The "Servants" of Dehradun: A Changing Relationship between Municipal Councillors and Voters in India

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    The "typical" municipal councillor in India is usually portrayed in the literature as a political entrepreneur in a clientelistic relationship with voters, providing privileged access to the state in return for electoral support. This article arose out of a lack of familiarity with this portrait and the municipal councillors (known locally as Parshads) of Dehradun. Ethnographic research and the co-construction of in-depth profiles with women Parshads revealed key differences in the ways that they get things done, the types of work they do and the ways that voters make demands. The term naukrani, meaning servant, is proposed to capture these dimensions of their everyday work, and to draw attention to the way Parshads are positioned in relation to an increasingly assertive electorate. It is argued that this positioning of naukrani is revelatory of a particular democratic logic in Dehradun and emergent political subjectivities, particularly among the middle class. By examining naukrani as an imposed positioning, rather than a strategic political identity, the limitations of politicians' self-authorship are suggested. A focus on women Parshads hints at the gendered nature of this positioning and the implicit masculine bias in conventional understandings of political actors' role in urban governance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)389-409
    JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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