Observers in the past decades have commented on increased urbanization in India, which has led to new challenges for development, housing, and labor. But the majority of India's population, and thus electoral power, remains in rural regions.
In a 2018 article, SAI BALAKRISHNAN examines how agrarian political power manifests in urban spaces, looking to real estate markets in Mumbai.
From the paper:
"The electoral power of the agrarian countryside is evident in the relationship of Mumbai to its hinterland. India is the second largest exporter of sugar in the world and more than 40% of India’s sugar exports come from the western Maharashtra region. Sugar production in the region is organised in the form of cooperatives. These sugar cooperatives have been heavily subsidised by the state: 90% of sugar cooperative finances came from state-guaranteed cooperative bank debt; over three quarters of the equity was a direct handout from the state budget. It was Mumbai’s thriving industrial economy that was the source of sugar subsidies. Mumbai’s industrial classes tolerated the diversion of capital from the city to the countryside, as they understood that the state government legislators relied on the peasants for their votes, and that capital diversion was the price to be paid for the political stability from subsidised agrarian prosperity.
In a market-oriented urbanising economy, these elites continue to influence the making of urban real estate markets by flexing their regulatory muscle. The price of a plot of land increases when it is well connected to roads and transport networks, when it has uninterrupted water supply, when it can rise high in the air and thus maximise development rights. Politicians control these road, water and air resources, and in a context where local governments are not yet fully empowered as decisionmakers, state-level politicians wield immense control over resources that get capitalised into the price of land."
Link to the piece.
- "Over two-thirds, perhaps as much as three-fourths, of the nation's GDP is generated in cities where less than a third of the country lives." In a 2011 column, Ashutosh Varshney examines the power of urban India. Link. And in a 1995 book, Varshney digs deeper into the urban-rural electoral balance. Link.
- In a 2020 opinion piece, Balakrishnan traces the Covid-induced migrant crisis in India, in which millions traveled from cities to villages, to patterns of unequal agricultural development dating back to the Green Revolution. Link.
- "Caste structures not only access to land, resources and power, but also the agrarian land transition in the context of a ‘new city’ project." In a recent article, Carol Upadhya studies land pooling in Andhra Pradesh. Link.
Prisons & Shelters
Assistant professor of Urban Studies at Barnard College CHRISTIAN SIENER studies the political economy of homelessness. In his dissertation, he analyzes the foundations of homeless shelters in New York City by looking at the case of Camp LaGuardia, the city's largest homeless shelter until its closure in 2007.
From the text:
"The appearance and expanded use of homeless shelters is concomitant with the rise in prisons across New York since the early-1980s. This study demonstrates further, historical continuity with a case study of conditions surrounding the transition of Camp LaGuardia, a prison that slowly transformed into a homeless shelter. The dissertation thus examines the continuities and ruptures between homeless shelters and prisons, both of which have historically been institutions intending to effect individualized behavior modification. Rather than seeing these institutions as disconnected, I position them in their historical relationship: the invention of the homeless shelter out of prison restructuring through its earliest example in New York City. I understand this relationship not only through the overlap of people who spend time in each place, but also through the ideological configurations of what the institutions are meant to do."
Link to the paper.
Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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