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Governing Rural Bengal in the Age of Reforms?

Harihar Bhattacharyya

By Dayabati Roy
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 279, Rs. 695.00


West Bengal, one of the major States in India’s East, an unfortunate by-product of the Partition of India in 1947 and the one which bore the brunt of the Partition by receiving millions of refugees from across the border, remained for a long time India’s most ungovernable State since Independence. If that was one record of sorts, the other astounding record was the uninterrupted rule of the State by the Left Front, a coalition of Left parties under the leadership of the CPI-M, for as long as 34 years (1977-2011), which is a world record in the history of parliamentary democracy as well as of the Communist movement. Quite naturally the phenomenon attracted worldwide intellectual attention, and researches on the subject were burgeoning. One authoritative account in the early 1990s gave it an A plus considering it as ‘India’s best governed state’, the credit being given to the LFG. The scholarship until the 1990s was mostly confined to the nature and dynamics of Left politics, the running of the government including the panchayats, party-government dialectics, changes in rural leadership through panchayats, party leadership patterns, the construction of the party’s (CPI-M’s) control mechanisms over the governmental machinery and civil society and so on. The parameters of such analysis were determined by what the LFG wanted to do as its objectives, and were part of its ideological problematic.   The book under review seeks to take us beyond this, to a different problematic. It is based on the author’s intensive ethnographic field works in two villages in West Bengal adjacent to Singur in the district of Hooghly, which saw popular-political resistance from the late 1990s against the installation of a small car factory of the Tatas, India’s big business, on the issue of acquisition of agricultural land. The informed observers of West Bengal affairs know that the factory could not be established and the Tatas left the site and installed the factory in Gujarat in western India. Although based on micro-level field data, the book has been given the wider context of West Bengal politics and pan-India perspective too. The author has critically dealt with the existing approaches and notions prevalent in the study of Left politics in West Bengal, and rural politics in India, but she does not seem to have an original thesis. However, she has sought to suggest that given the complex intermesh of governmentality, ...

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