging.
In doing so, local slum residents actually become part of mainstream political organizations. When you suddenly start looking at political organizations from the bottom up in Jaipur and Bhopal, what you see is not just representation that's unexpected—slum residents serving as sometimes district and citywide positions within these political parties—but also as nodes for accountability, places from which residents can actually pressure political parties to do and implement what they want.
In aggregate, this paints a very different picture of local urban politics in India as one that's far more competitive, far more responsive to the demands of slum residents and accountable to them, albeit in imperfect ways.
Rohan: Among the more interesting takeaways is that ethnicity didn't play quite the role you expected it to play in terms of who succeeded, and likewise neither did violence.
Tariq: Let me talk about violence first. Here our findings are quite clear. The idea that politics in slum settlements is dominated by violence is just not what we find. And some of this is due to the fact that previous scholarly and popular work on Indian slums really focuses a lot on the case of Bombay and within that specifically on the settlement of Dharavi, which is really a very atypical settlement. Most slums are not Dharavi and most cities are not Bombay. And what I mean by that is, most settlements are much younger, much less established, and so the migrants within them are often people who lack some of the basic prerequisites for violence. There's certainly violence in Indian cities and even violence linked to politics, but the people and the resources needed to enact that violence are often not accessible to slum leaders.
Slum leaders are mostly overwhelmingly first-generation migrants coming from within the settlement, who lack resources and are employed in the informal sector. These are not people who have ready access to the means of violence. If anything, what we find is a striking absence of violence as a pathway to leadership within slum settlements. Far more often we found that leaders who were ineffective were actively being removed. Even positions such as the president of the local development council of the slum were being stripped from them if they were seen as being ineffective. We also witnessed slum elections where slums actually had either baithaks or informal elections complete with paper ballots. And those are not the procedures you would expect to see in contexts that are marked by gundagiri in slums and violence.
Rohan: You find multiple occasions across the slums where, in the absence of a structure or leaders, the residents then band together and choose to have elections to find among themselves a leader who could then represent them.
Tariq: About 40 percent of the respondents to household surveys said that their leaders were selected through some community deliberation, either a baithak or something where there was some form of a vote or a voice vote or community deliberation, or as we mentioned in the book, in one case we actually witnessed an informal election that had paper ballots and a model code of conduct mirroring Indian formal elections about who could stand and what campaigns have to look like.
What is striking is how widely pervasive this phenomenon was. This wasn't something we just saw in one or two slums, but really across the majority of the 110 slums that we worked in. The vision in which these are all passive and captured citizenry is belied by the fact that we see churn. Even in the course of our study, we saw some leaders’ popularity wane and others come up. There was an example where one leader complained to us that he was losing his following to a local leader who had come up who was younger than him and more tech-savvy, and so knew much more about how to manage the increasingly digital bureaucratic infrastructure of the local Indian state. All of those dynamics go against this idea of politics dominated by violence and coercion. Not to say that it never happens or doesn't happen, but it really was a very, very small minority of cases where we heard of that being a dynamic at play.
Rohan: And what about ethnicity?
Tariq: If you take another stylized fact about Indian politics, it is that everything flows through caste and faith. And again, we're not trying to suggest that caste and faith are not incredibly important in structuring Indian politics, but there's sometimes a mechanical extension of that insight into any domain. Here what we find is that there are several features of politics in Indian settlements that go against caste and faith being the sole driver and structure of political organization. We're not trying to say that people move to the city and all of a sudden become cosmopolitan or the caste and faith stop mattering. What we find is that specifically the political incentives to organize solely around caste and faith are diluted in slum settlements by one key feature, which is their very high levels of diversity.
There is certain segregation in Indian cities, as some current work shows, but segregation, like violence, requires resources. The informality and widespread poverty of slums in India make it very hard for communities to segregate, as they do in wealthier parts of the city. Our surveys showed high levels of caste diversity in pretty much every settlement. If we randomly picked two residents of slum settlement, the chances that they came from a different caste was in excess of 80 percent. In other words, there's a very, very high level of diversity along caste lines in these settlements. And most settlements in our sample were also multi-faith and multi-region. And so, what political entrepreneurs, themselves, told us was that it was very difficult to be a leader solely by appealing to specifically your jati, or even wider caste agglomerations. Trying to just be a general caste leader in a slum was not a winning proposition. Not even an OBC or SC leader, let alone one from a specific jati, because the numbers suggested that you would need to create a cross-caste coalition of supporters to really have any kind of weight.
And again, these are political entrepreneurs who, themselves, are trying to signal to political parties that “we have a lot of people behind us, so you should include us in your political organization.” They, themselves, are careerists who want to place and see their politicking within the slum as a springboard to become political actors in the larger city. But to do that, what is the currency that they have to bring to political parties? Certainly not money. So, what they have is votes. What they have is supporters to say, “I have so many people with me, I can hold a rally tomorrow for you, and bring so many people to it.”
But in order to do that, you need to have a wide swath of the slum behind you. And that makes it very difficult to organize solely on caste grounds. When we surveyed slum leaders, we did experimental tests to see whether they would favor their own. Would they favor members of their caste when they thought of whom to help? And we found they were strikingly indifferent on both caste and religion in terms of whom they helped. They were just as likely to help somebody from a different caste group or a different faith as they were to help somebody of their own caste and faith. And this tracked with other evidence that we found in the book. On the point of view of residents themselves, interestingly, what we found is that most residents were far more interested again in whether the leaders seemed good at getting things done for the slum—their competence.
In different tests that we did, we repeatedly found that the trait that residents valued the most in leaders was their level of education—because they thought this informed their ability to engage in written claim-making, to understand the various schemes that might be available for the slum, or to help the individual household enroll for benefits. And that was a much more significant determinant of their preferences than whether the leader came from their caste or not. The second thing was that most residents of slum didn't even have a leader of that jati available to them because it was such a diverse settlement. Even the biggest jati in a settlement was 5-6 percent of the slum. So, most residents don't even have the availability of somebody from their caste. That kind of supply side dynamic also played a role in muting the primacy of ethnic considerations in politics.
Not that caste is not important. In other work in this book, we show that, for example, when asked who they want to live near, people still exhibit strong preferences to live near and with somebody from their caste community or their faith. So again, this is not a story of growing cosmopolitanism or norms of tolerance, but it's that the specific political incentives for slum residents and for slum settlements and slum leaders, go against a narrow logic of ethnicity.
Rohan: One of the places where ethnicity does come into play is when you look at who makes it up beyond the slum, and into the party itself, where it’s less a question of drawing in a large number of supporters and more a question of loyalty. Ethnicity seems to play a role as you expand outside of the slum settlement itself.
Tariq: One of the things that we also try to talk about in the book is, not that ethnicity does or doesn't matter, but asking how much does it matter when placed alongside other factors and also how much does it matter at different levels of politics? Where we find ethnicity matching less is when ordinary residents are trying to figure out who should lead them. And when slum leaders themselves are trying to decide which residents to help. Where we find ethnicity, particularly caste, mattering a bit more is when political party leaders in this city, and particularly ward-level leaders are trying to decide, “Okay, which of these many leaders within the slum that's bubbling up should we look to incorporate in our party organization, and should we offer a position to?"
There we find that caste and shared caste can matter and that local leaders are more likely to prefer a slum leader from their caste background. And we hypothesize in the book that this is because the local leaders who are making these decisions are incredibly worried about the uncertainty and volatility in local politics. They're trying to build these local organizations in environments where there's defecting and party switching that's rife. And so their big fear is, “If I bring somebody into my party today, will they stay or will they, in the next election, switch?” We certainly see that happening at higher levels of politics, and so it's reasonable to expect them to have that fear. And this is where we see jati sometimes playing a role. But again, I do think it's interesting that the place where caste politics matter is actually with the decisions of politicians and who they select, not the decisions of the poor voters who are often ascribed these kind of ethnic considerations.
Rohan: It’s interesting how the politics actually seems to get more parochial as you go up the levels, rather than the other way around. Maybe the facile question there is, will India’s cities in the future look more like these cosmopolitan or at least very heterogeneous slums? Or more like its villages or rural areas?
Tariq: It brings us to a point about the limits of this form of politics. Studies by Deepak Malghan and his co-authors, including our former CASI postdoc Naveen Bharathi, suggest that spatial segregation along caste lines is alive and well in Indian cities, and that there's not nearly as much heterogeneity relative to villages as we might expect. I think what we find is that, again, within the specific spaces of slums where there aren't the resources to segregate, there's more heterogeneity than certainly in most Indian villages. But again, this is often a function of their lack of capacity and ability to segregate. And so, if those communities suddenly acquire the resources to segregate, the question is, would they segregate more? Patterns from wealthier parts of the city and available data suggests that there is good reason to think that they might.
But I think the other point—there are always a lot of counterfactuals made about this form of politics. In some ways it is limiting. It's not that this form of politics has been able to transform even the lives of those in these settlements, much less the city beyond them. If we take the thing that most slum residents seek the most, which is formal property rights and a patta, most slum residents in our sample have not been able to obtain that patta. Yes, they've been able to get streetlights, they've been able to get some paved roads, some degree of cleaning of the settlement, but they haven't been able to get the thing that they most coveted. There are lots of reasons for that, including the idea that political parties can keep residents on the hook, keep them vulnerable and dependent as long as they're propertyless.
That speaks to the limit of what machine politics can reasonably deliver to them. This has been the argument for why these organizations and this form of politics is largely critiqued as standing in the way of a more policy-based and potentially better and responsive political system for these communities. The only thing that we caution against in the book is that it's unclear to me that the counterfactual would be a political world that's more hospitable to poor slum residents. In many ways, these communities and the way in which they politically organize themselves and enmesh themselves in political parties, also serve as the bulwark against policies that could be more repressive—policies of slum clearances, removal from the city center, and capitulation to property and interests.
Your question provoked me to think about the limits, both the possibilities and the limits of this form of politics. And I think often when people are criticizing this form of politics, they imagine that if it were removed, it would be replaced by a more proper political system. But it's unclear that there's anything within Indian cities to believe that that would be the case. If anything, the locus of power within Indian cities is moving towards more privileged and wealthy urbanites. And if you remove this form of politics and the bulwark it creates, it's very possible that those interests would win out.
Rohan: If I could pull on that thread a little more, you point out that if “programmatic politics”—which is not based on these handouts or deliverables—were to replace machine politics, where you have grassroots leaders who are responsive to the needs of slum residents, it may be less useful for them. Tell me about your thought process here, and maybe, as a connected question, why there is very little cross-slum mobilization on issues.
Tariq: Let me just quickly touch on the second point first. That's another limiting feature of this form of politics. While we argue that there's a responsive and accountable side to that, partly what that hyper localization does is, it segments politics. So, we don't see cross-slum mobilization. You could imagine that across the city, slum leaders might coordinate, or slum settlements might coordinate to put forward some shared demands. But we really almost never see that happen in Indian cities. And I think one of the reasons for that is that politics is very much localized to the settlement. Leadership is also from within that settlement, and represents the interest of that settlement. We found no instances across the decade we studied these settlements of cross-settlement mobilization and we asked many times about it. That obviously diminishes the ability of these communities to form larger collectives and advance larger collective demands that might also include broader public policies that favor slums and not just individual piecemeal demands.
On the second point: What we're trying to say is, when a lot of people look at the forms of politics we described, for a lot of people that will strike them as a very suboptimal form of politics. Intermediaries themselves are typically seen as a normatively bad thing. They are people who capture a lot of resources, who prevent people on the ground from getting their just due. And that's true in discussions on the political economy far beyond slums. So, there's a model that people have in mind: If you strip away these intermediaries, you clean up politics and just make it much more based on policies, not on these individual handouts or goods to voters, then that's going to be far more beneficial to poor voters. And in our book, what we point out is, that is possibly true, but only if the forces of politics that replace what we described are, themselves, oriented towards the needs of slum residents or poor urban communities. Because programmatic politics simply means that parties make policies, win elections on those policies, and then implement those policies.
There's nothing in the content of programmatic politics that is necessarily pro-poor. You could have programmatic politics of the rich and the thought experiment we end the book on is that, what in Indian cities would you make your bet on? That if all of these structures were removed, these brokers were taken out and this form of politics was denuded, what is the most likely form of politics that will replace it? Will it be a programmatic politics of the poor or the programmatic politics of the rich? And certainly from our vantage point, there are a lot of forces in Indian cities, both economic and political, that suggests it could be just as, if not more likely that it would be a programmatic politics of the rich that would privilege slum removal, "rationalization of land," development and redevelopment, and business generation in cities. That would not be particularly, at least from the vantage point of the slum residents themselves, better for them. And that's the counterfactual we say has to be put alongside the possibility of a programmatic politics.
Rohan: Toward the end of the book you also start looking at what kinds of goods or services slum leaders prefer to give to the slum residents. You find that the things that they wish to provide the most here are the most tangible goods, like a water tank on which you can stick a leader’s photo. But it did make me think, could findings like this explain why the Modi government has preferred similar welfare approaches instead of rights-based entitlements? And what does that mean as it moves up the chain?
Tariq: Again, what are the limits to this form of politics? Another limit is the kinds of goods it's likely to provide. One of the things we say is that the responsiveness of politicians and local brokers within slums is going to be on things that they can reasonably claim credit for. If the goal of their political activities and their problem solving is to create reputations for themselves, for their own political careers, then problems they solve need to be widely advertisable as things that are creditable to them. And so, in the book, we find that, for example, this often privileges certain developmental goods being provided to slums over others. So, politicians have a marked preference for something like a water tank, because it's what we call in the book, “taggable.” The water tanks in Jaipur and Bhopal slums arrived with the name of the politician, the local corporator, and even sometimes the local slum leader who provided it, their mobile phone number, their party affiliation.
In some ways, a water tank is like a billboard compared to something like repairing a road, which is not neatly taggable in the same way. We find a preference among these actors to provide the goods that are more easily taggable to those that are not. And that's obviously not always ideal. It's not perfectly responsive to what the community itself wants, but what is also politically expedient. This fits into larger conversations happening in Indian political economy, over the politics of credit claiming. In some ways, it's very hard to know as an Indian voter who is responsible for what within our three-tiered federal architecture. Which is a central scheme, what's a state scheme, what's a combined scheme?
Who to attribute a particular policy outcome for is quite a difficult task. In some ways, what we've seen with the move to direct household transfers of goods under the BJP over the last nine years, there's been a pronounced shift towards providing private benefits directly to households. And this does two things. If it's a centralized scheme that puts the benefit directly to the household, it creates this direct link between the center and often specifically the Prime Minister and the voter. So, it clarifies the clutter in some ways and allows for centralized credit claiming. There's been some evidence that suggests that, for a lot of schemes now when people benefit from them, they attribute it increasingly to the center and even to the prime minister's office.
What does that do for the world we describe in the book? Well, some of it is it makes the world of the local politician and the local intermediary very hard, because where do they fit into the structure and how do they credit claim if a lot of the benefits are hopscotching over them and going directly into the voter's bank account or household pocketbook? It may weaken local organizations and those local politics and may serve as another dimension for the atrophying of local political organizations. That's something we think about in the conclusion of the book.
Rohan: The other potential outcome you discuss in the conclusion is what the majoritarianism of the current central government might mean for these findings. Earlier in the book, you’re surprised by some of the findings in terms of discrimination against Muslims. But tell us about what you discuss in the conclusion.
Tariq: As with everything, these are complex dynamics that don't neatly cut one way or the other. We do find a lot of evidence of cross-faith political mobilization. The Muslim leaders that we surveyed, we asked them to recall who were the last residents that they helped. They frequently mentioned Hindu residents and vice versa. Many of the Hindu leaders we talked to also referenced Muslim residents that they had helped recently. We find that many Muslim leaders that we document in slums, actually end up affiliating with the BJP. And so, it's not that all Muslim leaders are affiliated with the Congress and only Hindu leaders affiliate with the BJP. And in fact, we find that if you are Muslim and you enter the BJP, you are actually quite likely to get promoted within the political organization as well, often within the minority mocha.
Those dynamics sit alongside the fact that we find that residents do actually discriminate against Muslim leaders. Hindu residents in our experiments strongly disfavor Muslim political leaders. We don't actually find the reverse effect among Muslims residents with Hindu leaders. All of that sits within the national currents of what, especially after 2019, the BJP's platform is, as well as local currents such as the fact that Pragya Thakur is a member of parliament for the BJP from Bhopal. And so, all of those dynamics also suggest that as national politics becomes both more majoritarian, but also just largely excluding Muslim political representation at the top levels of government, what are going to be the repercussions or reverberations of that, down the political food chain?
One of the things we hypothesize is that, especially if social tensions increase or if there's increasingly anti-Muslim political activity or social activity within these cities, it's going to make it increasingly difficult for there to be that cross-faith political mobilization, just because those bridges that have to be built will have to be increasingly widened and the gulf they have to span is going to grow. And so, while we've talked about how there are several political incentives to actually mute some of these ethnic considerations within slum politics, slums also exist within the ecosystem of the city and the state beyond them. And so, for those reasons, some of these national currents might actually make this stylized fact we find about slums one that may not persist into the future.
Tariq Thachil is the Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), Professor of Political Science, and Madan Lal Sobti Professor for the Study of Contemporary India at the University of Pennsylvania.
Rohan Venkat is the Consulting Editor for India in Transition and a CASI Non-Resident Visiting Scholar.
India in Transition (IiT) is published by the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) of the University of Pennsylvania. All viewpoints, positions, and conclusions expressed in IiT are solely those of the author(s) and not specifically those of CASI.
© 2023 Center for the Advanced Study of India and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.