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Published in Ajay Gudavarthy (ed), 2011, Re-framing Democracy and Agency in India: Interrogating Political Society, London: Anthem


Political Society in a Capitalist Worldi

Swagato Sarkar 1

Partha Chatterjee is one of the very few scholars in India who have systematically tried to theorize the specificity of Indian democratic politics. His conceptualization of political society can be seen as an approach to explicate the latters logics. This conceptualization has been modified and refined over the years by mediating on the concrete historical experience of a postcolonial country and through a critical engagement with the received Western normative political theory. In this paper, first, I will provide a sketch of Chatterjees criticism of the concept of civil society, and then present a critical review of his concept of political society. I will focus on the three tension-ridden components of his project: the defence of a communal way of life, mapping the differentiated political space, and a suspicion towards constitutionalism, and thereafter, provide an alternative normative framework. I will argue, against Chatterjee, that the concept of political society does not denote a positive political development, i.e. does not present a possibility for substantially redefining property and law in favour of subaltern people/classes or actual expansion of the freedoms of the people; rather it should be used to provide a critical insight into Indian politics, particularly in relation to the process of capitalist expansion and differentiation.


It is well known that the discussion on political society is embedded in the debate on civil society and the critique of the conceptual infrastructure of Western normative theory. In this debate, normatively, civil society has been identified as a domain for the expansion and realization of rights and freedom (Cohen and Arato 1992), and instrumentally, it is seen as a domain where the distribution, exercise and control of
Dr. Swagato Sarkar obtained his DPhil [PhD] from the University of Oxford, U.K. in 2009. He is the Assistant Dean (Academic Programme) and Associate Professor at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, Sonipat, Delhi NCR, India. Email: swagato.sarkar@gmail.com

power are (democratically) contested (Nonan-Ferrell 2004). Taken together, civil society is an integral part of democracy and a placeholder of institutions.

I will argue that Partha Chatterjees critique of Western normative theory and civil society is primarily a critique of the subject (i.e. citizen) that this theory supposes. His critique draws attention to the interpellative structure and the criteria of membership of the institutions proposed/assumed by this theory, namely, the erasure of difference in favour of formal equality and freedom (Chatterjee 2004). The effect of this formal interpellation is that the state in its conduct can recognize or favour citizens only as unencumbered individuals, severed of any primordial ties a product of Western humanism and secularism. Since the primordial identities of the citizens are not invoked or referred to, hence, they are rendered homogeneous before the state, namely, as a nation. It is the will of the citizens, expressed as their generalized political aspiration and popular sovereignty, which gives legitimacy to the state and forms the basis of democracy.

Here, Chatterjee posits the concrete postcolonial context against the normative concept of civil society, and argues that only a handful of the elites in post-colonial countries can meet such a criterion of citizenship. These elites are the product of inherited modernity (from colonialism), who can meet the demand of being unencumbered either because they are cultured/socialized into such a being, or can simply afford to ignore/avoid their primordial identities. Hence, the scope of the concept of civil society is restrictive. This (normative) theoretical position is also problematic because the concept of community, which provides meaning to most of the people in these countries, is suppressed and relegated to the pre-modern historical time (Chatterjee 1998 and 2004). Therefore, civil society is a limited normative concept and an undifferentiated space.

Put differently, Western normative theory finds only a section of the postcolonial society as the true bearer of modernity. One can note that, by foregrounding communal being (and identity), Chatterjee differentiates community from civil society in an ontological way, i.e. a way of life based on a shared kinship (see below), rather than a contractual (and formal) associational life in civil society. He proposes to

split the political space, and to conceptualize a domain, separate and distinct from civil society, i.e. political society.

Thus, there are three issues which are at stake here: (i) the difference in ontology (/particular ways of life), (ii) the differentiation of political space, and (iii) the significance of formal and normative concepts vis--vis empirical context. Chatterjee tries to engage with these three issues to provide a theory of political society which will demonstrate the democratic urge and the expansion of freedom of the members of political society (i.e. subalterns) in India and other postcolonial countries. In other words, he attempts to develop a normative theory of (populist) democracy based on the experience of postcolonial countries like India.


Chatterjees advocacy for the identification of a different political space beyond civil society rests on three moves. First, he focuses attention on the sphere of governmental interventions where, he claims, a different kind of political engagement between the legal-bureaucratic apparatus and the people who are excluded from civil society can be witnessed.

The post-colonial Indian state inherited the legal-bureaucratic apparatus, which is able to reach as the target of many of its activities virtually all of the population that inhabits its territory, [whereas] the domain of civil social institutions, [.] is still restricted to a fairly small section of citizens (Chatterjee 2001, 172). According to Chatterjee, this is a new paradigm, and there is a clear shift from the abstract theoretical domain of citizenship to the actual domain of (public) policy. Following Foucault, he claims that the domain of policy is predicated upon a conception of the society as one constituted by population, not citizens or elementary units of homogenous families (Chatterjee 1998, 279; 2001, 173). The regime secures legitimacy not by the participation of citizens in the matters of state, but by claiming to provide for the well-being of the population (Chatterjee 1998, 279). Thus, Chatterjees first move shifts the focus of political theory from the normative category of citizen to the descriptive and empirical category of population.

The concept of population is predicated upon an enumerable, descriptive, and empirical mass of people, and does not rely on a normative theory or abstraction. The population is assumed to contain, large elements of naturalness and primordiality; the internal principles of the constitution of particular population groups is not expected to be rationally explicable since they are not the products of rational contractual association, but are, as it were, pre-rational (Chatterjee 2001, 173 and passim). The concept of population offers the governmental functions and apparatus an access to a set of rationally manipulable instruments for reaching [a] large section of the inhabitants of a country as the targets of policy.

Chatterjee makes the second move by arguing that such interventions in the societyas-population, if we may call it, and the interaction between these governmental apparatus and the population groups inaugurate a new site for strategic manoeuvring, resistance and appropriation. Chatterjee calls this site political society. The strategic manoeuvre and mobilization that take place in this domain neither always conform, nor are consistent with, the principles of association in civil society they often result in the transgression of law. Yet, Chatterjee identifies an urge for democracy in this mobilization in political society, as it channels the demands on the developmental state the state that looks after its people and provides benefits. Therefore, the subject at this stage of his argument is a subject of development.

The third move is made by translating the subject of development into a political subject, by assigning an identity to it and finding a normative ground for it. Chatterjee is interested in exploring how people use the space opened by the intervention of governmental functions. As we have seen, such interventions perceive the society as population and then categorize the latter into empirical groups which become the target for policies. However, such categorization also infuses a new identity within the group, and many a time, the constituents of the group emerge as distinct political entities. These new groups have a territorial boundary, clearly defined in time and space (Chatterjee 2004, 58 and passim). Consistent with his critique of civil society and the foregrounding of community, Chatterjee tries to demonstrate how these groups become a community and thus a collective, and also finds a normative ground for the latters demands. According to him, since the livelihood and existence of many of the members of such groups are predicated upon 4

a (collective) violation of (property) laws, they appear as illegal entities before the state. They are not recognized as proper civic bodies, pursing legitimate objectives. Thus, to be recognized by the governmental functions, they must find ways of investing their collective identity with a moral content (ibid 57 and passim) and thereby give to the empirical form of a population group the moral attributes of a community [emphasis in original]. Yet this community is about the shared interests of the members of association... they describe the community in [] terms of a shared kinshipthe most common metaphor is that of a family.

Chatterjee never spells out what he means by the moral content of an identity, but it seems that these new groups appropriate the proposition of the governments obligation to look after the poor and underprivileged population groups (Chatterjee 2004, 60). The objective of their mobilization is to secure the benefits of governmental program[me]s (Chatterjee 2004, 66), which they claim as a matter of rights and use their association as the principal collective instrument to pursue that claim (ibid 59). This, according to Chatterjee, is a clear break with the erstwhile patron-client exchanges, and an indication of their political assertion.

Chatterjee explains that the mobilization which takes place on the terrain of political society is necessarily temporary and contextual, and depends entirely on the ability of particular population groups to mobilize support to influence the implementation of government policy in their favour (Chatterjee 2004, 60, emphasis added. Note: implementation, not policy formulation, as he has already mentioned, The regime secures legitimacy not by the participation of citizens in the matters of state, but by claiming to provide for the well-being of the population (Chatterjee 1998, 279)). Such strategic politics must operate within the constellation of the (mainstream) political formations (i.e., parties, but also non-governmental organizations?). The success of such strategic manoeuvring depends on applying the right pressure at the right places in the governmental machinery (Chatterjee 2004, 66). However, they do not always have access to such right places, and therefore, (t)o produce a viable and persuasive politics of the governed, there has to be considerable act of mediation (ibid 64). Hence, there is a real need for finding trustworthy mediators who can represent them.

It is through such political engagements that people are substantial[ly] redefin[ing] property and law within the actually existing modern state (Chatterjee 2004, 75) and are devising new ways in which they can choose how they should be governed... people are learning, and forcing their governors to learn, how they would prefer to be governed[which itself is a] good justification for democracy (ibid 77-78).


As mentioned earlier, Chatterjees critique of civil society is predicated on the critique of the subject that Western normative theory supposes. Furthermore, his conceptualization of political society is predicated on the difference in the modes of transacting business with the constitutional state (Chatterjee 1998, 282). The modality of realization of rights is what, then, separates political society from civil society. The difference in ontology which Chatterjee introduced at the beginning of his critique of civil society by foregrounding the lived experience of a communal being, as opposed to the associational life of the unencumbered modern individuals in civil society is replaced with a critical appraisal of the procedural dimension of Indian democracy (involved in transacting business, as quoted above). Even though community is invoked in the discursive construction of the political subject, the successful manoeuvring (including para-legal negotiations and transgression and suspension of law) in political society is not dependent on that invocation; rather it is dependent on the majoritarian bias as we shall later see. In sum, the communalassociational difference becomes untenable or insignificant as Chatterjee carries forward his argument. While trying to explore the ontology of this later position, we do not find any elaboration of the concept of the social. Rather, Chatterjee reads social relationships and practices in relation to the legal-political forms of the modern state (Chatterjee 2004, 74). He neither engages with the immanent antagonisms in the social, nor with the quasi-transcendental conditions of possibility and impossibility of political actions/interventions. To modify my last observation, I can say that, at the ontological level, Chatterjee posits the difference between political society and civil society in terms of the difference in the legal status of the entities that the state encounters, and the contestation and negotiations which take place over law, rules and norms become the focus of his analysis. It is therefore no surprise to 6

see that the procedural dimension unfolds in terms of judging the legal status of the means of the chosen economic activity by, and amenities for physical living of, the members of political society. Political action is seen in terms of establishing the legal, or transgressing the illegal, status within the black letter (property) law (which becomes a referent point). Political space, then, is strictly the space of interaction between the state and the population. Obviously, Chatterjee sees this in a positive light.

Chatterjee argues that as the new political entities wrangle over property and benefits, they also strike at the foundation of property relations. Property, Chatterjee reminds us, is the conceptual name of regulations by law of relations between individuals in civil society (Chatterjee 2004, 74 and passim). But as these social relations are yet to be mo[u]lded into proper forms of civil society, the state must maintain a fiction that in the constitution of its sovereignty, all citizens belong to civil society and are, by virtue of that legally constructed fact, equal subjects of the law. This fictional element must be addressed in the actual administrative processes.

The postcolonial (Indian) state not only finds a different legal entity/subject, but also negotiates with it, instead of liquidating or banishing it. According to Chatterjee, this negotiation does not take place because of the states benevolence; rather these subjects force the state to do so. Therefore, a positive appraisal of political society is pivoted on demonstrating the agency of the people in forcing the state to recognize them. The normative dimension of political society becomes visible in terms of delineating alternative (even if contingent) criteria for the recognition by the state. The governmental functions and non-governmental agencies are forced to recognize the demands of the members of political society in a different way. Since, these agencies do not recognize these members or groups as part of civil society, so they cannot negotiate with them according to the formal and strict procedures and law of the land, i.e. the so-called autonomy of the state is not obtained here. Hence, there is a proliferation of layered mediations and para-legal arrangements to resolve various contentious issues, and to meet the demands of these groups. The governmental bodies and political representatives deliberate and negotiate to identify the valid claims (Chatterjee 2004, 69). However, such negotiations must be hidden and not formally recorded, as (i)t is entirely possible that the negotiations on the ground did 7

not respect the principles of bureaucratic rationality or even the provisions of law (ibid 73). Chatterjee appreciates this para-legal arrangement and the actions in political society as an act of actual expansion of the freedoms of the people (ibid, 66 and passim). Chatterjee argues that certain groups participate in political process through manoeuvring in political society, which is otherwise not possible within the liberal space of the associations of civil societyii. He claims that the transactions in political society open up the possibility to effectively work against the [existing] distribution of power in society as a whole (emphasis in original). This possibility, according to him, is realized through the distribution of property rights. He briefly refers to Amartya Sens capability approach, which embod[ies] a set of substantive freedoms rather than utilities or income or primary goods (ibid 68) to support his claim.

However, there is a limit to this agency argument, which also indicates the limit of political society. First, there is a problem of scale. The very fact that (successful) negotiations and the modalities of realization of rights in political society are contingent and specific to a locale the terminal stage of application of power, therefore the methodology (mostly ethnographic case-studies) can enlighten us about micro- and capillary- politics, but not about the macro processes. It will be difficult to induce a general condition of freedom from such micro-political events even though it affirms the liberal political theory which posits an agent (here, the governeds) who experiences freedom, both in the negative and positive ways, but it does not problematize the actual scale or type of the structural conditions. But, since Chatterjee chooses to focus on property relationships and welfare benefits, therefore the structural conditions which make capitalist expansion possible and to what extent the members of political society can negotiate within capitalism and expand their freedom are at stake here. Second, Chatterjee observes that the leverage in political society is linked with the inherent majoritarian bias of electoral democracy (Chatterjee 2008b, 90 and passim). Because of this bias, certain sections of the population are excluded from political society, producing newly marginalized groups, comprising of low-caste and adivasi people. Political society and electoral democracy have not given these groups the means to make effective claims on governmentality. In this sense, these marginalized groups represent an outside beyond the boundaries of political society iii. This third space (after civil and political societies) is a new category in 8

Chatterjees writing, which John and Deshpande (2008, 85) call the liminal zone. Two points are to be noted here: first, the project (of political geography) to delineate and exhaustively map the differentiated political space is under threat as we continuously need to conceive new categories to capture this spatial differentiation exhaustively there is always a space which remains outside (here, liminal zone). Second, the possibility of negotiation and transgression of law with impunity is perhaps linked to this majoritarian bias and the related capacity to form nexus by both the elite and subaltern. As I mentioned earlier, the successful manoeuvring in political society is not dependent on the communal way of life; if it were so, then the stronger communal life of adivasi people would have secured them a place in political society. Therefore, we need to question Chatterjees communitarian and postmodernist (/post-Marxist?) suspicion towards law and constitutionalism, and argue that law, rules and norms can be both emancipatory and repressive and disciplinary. In other words, the transgression of law and contingent para-legal negotiations cannot solely secure the emancipatory possibility (i.e. actual expansion of freedom) for the members of political society as Chatterjee argues. In the next section I will elaborate and dwell upon these critical issues.


Now, it is pertinent to ask why Chatterjee theorizes political society in a statist/statecentric and legalistic way. It might be helpful to refer to the original concept of governmentality to understand that impulse. In developing the concept of political society, particularly in terms of the politics of the governed, Chatterjee selectively draws from the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. Governmentality, as we know, denotes the generalized governmental rationality, beyond that of the state. Methodologically, it studies the strategic field of application of power, whose problematic is: [H]ow best to govern[?] (OMalley et al 1997, 502). Governmentality is about the organization of resources and institutions, establishment of norms and practices, etc., and justifying this constellation. Thereby, as we know, power assumes a productive dimension, rather than a negative and repressive one. Thomas Lemke argues that the salient feature of Foucaults conceptualization of governmentality is that it links technologies of the self with technologies of

domination, the constitution of the subject to the formation of the state; and finally, it helps to differentiate between power and domination (Lemke 2002, 51).

Government refers to more or less systematized, regulated and reflected modes of power (a technology) that go beyond the spontaneous exercise of power over others, following a specific form of reasoning (a rationality) which defines the telos of action or the adequate means to achieve it (Lemke 2002, 53).

And thereby, structuring and shaping the field of possible action of subjects (ibid 52).

In Chatterjees conceptualization of political society and the case-studies that he engages with, we never see the inter-linkage between the technologies of the self and technologies of domination. What comes out, as mentioned earlier, is that the process of surveying and categorization (which are not exactly the technologies of domination) of the population are politicized, i.e. people use the very categories, which are generated or used in surveys and censuses (which again are not exactly the technologies of the self), to stake claims on the state. Read this way, Chatterjees notion of governed as a subject of political society is nominal, and the process of subjection to power in the domain of governmental/public policy which is the premise of Chatterjees argument does not end up in producing/constructing any subjectivity as such. And this happens, because governmentality is played out in India exclusively within the body politic of the state, not beyond the latter iv. This statement of mine might seem to be contradictory to Chatterjees (2008b, 93) later claim that governmental power [..] is no longer restricted to the branches of the state[,] but extends to a host of non-state and even non-governmental agencies. Chatterjee does not define governmental power explicitly; however, it is evident that he sees governmental power to be beyond the state from the stand point of the institutional space of application of power, but not from the problematic of subject, subjectivity v and rationality.

In Chatterjees writings, governmentality is just an alternative way to understand the interaction of the Indian state with the population, and does not refer to the 10

generalized governmental rationality or logics perhaps, that itself points to the postcolonial predicament. A lack of mediation on this predicament makes political society a theory of politics vi describing the modes of transaction between the state and governeds. A description of the social conditions in which the governeds find themselves does not elucidate or clarify the ontology of the social, from which the specificity of the postcolonial condition (and the predicament therein) a sketch of which is attempted below can be explained or elaborated vii. Without such a critical engagement, Chatterjee remains within the liberal strand of political theory, where the expansion of liberal institutional order is presented as an unlimited, albeit a hindered or interrupted, process. Since Chatterjee does not read the practices of governmentality as political logics, governmentality almost becomes a shorthand for such a liberal political order, always already in a position to accommodate and subsume various negativities, particularly in the context of capitalist expansion which is an evolutionist view of political order. Chatterjee does not deconstruct the metaphysics (of presence) of such political practices which could point to the impossibility of constituting an order and thereby also demonstrate (again) the limit of naming a political space as civil or political society.

If the theory of political society has to be statist, then it might be more helpful to conduct a thorough investigation of the ways in which the postcolonial state transacts business with the population and the consequences of that on the established laws, rules and norms from various perspectives/standpoints. What comes out of Chatterjees description in various cases (and many scholars would also attest the factual basis of those) is that the postcolonial state is contradictory and indecisive in its conduct viii: on the one hand, it is marked by hesitancy and weakness in obtaining compliance to the existing codified norms, and in enforcing certain legal and executive orders, and on the other hand, it can be extraordinarily violent (i.e. in using violent means and in violating the constitutional rights, legal provisions, and procedures) all of which cannot be solely seen as a response to the manoeuvring in political society. The other side of this argument is that law and rules can be transgressed by the powerful people to exploit the members of political society or to cause misery and inconvenience to them (e.g. encroachment of village and forest land by the mining companies in Bellary in Karnataka; diversion of PDS rice, etc.). We also know that in the face of resource scarcity and other impediments, the actors, both 11

the powerful people and the members of political society, practise jugad, i.e. they arrange for themselves. It is also possible to provide alternative explanations for the postcolonial states tolerance of violation of (public) property rights, particularly in the context of informal economy. Barbara Harriss-White (forthcoming, n.p.) provides such an alternative argument:

The state may also have an interest in sustaining petty commodity production [the economic domain where the members of political society predominate]. Its infrastructural responsibilities to employers may be avoided if production is outsourced to petty producers, and it often does not enforce laws through which the super-exploitative advantage of petty production would be abolished, or enforce fiscal measures that would threaten through taxation the nutrient-bed of petty production. So small-scale production and trade also thrive because the capital involved does not accumulate sufficiently for the revenue from tax to outweigh the costs of its collection. The state also inadvertently subsidizes and promotes production by small enterprises through condoning and not policing the onward lending of formal credit on terms and conditions which prevent the borrowers from accumulating (and of late through permitting a mass of more or less experimental micro finance arrangements). It subsidizes and promotes the reproduction of small enterprises through whatever infrastructural and welfare interventions are aimed at the households involved in it. To prevent mass unemployment, widespread malnutrition, etc, for several decades it has had to transfer resources more or less exiguously for politically stabilising policies that prevent the destruction of small scale production, trade and services. In doing [so,] it creates small enterprises it cannot regulate[,] and incidentally also restricts accumulation.

These contradictory and indecisive and perhaps pragmatic approaches of the state indicate towards a predicament which underlines the power relationships in a postcolonial country. This predicament has been conceptualised as the condition of dominance without hegemony by Ranajit Guha. Guha defines hegemony, within a field of power, i.e. a series of inequalities or unequal relationships (Guha 1998, 20), as a condition of Dominance (D) such that, in the organic composition of D, 12

Persuasion (P) outweighs Coercion (C) and hegemony operates as a dynamic concept and keeps even the most persuasive structure of Dominance always and necessary open to Resistance (ibid 23, emphases in original). Dominance without hegemony is the condition where persuasion never manages to outweigh coercion, i.e. coercion becomes explicit in the formation and operation of power relationships. It is this condition that propels the development of strategies of co-optation and negotiations, in an attempt to defer or modify the (often inevitable) application of force.

In the Indian context, the bourgeoisie never loses sight of its interest in accumulating capital, yet adopts various strategies to dispel the antagonisms faced in that process and negotiates with certain impediments. Does the Indian bourgeoisie manage to persuade the people to facilitate the process of accumulation or does it ultimately depend on the application of force, or a mix of both? This question returns in the context of the recent economic transformation in India, on which Chatterjee has published two articles in 2008.

In the first article, Chatterjee (2008a) engages with the political economy of the recent economic transformation in India to delineate the changing relationships among the dominant groups. Here, the central problematic is the sole ascendancy of private industrial-corporate capital in India to the position of hegemonic domination which is accomplished with the connivance [in my words] of the urban middle classes the sphere that seeks to be congruent with the normative models of bourgeois civil society (Chatterjee 2008a, 57) and the parallel decline of the agrarian bourgeoisie (ibid 56). Such ascendancy of industrial-corporate capital is rendered possible through primitive accumulation, namely, the dissociation of the labourer from the means of labour [i.e. production] (ibid 54) and the attendant transfer of those means of production to the capitalists. Chatterjee thinks that political society again becomes a significant field of contestation and interventions in this new context: the need to reverse the effects of the primitive accumulation necessitates that the governmental agencies engage with political society to distribute the benefits, following the modality described above. But this contestation has been part of passive revolution of capital right from the beginning of the postcolonial states career, as can be gleaned from Sudipta Kavirajs critique (which is seen from the stand point of the state). 13

Kavirajs critique of passive revolution is predicated on the proposition that the state in India is a bourgeois state (Kaviraj 1997, 48) which helps in capitalist reproduction (ibid 49 and passim) when capital on its own cannot expand through market transactions and therefore depends on the legitimized directive mechanisms of the state.

Kaviraj observes, the Indian capitalist class exercises its control over society neither through a moral-cultural hegemony of the Gramscian type, nor a simple coercive strategy on the lines of satellite states of the Third World (ibid 51 and passim). Such a control is achieved through a coalitional strategy carried out partly through the state-directed process of economic growth, partly through the allocational necessities indicated by the bourgeois democratic political system (emphasis added).

The (capitalist) dominance over the society is achieved through the practices of governance, which according to Kaviraj, refers to the process of actual policy decisions within the apparatuses of the state (ibid 54 and passim). The dominance is created by establishing sets of vertical clientilist benefit coalition ix [emphasis in original] between the ruling bloc and subordinate classes through certain policies. Such an approach is concerned with the calculations of short-term political advantages accruing from policies. The objective x of establishing benefit coalitions is to ensure that actual political configurations do not become symmetrical to class divisions in society.

Though one can argue, after Kaviraj, that creating vertical clientilist benefit coalitions is the logics of political society vis--vis capitalist expansion and primitive accumulation, yet it will be difficult to normatively evaluate it as a positive development (in terms of expansion of freedom). An agency argument xi is not enough to salvage such an evaluation. This is because the very condition of capital accumulation depends on creating such vertical benefit coalitions, which is a social cost to accumulation, and such a cost does not alter or threaten the course of capitalist transformation and expansion (in an ontological sense, not a historicist sense, and thereby not a question of teleological transition). I will argue that such vertical benefit coalitions and para-legal negotiations are simply a factual and 14

descriptive state of affairs in the domain of power relationships, bereft of any immediate normative problematization xii. Since interventionist and transformational politics requires a normative evaluation, and the significance and purchase of political society depends on showing the actual expansion of freedom of the members of political society, so it is also difficult to see any transformational potential of the development of political society, parallel to civil society.

Let me summarize my critique of Chatterjee: The project of mapping the differentiated political space or defending the communal way of life has not been ultimately significant enough for Chatterjee to develop a theory of Indian/postcolonial democracy; on the other hand, the practice of transgression of law, rules and norm in India has to be accepted, but the point is whether we can undertake any normative evaluation of this empirical context and proclaim that it helps in realizing the rights and freedom of the members of political society. In other words, we need to question whether the (political) sociological understanding of political society can help us to develop a philosophical understanding of democracy in India. Alternatively, if the transgression of law has to be taken seriously, then we should be able to use the concept of political society to underline the undecidability and aporetic conditions present in constitutionalism and in the process of realization of rights, justice and freedom which provides a critique of liberal theory of democracy, i.e. shows the limit of democracy under capitalist system. This standpoint neither harbours a Marxist/anarcho-communitarian suspicion towards constitutionalism, nor does it attempt to furnish a liberal/modernist defence of the rule of law. This is what I mean by political society as critique, which I elaborate below.

The context at hand is capitalist transformation which requires a reorganisation of property relationships, mobility of capital, curbing labour rights, rationing social benefits, grabbing resources and maintaining and enhancing the value [actually, price] of property through urban development and beautification. Political society can be a useful concept and an analytical tool to study the condition through which antagonisms immanent and developed within this process of capitalist transformation in a postcolonial country (i.e. the new frontiers of capitalist expansion and growth) are deflected, deferred or nullified. The concept of political society therefore can be used to critique this postcolonial condition. But that does not mean that we should overturn 15

Chatterjees insight and treat political society as a successful strategic field of the dominant classes, which is structured to overcome the problematic of dominance without hegemony, i.e. the development of non-coercive and persuasive political condition for capitalist transformation. Violence is embedded in this process. Amita Baviskar and Nandini Sundar (2008) draw attention to such an application of force and infliction of violence in contemporary India. They argue that such an application of force makes civil society not a domain of hegemony, but of domination (ibid 89), implying that the division and distinction of civil and political societies along the axes of civility and legality is misleading.

If the concept of political society is to be treated as a critical tool, and no ready transformational politics can be found within it, then the obvious question is: How does one think about the political and transformational politics? Chatterjees critics see politics in terms of contingency and the empirical specificity of a struggle, and fall back on the agency argument. They suggest that in order to appreciate contemporary subaltern politics, one needs to study the cases of resistance (John and Deshpande 2008, 86), to see the success in getting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the Forest Act and the Right to Information Act as an outcome of peoples own degree of organization and their increased ability to speak in terms of the very law that is used to dispossess them (Baviskar and Sundar 2008, 88), and to look out for spaces, which the ruling classes are compelled to open up in an attempt to legitimize their positions of power so as to (utilize) [those spaces] with a renewed creativity by those fighting for a more equal, less exploitative social order (Shah 2008, 81).

In reply to his critics, Chatterjee re-calibrates political society by introducing two more concepts: moral passion and populism (populism is definitely a new turn in his theorization). He explains:

it is mistaken to claim that the dominant and propertied classes any longer set the standards of morality for society; rather, in a democratic age, the moral passion of entitlement and outrage is on the side of those who have little (Chatterjee 2008b, 92 and passim).


The political dimension in seen in terms of struggle (clash and conflict) not by clarifying the negativity or antagonism at the ontological level (i.e. that what leads to the conflict): Since the intentions emerge from the arena of politics, it goes without saying that they are shaped by the struggles between rival groups and classes in that arena.

The character of the politics which emerges in this field a field created by governmentality is populist, and populism xiii is the only morally legitimate form of democratic politics today. Thus, it seems that Chatterjee stands by his earlier claim that the politics of the governed is shifting the historical horizon of political modernity in most of the world (Chatterjee 2004, 75).

This insistence on seeing political society as an innovative and promising political development ignores the other possibilities of (progressive) political interventions. The analysis of governmentality studies a very specify domain, namely the mode of application and transformation in governmental rationality and power, and resistances to it. This does not exhaust the possibilities of analysing other domains of power relationships, the dislocating events within those, or anticipating other forms of progressive political interventions. These limitations are also inherited by the analysis of political society as such. Thus, the concept of political society as critique of Indian politics is a much stronger position to defend.

Alternatively, we may adopt a different methodology to understand the political and the transformational politics. We need to ask whether political theory should always start with (a reflection on) the state and civil society, while trying to understand/question the postcolonial political modernity. Instead of a statist/statecentric normative discussion, can we not begin with the conceptualization of the social, explicate its ontology, and then proceed from there to apprehend the quasitranscendental conditions of possibility and impossibility of political change?



I have argued in this paper that the concept of political society can be more useful as a critique of Indian politics, rather than an alternative normative theory, which can only extend the criteria of recognition by the state. What the concept of political society warns us is that a certain section of the society is marginalized and that their demands do not become part of mainstream political articulations in civil society. Political society alerts us about various strategies that are being developed, how people use the spaces available in a democracy to raise/place various demands, and how those demands are dealt in a piecemeal way to mitigate antagonism and in facilitating the passive revolution of capital. Yet, such strategies cannot fully hegemonise the people, and force the bourgeoisie to resort to violent means. Political society as critique marks out the problematic of perseverance of the condition of dominance without hegemony and the return or the spectre of the people xiv in a democracy.

Chatterjee reminds us, governmentality always operates on a heterogeneous social field, on multiple population groups, and with multiple strategies (Chatterjee 2004, 60 and passim). And we have seen that the politics in political society is necessarily temporary and contextual. Thus, any political intervention that wants to overcome this fragmentary and temporary politics would necessarily require an engagement in hegemonic politics, a process of constructing a broader political movement beyond the fragmentary ones. There are programmatic issues involved in such a transformational politics; but any mediation on such political programmes cannot begin without understanding the specificity of the postcolonial condition and predicament, which in turn, requires an ontological analysis. The outcome of such an analysis will not necessarily initiate transformation, but will at least provide a critical insight about the political processes.

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This paper is a modified and expanded form of another paper published in 2008 (Sarkar 2008). ii This participation-through-manoeuvring is not based on a communal way of life, i.e. it is not a question of communal way of life helping in the formation of a group, analogous to the concept of class-in-itself. Successful manoeuvring depends on access to mediators, as we will see below. iii Samir Kumar Das argues that there are sections of the population who escape the calculative logic of enumeration and thereby they become the ungoverneds. But it is not clear why this should be the case, i.e. what kind of logical inconsistency or limit of governmentality is involved here is not readily understood. iv One can observe the nascent attempts at expanding governmentality beyond the state in projects like the Unique Identity. v This problematic is central in Foucaults conceptualization of governmentality. Refer to Two Lectures by Foucault (1980), particularly pp. 97-98. vi I borrow the term politics and the political from Chantal Mouffe, where the political refers to the dimension of antagonism which [is] constitutive of human societies, and politics refers to the set of practices and institutions through which an order is created, organizing human coexistence in the context of conflictuality provided by the political (Mouffe 2005, 9). vii Also, without such a consideration, the emergence of political subjects cannot be understood. The Foucauldian understanding of subject formation through subjection to power has been thoroughly criticized by Derrida. Refer to Derrida (1972 and 1973) and Ernesto Laclau (1990). viii Say the hesitancy of the erstwhile Left Front Government of West Bengal in the case of the rotting corpse of Balak Brahmachari of the Santan Dal (a religious sect) (Chatterjee 2004, 4151), and the same Governments use of police force, time and again, in suppressing and killing (political) dissidents (in Marichhjhapi, Singur and Nandigram). ix I will argue that this can be seen as the institutionalized form of the colonial idiom of Improvement, through which the colonial rulers [used] to relate nonantagonistically to the ruled (Guha 1998, 30, emphasis added). x Arun Patnaik offered an alternative argument. Patnaik (1988, 30) found the poverty alleviation programmes and targeting the poor in the 1970s as the states paternalistic


attitude to the rural poor, through which the state diffused among the poor peasants its own organizational contradictions and tried to wean them away from the social contradictions of the real life. xi I will argue that the question of agency in these discussions always arises ex post facto, at the moment of attributing the credit (or autonomy) of the action to a particular subject. The question of identification and recognition of that subject is very much part of the above objective. Therefore, to consider the agency as a (starting) premise of an argument is limited in explaining the case. xii One can develop this argument further by engaging with Jacques Rancires concept of politic(al/)s as disagreement (1998 and 2004), which necessarily involves such a problematization. xiii In defence of populism, Chatterjee quotes Ernesto Laclau. But, I think, it is a misapplication. For Laclau (2007 and 2005), populism stands as a problematic of staging the people within democracy, which is preceded by a Claude Lefort-inspired understanding of power, which is empty (i.e. there is a lack) at the core, and hegemonic politics is practised in an attempt to fill or occupy that emptiness or lack. People becomes the constituency constructed or is the locus in this hegemonic political practice. xiv The populist question, similar to Laclau and Rancire.