Politics of Governance

Panel at the SANR Meeting 2021 chaired by Dan Hirslund


Nilamber Chhetri, Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh
Contested Belongingness in Himalayan Borderlands: Roadside Settlements and Urban Expansion in Kalimpong 

The trajectory of urban expansion in South Asia is intimately tied to ethno-politics of the region. This has been the apt case for Darjeeling hills, where succeeding waves of mobilisations for the separate state of Gorkhaland has left an indelible imprint on the cultural, political, and urban landscape. Based on empirical research this paper tries to explore the intricate relationship between ethnicity, place, and politics of belonging in Himalayan town of Kalimpong. It specifically tries to locate the interphase between political events and the transformation of urban landscape by taking into consideration the growth of roadside settlements. The paper will thus try to locate the roadside settlements within the broader consideration of Kalimpong’s place within the still ongoing Gorkhaland movement.   While noting the specific contours of these settlements and its exclusive culture, the paper will note how political patronage play a crucial role in structuring relationship between the political elite and the common mass. The paper will especially draw on ethnographic material to highlight everyday practices of the residents; that re-inscribe a sense of belongingness and identity. In this regard, the paper will document how the residents in these sites discursively articulate their sense of belonging through participation in political struggles, which strengthen and consolidate a shared place identity.

Hanna Geschewski, 
Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science, Lund University
“They only talk about the trees” An analysis of relations of power and justice in the (de)construction of Nepal’s Second International Airport

While calls to reduce air travel have emerged in many places, Nepal, with only one international airport, is still striving to improve its air connectivity. In 2015, the government resumed its 1995 plan to build a second international airport near Nijgadh, a town in the southern plains. The project has since come under scrutiny after plans emerged for extensive clearing of the densely forested project site. But the area is also home to nearly 8,000 people, many without formal land rights, who face displacement. While public and political debates have focused on ecological impacts of the project, the apparent lack of attention to its consequences for local communities raises questions about the safeguarding of their interests.

Drawing on justice theories and political ecology, I conducted an empirical case study on to investigate multidimensional injustices against affected communities. During two months of fieldwork in Nepal, I gathered empirical evidence, including observations, interviews, project documentation and media coverage.

My findings suggest that the misrecognition of local communities, particularly in Tangiya Basti, began long before the airport project, when the government reneged on its promise to grant land rights. This manifested the residents’ socio-economic marginalisation. Furthermore, I show how processes of misrecognition are intertwined with distributive and procedural injustices, reinforced by power asymmetries of various kinds. This extends to the exclusion of communities from major media discourses, which further contributes to their invisibility.

Overall, I argue that while the airport project is often framed as an environmental conflict, it is also a conflict over claims to social justice and livelihood security. My thesis offers entry points to larger questions of integrating community interests into sustainable development concerns and highlights the need for more nuanced investigations of the impacts of large infrastructure projects on communities in Nepal and other parts of South Asia.

Anwesha Dutta, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen
Harry Fischer, Division of Rural Development, SLU
Syed Shoaib Ali, Ambedkar University, New Delhi
Governing shock: Local institutions and state support in the context of Covid-19 and beyond

Countries around the world have undertaken a wide range of strategies to halt the spread of COVID-19 and control the economic fallout left in its wake. Rural areas of developing countries pose particular difficulties for implementing effective responses owing to underdeveloped health infrastructure, uneven state capacity for infection control, and endemic poverty. In this paper, we examine the critical role of local government in coordinating pandemic responses. Drawing on empirical material from Himachal Pradesh, India, we show how local elected governments - known as panchayats - have served as a forum for communities to organize collective responses to local challenges, facilitated the delivery of state support, and otherwise served as a critical node for state and non-state actors to coordinate interventions. Local governments have been particularly important for safeguarding the welfare of the poor, who have been most affected by economic hardship. In the present case, we argue that the capacity of local institutions in Himachal Pradesh is rooted in histories of political change as well as long-term state support for these institutions in carrying out key grassroots state functions over the past several decades. The analysis underscores the need to move beyond a narrow focus on institution building to undertake longer-term investments in supporting more robust subnational democratic systems as a cornerstone of more resilient governance systems in the face of shock -- from COVID-19 and beyond. Governance, we argue, will be as important to understanding the trajectory of COVID-19 impacts and recovery as biology, demography, and economy.