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St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

DOI 10.1007/s12116-013-9136-9

Demolition and Dispossession: Toward an

Understanding of State Violence in Millennial Mumbai

Liza Weinstein

Published online: 16 July 2013

# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Abstract Slum clearance campaigns and demolition drives have been understood as
an integral part of the governance of the Indian city, but little effort has been made to
analyze why the Indian state periodically invokes its monopoly on the legitimate use
of physical force in this manner. To answer this question, this article analyzes three
periods of heightened demolitions in post-independence Mumbai: the mid-1950s,
amidst independent state formation; the mid-1970s, during the period of authoritarian
rule referred to as the Emergency; and the mid-2000s, when Maharashtra’s Chief
Minister initiated a campaign to “transform Mumbai into a world class city.” In each
of these periods—as well as during the smaller-scale demolitions that are a consistent
feature of life in the city—this article argues that slum evictions cannot be explained
solely by what David Harvey and others have referred to as “accumulation by
dispossession,” whereby the urban poor is dispossessed to initiate potentially lucra-
tive urban development. Rather, it demonstrates that demolitions are embedded in
contestations over authority and sovereignty in the governance of the Indian city.
Furthermore, it demonstrates that despite a heightened awareness about this type of
state violence, the explanations for demolition drives remain fairly consistent in the
current globalizing or neoliberal era.

Keywords Slums . Informality . Eviction . Demolition . Mumbai . Urban India


In the late morning on Thursday, May 13, 2010, more than 200 armed police officers
were sent to carry out an order from the Chief Minister of the State of Maharashtra to
demolish the Anna Bhau Sathenagar slum in Mumbai’s1 eastern suburb of Mankhurd.

This article refers to the city as both Mumbai and as its former name, Bombay. When discussing the city
pre-1995, when its name was changed to Mumbai, this article uses the former name.
L. Weinstein (*)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA
e-mail: l.weinstein@neu.edu
286 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

Accompanied by the state’s Deputy Collector, Dhananjay Sawalkar, and assisted by

six bulldozers, the demolition squad approached the residential settlement with the
objective of dismantling its more than three thousand hutments or shacks. But, when
met with fierce resistance from Anna Bhau Sathenagar’s residents, the action took a
more violent turn than the officials had expected. As the demolition squad entered the
settlement, residents presented the officers with a stay on the demolition, obtained
earlier that day from the regional administrative office, and refused them entry into
the slum (Gaikawad 2010). Ignoring their demands, the demolition squad forcefully
pushed past mobilized residents and began dismantling hutments. Small fires were set
in several places throughout the settlement and hundreds of huts were burnt to the
ground (The South Asian 2010; Gaikawad 2010; Bordoloi 2010). Over the next four
hours, roughly 500 hutments were bulldozed or burnt, hundreds of residents were
beaten with lathi sticks, 40 residents and activists were arrested, and one person was
killed (Jamwal 2010).
Within days, a satyagraha, or non-violent protest movement, was launched on the
site of the partially demolished slum, supported by noted activist Medha Patkar and
the housing rights group Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (Times of India 2010;
Gaikawad 2010). On May 17, the Member of Parliament representing the area visited
the satyagraha site and spoke to the embattled residents, voicing regrets about the
state government’s action. “I offer my apologies to all of you and vow that from now
onwards, in this fight, I’m with you all” (Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan 2010a).
Others visited the site and also expressed solidarity with the residents, including
actress and Mumbai-based activist Shabana Azmi and architect and activist P.K. Das.
Responding to the noted activists and the publicity they brought to the demolition
campaign, the Chief Minster defended his action, declaring that the illegal construc-
tion of slums could not be tolerated (Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan 2010b).
Meanwhile, the activists had obtained documents revealing that the Bombay Soap
Factory, which had leased the land on which Anna Bhau Sathenagar sits (Jamwal
2010), had made the request for the demolition. Although it appeared that the
Bombay Soap Factory’s lease had expired, the state’s action was presumably under-
taken to allow for redevelopment in this rapidly expanding area of Mumbai
(Gaikawad 2010). Even so, neither the state government nor a private landholder
took possession of the land; the violence carried out against the illegal constructions
faded from memory; and life eventually returned to normal in the settlement.
Slum demolitions and eviction campaigns are an unfortunately common aspect of life
for the millions of people who live and work informally on pavements and open lands in
Mumbai and other Indian cities. Every few months, municipal police officers are sent by
the state to demolish residential settlements and dismantle informal vendors’ markets.
Some of these campaigns are more sustained and entail the use of significant amounts of
force, inflicting lasting wounds on the bodies of the evictees, as well as on the public
consciousness and the political party that ordered the action. But most episodes of slum
demolitions and street vendor evictions are smaller in scale and fade much more quickly
from memory. Yet, in both cases, the state rarely keeps the cleared area clear and the
evicted residents often return in a matter of days.
Taking the word of political leaders and the bureaucrats who order the demolitions, it
would seem obvious that slum evictions are carried out to fulfill the state’s development
ambitions. As Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh explained at the height of a large-scale
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 287

demolition campaign carried out in Mumbai in late-2004 and early-2005, “The prolif-
eration of slums throughout the city has created obstacles for development.”2 He
elaborated in another speech that “many people will be inconvenienced and will have
to make sacrifices if the city is to develop.”3 Similar language was employed to justify
the forced evictions of street vendors in Kolkata in the late 1990s, although this
campaign was framed by the ruling Communist Party as a class action taken against
the bourgeois vendors and capitalist owning class (Roy 2003). The demolition cam-
paigns associated with the planning for Delhi’s Commonwealth Games in 2010, mean-
while, were framed similarly, although these actions were also presented as an effort to
bring international sport to India's youth, in addition to helping turn Delhi into a "world
class city" (Baviskar 2010; Dupont 2008).
These actions have been understood as an integral part of the governance of the
Indian city (Appadurai 2000; Roy 2003; Tarlo 2003; Hansen 2005; Benjamin 2008),
but little effort has been made to analyze specifically why the Indian state periodically
invokes its “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force” in this manner (Weber
1946 [1921]: 78). Widely characterized as steps taken to further development aspi-
rations, clearing underutilized lands to facilitate infrastructure development or com-
mercial investment, this explanation overlooks the fact that these goals are rarely met
by slum clearance efforts. Given that the state and municipal governments usually
allow the cleared lands to be re-occupied, rarely carrying out the proposed develop-
ment plans on these sites, then why would they continue to carry out these violent and
politically costly demolition campaigns on a relatively regular basis?
This paper poses this question in the context of contemporary Mumbai. Although
the explanations promise analytical dividends for those looking at state violence in
other contexts, this article is grounded in an analysis of the Indian state and its
deployment of this type of violence in the city of Mumbai. The primary objective
is to set the current moment in historical perspective, asking whether slum demoli-
tions in contemporary, millennial Mumbai represent a significant shift in either
motivations or process from earlier demonstrations of state violence. In order to do
so, three periods of heightened demolitions are analyzed: the mid-1950s, amidst post-
independence state formation; the mid-1970s, during the period of authoritarian rule
referred to as the Emergency; and the mid-2000s, when Maharashtra’s chief minister
initiated an effort to “transform Mumbai into a world class city” and “make Mumbai
like Shanghai.” In each of these periods, as well as during the smaller scale clearance
campaigns that comprise a harmful but unfortunately unexceptional part of everyday
life in the city, the events challenge the prevailing wisdom that demolition drives
represent what David Harvey (2003) and others have referred to as “accumulation by
dispossession,” whereby the urban poor is displaced and dispossessed in order to
initiate potentially lucrative urban development. Rather, this analysis demonstrates
that these demolition drives are embedded in contestations over authority and sover-
eignty in the governance of the Indian city. The central argument of this paper is that
slum demolitions exist within the state’s repertoire of authority, as a public perfor-
mance of sovereignty, at moments when state weakness is visible and authority is
contested. While the state may also employ other strategies in these moments, I argue

Quoted in Mahadevia and Narayanan (2008).
Quoted in Sainath (2005).
288 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

that the fragmented nature of sovereignty at the urban scale, and particularly within
the contested slum settlements, makes these actions especially salient in this context.
While these actions are often justified as necessary to fulfill economic development
aims—that demolitions are simply “the price of progress”—I argue that they ultimately
undermine long-term development objectives. Given that demolition drives are typically
orchestrated as an immediate response to criticism or to undercut political challenges as
they arise, these actions are usually disconnected from sustained efforts to address the
city’s persistent housing shortages and ultimately undermine such initiatives. Through-
out the 60-year period discussed in this paper, the national, state, and municipal
governments have devised a series of slum improvement and re-housing programs in
Mumbai aimed at improving the quality and supply of housing for poor and working
class residents. Backed by the World Bank and other aid agencies, these programs have
received relatively consistent support from both the city’s powerful business community
and from voters. Yet, when the government undertakes violent clearance campaigns, its
commitment to these programmatic solutions come under question and public support
for these programmatic initiatives is lost. Meanwhile, the marginalization and political
scapegoating of slum residents prevalent during these campaigns undermines long-term
objectives of political development and bolsters the corrupt and extractive forms of
power found within informal settlements.

Accumulation and Vote-Bank Politics

Both implicitly and explicitly, David Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by disposses-

sion” is usually invoked to explain the government’s motivations for slum demolitions
and forced evictions (Harvey 2008; Sanyal 2007; Anand and Rademacher 2011;
Weinstein and Ren 2009; Mahmud 2010; Hart 2006). Regarded as almost self-evident,
government action to clear slum lands or dismantle informal markets is regarded as part
of a larger process of urban transformation and surplus value extraction. Identifying this
process as a core component of capitalism under conditions of neoliberalism, Harvey
explains that since the 1970s, forms of accumulation rooted in expanded production have
given way to accumulation by dispossession. The privatization of water, electricity, and
other utilities, as well as new and aggressive forms of urban renewal, reflect an effort to
commoditize and infuse new value into once-public goods (Harvey 2003). This process,
meanwhile, is an inherently violent one, as the state employs its monopoly on the use of
legitimate use of violence to facilitate capital extraction. “Surplus absorption through
urban transformation has an even darker aspect,” Harvey writes:

It has entailed repeated bouts of urban restructuring through “creative destruc-

tion”, which nearly always has a class dimension since it is the poor, the
underprivileged, and those marginalized from political power that suffer first
and foremost from this process. Violence is required to build the new urban
world on the wreckage of the old (Harvey 2008: 33).

Applying this framework to the Indian city, including slum evictions and demoli-
tions, Harvey offers a brief discussion of the ongoing plans to redevelop Mumbai’s
notorious Dharavi settlement:
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 289

Dharavi, one of the most prominent slums in Mumbai, is estimated to be worth $2

billion. The pressure to clear it—for environmental and social reasons that mask
the land grab—is mounting daily. Financial powers backed by the state push for
forcible slum clearance, in some cases violently taking possession of terrain
occupied for a whole generation. Capital accumulation through real-estate activity
booms since the land is acquired at almost no cost (Harvey 2008: 35).

Others have similarly employed this framework and the notion of a land grab to
describe the broader context of urban transformation underway elsewhere in Mumbai
and in other Indian cities (Batra and Mehra 2008; Bhan 2009; Bhide 2008; Dupont
2008; Mahadevia 1998; Weinstein and Ren 2009).
These analyses of state motivation and the violence employed for the sake of value
extraction tend to focus on the acts of eviction and demolition but rarely maintain the
gaze on their aftermath. When they do, it becomes apparent that the state's develop-
mental ambitions and objectives of accumulation frequently go unrealized (Benjamin
2008; Dupont 2008; Roy 2003). These dynamics suggest that the business commu-
nity pushing for the demolitions (such as the Bombay Soap Factory in the case of the
Anna Bhau Sattenagar case) may be only one voice among many in these contested
political fields. While these groups may have the influence to push for demolition in
certain cases, the limits of their influence become evident when proposed develop-
ments fail to materialize. This disjuncture between the power to demolish and the
power to develop are revealed in Véronique Dupont’s account of demolitions carried
out in Delhi in the late-1990s. “The sites of JJ clusters [jhuggi-jhompri clusters, or
slums], still vacant several years after their demolition, question the stated principle of
the Delhi slum clearance policy, namely the removal and relocation of squatter
settlements only when the land is required to implement projects in the larger public
interest” (Dupont 2008: 86). She speculates that the landowning agencies lack the
capacity or the will to carry out such projects, but leaves unsettled the question of
why the lands were cleared in the first place.
The inadequacies of the "accumulation by dispossession" framework are exposed
when one moves from the more abstract analysis of capital to a ground-level examination
of the cycle of demolitions and encroachments that Arjun Appadurai (2000: 648) has
called "a constant public battle of cat-and-mouse." These more localized accounts have
tended to analyze this cycle from within the context of patron-client, or "vote-bank,"
politics that govern the Indian city (Anand and Rademacher 2011; Appadurai 2000;
Benjamin 2008; Roy 2003; Weinstein 2008). Focusing on the demolitions carried out by
the Communist Party Marxist (CPM) in 1990s Calcutta, Roy (2003) suggests that
evictions periodically renew loyalty to the political party and local party leaders. With
the question of squatters' tenure never settled, residents must put their faith and political
support behind local politicians to protect their access to housing and livelihoods. Periodic
demolitions remind squatters of their insecure tenure and renew their patronage to the
local party leaders. Although some political support for the party is invariably lost as a
result of the campaign, loyalty will eventually be renewed when the opposition party fails
to deliver on its promises and leaves its new supporters once again vulnerable to the
bulldozers (Roy 2003). Drawing similar conclusions, but emphasizing agency over
vulnerability, Solomon Benjamin (2008: 723) has argued that the "subversive politics
on the ground" work to undermine the ambitions of capital. Recounting the experience of
290 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

researchers in Mumbai visiting the sites of dismantled slums, Benjamin (2008: 722)
explains that “to their great surprise, they found several sites had been reoccupied. A state-
level politician of that city confirming such situations to this author pointed out that poorer
groups were hardly naïve, and knew very well how to use the ‘system’.” Whether the
evicted residents are victims or effective manipulators of the local political system, these
scholars recognize the demolition drive as a part of the daily governance of the Indian city.
Focusing on such demolitions in Mumbai in the past two decades, it is clear that
analyses of these ground-level politics of demolition and dispossession cannot be
separated from the violence of religious political movements and communalism
(Appadurai 2000; Hansen 2001). Discussing the situation in the early 1990s when
communal violence in Mumbai was at its height—spurred on by a nation-wide
Hindutva movement centered in the North Indian city of Ayodhya—Appadurai refers
to this type of violence as “urban cleansing.” Invoking notions of both ethnic
cleansing and the “cleaning up” of degraded, unruly city space, Appadurai (2000:
649) explains, “In this macabre conjuncture, the most horrendously poor, crowded,
and degraded areas of the city were turned into battlegrounds of the poor against the
poor, with the figure of the Muslim providing the link between scarce housing, illegal
commerce, and national geography writ urban.” In this context, the enduring cycles
of encroachment and eviction were infused with a new type of religious and com-
munal chauvinism that shook once-cosmopolitan Mumbai to its core. Despite this
new political flavor and the scale of violence perpetrated by the state and political
parties in the early 1990s, these episodes are familiar to observers of the city’s “public
battle of cat-and-mouse.”
The communal violence in early 1990s Bombay shed light on the spectacular
nature of “urban cleansing.” Although scholars like Roy and Benjamin have made
important connections between demolitions and the complex networks that comprise
urban governance in India, their explanations cannot fully account for the spectacular
or public nature of the eviction campaigns. These episodes are often marked by direct
confrontations in broad daylight between bulldozers and squatters and are followed
by politicians’ public pronouncements that illegal squatting and street vending “will
not be tolerated.” These displays of power are typically ordered by Chief Ministers
and state-level party leaders, rather than by the local ward bosses whose power
derives directly from the loyalty of vulnerable squatters. Those ordering the de-
molitions are more concerned about the “new city…characterized by a central
business district with advanced transport and telecommunications facilities and office
space” than they are about local power in the slum (Chatterjee 2004: 143). Although
the politicians who call for the action are embedded in a party structure that certainly
depends upon the patronage of slum residents, who in Mumbai make up more than
half of the voting public, they represent a state whose formal agencies and bureau-
cratic apparatuses have largely abdicated their governance responsibilities over these
areas. So while the patronage explanation provides the important link between
demolition drives and political power, the focus is too deeply situated at the scale
of the slum, neglecting an analysis of the regional and national scales that also engage
in political struggles over these spaces. A more complete explanation for slum
demolitions and eviction campaigns requires, as discussed in Moncada's (2013)
introduction to this volume, a multi-level analysis of state power and the competing
and fragmented forms of sovereignty found in the Indian city.
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 291

State Sovereignty and Repertoires of Authority

The problem of defining the state led Weber (1946 [1921]: 78) to make one of his
most poignant and frequently cited observations, in which he defined the state as “a
human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of
physical force within a given territory” (emphasis in original). Because so many other
institutions, from the family to the private corporation, take on many if not most of
the same responsibilities that the state does, the state cannot be defined by its ends.
Rather, sociologically speaking, the state must be defined by its means because it is
these that are exclusive to it. Throughout history and at the present, Weber observed,
it is only the state that has the legitimate right to use violence to accomplish its ends.
Although other individuals and institutions may be empowered to use physical force,
this use is legitimate “only to the extent to which the state permits it” (Weber 1946
[1921]: p. 78). Although the state need not use the means of violence to accomplish
its various ends—Weber (1946 [1921]: 78) notes that violence is not the “normal or
only means of the state”—its power derives from its authority to employ it at will.
One of the main challenges in discussing political authority in the city, and in the
post-colonial city in particular, is that cities are typically sites of fragmented sover-
eignty, divided loyalties, and diffuse power. Unlike the national state, where authority
generally remains undisputed (except during moments of extreme political turmoil),
cities are political spaces with multiple, distinct, and overlapping jurisdictions (Bren-
ner 2004, 2011; Davis 2011). Acknowledging that "claims for sovereignty will
emerge at a range of territorial scales, both smaller and larger than the nation state,"
Davis and her colleagues writing on the distinct nature of sovereignty in urban spaces
(Davis and Libertun de Duran 2011) employ a broad definition for the concept, “as
‘the public authority which directs or orders what is to be done,’ or more simply as
the 'supreme, absolute, uncontrollable power, the absolute right to govern’” (Davis
2011: 229). Yet, given that cities are governed by national governments, regional
states, municipalities, and neighborhood-based patronage networks, the particular
entity that possess the "absolute right to govern" is often unclear or becomes a source
of contestation. In these cases, violence may be employed by a particular incarnation
or scale of the state in order to display its ultimate sovereignty over the city.
Meanwhile, the Indian state—in its many forms and levels—has largely abdicated
its sovereignty over large parts of the city. As in many cities in the former colonial
world with large populations of informal residents, in Mumbai “the locust of political
authority [is generally] incarnated in the ubiquitous ‘big men’—the tough self-made
criminal-strongman-fixer-and politician who increasingly dominate the political life
in slums and townships” (Hansen and Stepputat 2005: 30). Like the formal state,
these “informal sovereigns” rule by employing violence or threats of violence within
their given territory (Chatterjee 2004; Hansen 2001, 2005). Collaborative relations
between the formal state and informal sovereigns entail the state's "supportive
neglect" of slums (Weinstein 2008) that permits the use of violence by informal
sovereigns in exchange for money and political patronage.4 Yet, relations between the

The collaborative relations between Mumbai's "big men" and the state are analogous to collaborative
relations between states and the local armed actors that appear in the contributions to this special issue by
Arias (2013) and LeBas (2013).
292 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

formal state and the informal sovereigns are tenuous, unstable, and subject to frequent
renegotiation (Hansen and Stepputat 2005; Hansen 2005).
Slum demolitions are, in part, a byproduct of the negotiation and renegotiation of
power and authority between the formal state (in its various scales) and these “big men”
who “command zones of local sovereign power not entirely ‘penetrated’ or governed by
the state” (Hansen and Stepputat 2005: 30–1). Demolitions represent the effort of the
state to reassert its sovereignty at the junctures at which its political authority appears the
weakest. This claim is supported by the observation made by Hansen and Stepputat
(2005: 29) who note that “the ‘weakness’ of everyday stateness is often countered by
attempts to make state power highly visible.” Bringing together a Weberian definition of
the state with a Foucauldian analysis of disciplinary violence, they note:

Sovereign power, whether exercised by a state, in the name of a nation, or by a

local despotic power or community court, is always a tentative and unstable
project whose efficiency and legitimacy depend on repeated performance of
violence and a ‘will to rule.’ These performances are spectacular and public,
secret and menacing, and also can appear as scientific/technical rationalities and
punishment of bodies (Hansen and Stepputat 2005: 3).

It is precisely at times when the sovereign power of the state over urban space is most
in question that it engages in the public performance of violence embodied in the
demolition drive. The visible display of state power in the case of the Anna Bhau
Sathenagar slum detailed at the start of this article reflects the state government's efforts
to communicate directly with the "big men" who posses informal sovereignty in the
slum, including the local party leaders whose authority derives from their ability to offer
protection to slum residents. In this case, the state government also sought to display its
sovereignty to the local elites and speculative investors whose financial capital would
construct the "new city"—whether the Bombay Soap Factory that possessed the (pos-
sibly expired) lease to the land or another potential developer (Chatterjee 2004).
Although its messages were distinct, the state used the demolition campaign to com-
municate to both audiences that it retained sovereign power within the city. The
polyvalent nature of these actions reflects the broad distribution of authority in the
Indian city, in which sovereignty exists "in many overlapping and competing forms at
many levels within the same territory and temporal frame" (Hansen 2005: 172).
This explanation of the demolition campaign as a public performance of state
sovereignty rests upon Hansen's (2005) notion of "repertoires of authority." Given the
overlapping forms of authority vying for control in the Indian city, the competing
formal and informal sovereigns employ the various political tools at their disposal to
exert and display authority in a given moment. As Hansen (2005: 170) notes, the
various repertoires are "founded on violence, or the threat thereof," but the particular
repertoires are distinct for each. The state government, periodically invoking its right
to use violence in the form of the demolition, possesses a political tool not in the
repertoire of the other sovereigns. Although Hansen attributes his concept to Jonathan
Spencer's writings on "repertoires of power" in the context of Sri Lanka's nationalist
revolution, it also clearly derives from Tilly's (2003) "repertoires of contention."
Defined as "a set of performances by which members of politically constituted actors
make claims on each other, claims that if realized would affect their object's interest,"
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 293

Tilly's concept is most often used to describe the tools available to social movement
actors (Tilly 2003: 5). However, this idea does not preclude the performances that
may be employed by the state itself in order to affect its interests. By analyzing the
demolition drive as part of the state’s repertoire of authority, we can better understand
such violent actions as embedded within these contested claims of sovereignty.
The next several sections utilize this argument to analyze three high-profile
demolition campaigns undertaken in Mumbai/Bombay since independence. Moving
chronologically, I first consider the actions of the newly formed state government to
clear squatters and pavement dwellers in mid-1950s Bombay. Secondly, I look briefly
at the slum demolitions carried out by the national-level Congress Party (and its state-
level party members) during the national Emergency of the mid-1970s. Although the
demolition drives undertaken in this period by the Delhi Development Authority were
carried out on a larger scale and have attracted more attention from scholars, this was
also a volatile time for Bombay's squatters and slum dwellers. I then discuss the 4-
month demolition campaign undertaken by Maharashtra's Chief Minister Deshmukh
in late 2004 and early 2005. These three cases reveal the manner in which varied
levels of the state employed violence, in part, to demonstrate political strength and
authority in moments when such authority was called into question. Although the
cases are distinct in important ways—most notably in terms of which part or level of
the state was carrying out the clearance campaign—each case reveals the ways in
which uneven and overlapping systems of authority produce such challenges.5
The paper concludes by considering the potentially distinctive character of slum
demolitions in contemporary Mumbai. Responding to claims, made by Harvey and
others, that heightened slum demolitions are a particular feature of the post-
liberalization or millennial Indian city, the paper concludes that the desired ends of
the contemporary demolition drives are similar to those in earlier periods. Although I
acknowledge that neoliberal governance and the unique conditions produced by
globalization have created novel configurations of power and authority, slum de-
molitions and their use by Mumbai’s government have remained largely consistent.

Slum Clearance and Post-Independence State Formation

Slum clearance emerged as the primary mode of state intervention in Bombay’s

proliferating slums and informal settlements in the 1950s. Despite the city’s considerable
economic might, fragmented sovereignties and weak municipal authority posed signif-
icant challenges to urban governance in this period. Slums proliferated and networks of
“big men” assumed authority over the dense residential and commercial settlements that
appeared on open and largely inhospitable lands in the rapidly expanding island city.
With both state and municipal governments unwilling or unable to commit resources to

Although I am employing a longitudinal analysis of clearance campaigns, the particular state actors
(essentially the independent variables) examined in each case are distinct. In the 1950s, for example, the
level of the state carrying out the demolitions was the municipality; in the 1970s, it was the national
government, with support from the state-level political party; and in the early 2000s, it was the state-level
government. Although the finding of relatively consistent actions carried out by varied state actors may be
difficult generalize to other contexts, it is central to the core argument that the fragmented nature of
sovereignty leads the state (in its various incarnations and scales) to employ violence in this manner.
294 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

provide housing and basic services to the city’s growing poor and working class
residents, informal sovereigns inserted themselves into this administrative vacuum.
But as political battles were waged over municipal versus state and central government
authority, the state itself was splitting into the two ethno-linguistic territories of Maha-
rashtra and Gujarat and the city became a battleground for struggles over sovereignty
and political authority. Within this context of political upheaval, the municipality
employed slum clearance and demolition drives, in part, to overcome its weak admin-
istrative authority and communicate its ultimate sovereignty over the city.
Although Bombay was India’s first municipality to be granted democratic self-
government in 1888, unclear lines of authority have undermined the city’s efforts to
exert control over many domains of urban life, including its governance of slums and
informal settlements. Municipal governments under the British Raj were organized
primarily as service delivery bodies. More wide-reaching authorities—including the
land-use powers and industrial policy that directly impacted the colonial economy—
were retained by the colonial administration at the provincial level (Pinto and Pinto
2005). When power was handed to the independent Indian state in 1947, this division
of authority remained largely intact; state governments were granted authority over
urban land use and housing, while service delivery activities, including sanitation and
public health, were to be administered by the municipality (Pinto and Pinto 2005).
Even so, urban affairs were not a pressing concern for the newly created Bombay
State, and the state was reluctant to expend financial resources or political capital on
housing and livelihood concerns in the city. Comparatively speaking, Bombay was
quite prosperous and the urban infrastructures constructed by the colonial adminis-
tration were far superior to those found in most other parts of the country.
Despite Bombay’s comparative advantages, civically minded groups had been
lamenting the growing problems of inadequate worker housing and the city’s hap-
hazard development for decades. In 1945, Nilkanth Modak, Chief Engineer of the
Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC), was appointed to prepare a set of recom-
mendations for improving the conditions of the city, including its low-income
residential quarters. The report Modak produced reveals a strong grounding in
principles of urban planning in fashion outside of India at the time, including a
particular affinity for principles of the Garden City movement and the notion of slum
clearance gaining traction in U.S. cities at this time (Government of Bombay 1946).
His report quoted from a similar report prepared by the Boston City Planning Board
in October 1941:

Alarm must be felt over the ‘plight’ of the central districts, the ‘blight’ of the
residential areas and the ‘flight’ of the upper and middle-income groups from
the city. The time has come when the City must take vigorous action to apply an
antidote (Government of Bombay 1946: 155).

Once the report was issued, Modak set to work with American-based architect and
urban planner Albert Mayer to draft a master plan for Bombay and to develop an
appropriate set of antidotes. The master plan was completed in late 1947, on the eve of
India’s independence. Included in the plan was a proposal for an underground railway,
increases in park and playground space, new shopping districts, and considerable housing
construction, including the development of several mixed-use neighborhoods throughout
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 295

the city. While these recommendations and the master plan as a whole were well received
by the BMC, the state government refused to commit the resources required for its
implementation. Describing the barriers to the plan’s implementation, Bombay’s Deputy
Municipal Commissioner explained in a letter to Albert Mayer in February 1949:

I do not know when the Greater Bombay Scheme will come into existence. At
present, both the Central and Provincial Governments have been obligated to
curtail their reconstruction programmes to help the Anti-Inflationary Move that
they have been strenuously making for some months past. The Municipality
also curtailed some of its building programme in order to help the same move
(Albert Mayer 1934–1975).

Only 5 years earlier there had been strong political will to pursue comprehensive
planning and housing construction; but by 1950, financial constraints and competing
priorities had undercut these efforts.
With only limited steps taken to address the growing need for housing and
coordinated development, slums and informal settlements proliferated in Bombay
in the 1950s. As the newly independent Indian government pursued a strategy of
state-supported industrial development, Bombay’s textile mills and other factories
continued to attract workers from all over the country. The public and private chawls,
built a half-century earlier to house factory workers, were simply too few in number
to handle the influx of new migrants. Demands for housing continued to outstrip
supply, and squatter settlements and pavement colonies proliferated. As shown in
Fig. 1, the number of Bombay residents living in slums and on pavements grew from
a negligible number in the early 1950s to half a million people by 1961.
Meanwhile, in the absence of municipal capacity and state government resources,
enterprising criminal actors began working independently to address the growing
demand for housing and urban services. Unoccupied public and privately owned
lands were captured and sold to new migrants. Local “big men” worked closely with
municipal administrators to ensure this policy vacuum by registering the new resi-
dents to vote for local politicians and paying bribes to police and officials in the BMC
to protect the growing squatter settlements and extend basic services to their residents
(Benjamin 2005; Lynch 1974; Weinstein 2008). This was a period of growth for
organized crime in the city, supported by the production and distribution of illicit
liquor and consumer goods smuggling. These illicit activities were supported by deep
community connections and loyalties generated through the provision of housing,
basic services, and protection to squatters and informal residents (Sharma 2000;
Weinstein 2008). The lines between the formal and informal and legal and illicit
had become blurred and required complex political negotiations. Conducting field-
work among South Indian migrants in Bombay’s Dharavi settlement in the late 1960s
and early 1970s, anthropologist Owen Lynch observed these ambiguities in the
processes by which residents acquired basic services:

With help from the RPI [Republican Party of India] corporators [city council
members], it is claimed that the Adi-Dravida chawls have been able to have
water taps installed in their chawls, though at their own expense. Getting water
taps in a squatter area is a big problem since most of them are there illegally…
296 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

Electrical connections have also been installed in many chawls through political
connections and in 1970, while I was there, the RPI thorough its municipal
corporator was able to have 10 street lamps installed (Lynch 1974: p. 1663).

Lynch found vibrant political institutions in Dharavi, and the need for housing and
basic services ensured loyalty to political representatives who traversed the largely
invisible lines between political representation and illicit entrepreneurship.
Despite supportive neglect and direct facilitation provided by the municipality, the
BMC also began carrying out slum demolition with a heavy hand in the mid-1950s.
Although the practice of slum clearance had been used periodically since the late
nineteenth century, eviction became the primary mode of government intervention in
slums in this period (O’Hare et al. 1998). While the official approach was to re-house
slum residents in permanent structures, most eviction campaigns were undertaken
without the accompanying re-housing and residents were typically rendered homeless
by the actions. In fact, given its limited authority over land use and housing, the BMC
was not legally empowered to acquire land or construct new housing to replace the
demolished structures. A change to the BMC Act in 1954 gave the municipality this
authority, but the city still lacked the necessary resources and uncompensated evic-
tions remained the standard practice (Das 2004).
In the mid-1950s, the Central Government in New Delhi took on the issue and
launched a Slum Clearance Scheme, selecting six pilot cities, including Bombay, to
carry out the program (Mukhija 2001). With new resources and a mandate from New
Delhi, the BMC stepped up its clearance efforts. Given the high price of land in
Bombay’s island city, many slum dwellers were relocated far afield to suburban
locations. In one such clearance campaign, approximately 2,000 families were evicted
from their homes in south and central Bombay and were allotted plots in the Jogeshwari
area in the far northern suburbs of the city (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action YUVA
1999). Resettled residents were not given new structures but were allotted open plots of
land in the Janata Squatters Colony measuring 15 ft×20 ft. Although the new residents of
the Janata Squatters Colony were granted a legally binding title deed, called a Vacant
Land Tenancy, and were required to pay municipal taxes, their tenure rights remained
insecure and they were subject to police harassment and the continued threat of eviction
(Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action YUVA 1999).
Despite these efforts, slum clearance did little to slow slum proliferation. As little new
housing was built to replace the demolished hutments, clearance proved both technically
and politically disastrous, as it only served to reduce the stock of low-income housing
and turn voters away from the ruling political parties (Sharma 2000). The practice also
emboldened slumlords and criminals who would be paid again for new deeds once the
land was cleared (Chatterji 2005; Weinstein 2008). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s,
slums proliferated in the city, with an increase in the slum population in this period of
more than one and a half million people (see Fig. 1). Yet, with few other opportunities
for exerting control over slums, the municipality employed one of the only means at its
disposal to display its sovereignty and exert its influence in these spaces.
The challenges of municipal governance in this period were heightened by struggles
over redrawing of political boundaries in Bombay State. In 1956, plans were drafted to
create two ethno-linguistic states, one Marathi-speaking and the other Gujarati-speaking,
and debates raged over which state would administer the city of Bombay and retain its
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 297




1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Formally housed Population (in millions) Slum Population (in millions)

Fig. 1 Population of Bombay/Mumbai, 1951–2001

political and financial power (Arora 1956). Marathi members of the Samyukta Maha-
rashtra movement argued that Bombay was an integral part of the State of Maharashtra,
while the city’s Gujarati business communities claimed the city as their own. A third
group argued that Bombay did not belong to a single ethno-linguistic group and proposed
the designation of Bombay as a union territory like the national capital of Delhi (Arora
1956). In May 1960, the states were divided and Bombay was designated the capital of
the new state of Maharashtra. Although the central focus of the struggle was the politics
of ethno-linguistic identity, a more subtle debate was waged over how best to govern the
city of Bombay. As the vying interests each sought control over the city’s vast industrial
and commercial wealth, municipal sovereignty was further diminished once the newly
formed state of Maharashtra won the spoils.
In the context of independent state formation, India’s commercial capital was the site
of political struggles over sovereignty and state power. Colonial legacies and contested
boundaries of authority conspired to produce a weak municipal corporation, neglectful
state administration, interventionist central government, and increasingly powerful
networks of criminal actors and entrepreneurial politicians. Bombay’s proliferating
slums and informal settlements were major battlegrounds of these contestations. With
limited resources and constrained power, demolitions were among the municipality’s
only possible modes of intervention. Sending a message to the new state of Maharashtra,
as well as to the neighborhood big men who possessed the instrumental power required
to get things done inside the city’s slums, slum clearance allowed the embattled local
state to demonstrate its sovereignty over these spaces.

Violent Evictions and the Emergency

The mid-1970s were a politically turbulent time in India and particularly in Bombay, and
once again, the city’s slums emerged as a site of political contestations carried out
through display of state sovereignty through slum demolitions. On June 26, 1975,
298 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

India’s President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed called a national state of emergency, enacting
an order by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The stated purpose of the Emergency was to
restore discipline across the country and undertake a program of modernization possible
only with the suspension of elections and curtailing of constitutional freedoms. But the
actual objectives were starkly apparent; through the Emergency, Indira Gandhi sought to
quell anti-government protests underway across the country and deflect attention from a
High Court ruling that found her guilty of corrupt election practices (Palmer 1976). Over
the next 21 months, India experienced authoritarian rule under a state of emergency.
During this time, Indira Gandhi consolidated Congress Party power across the
country and undertook repressive programs of family planning and slum clearance.
Many of these actions and the opposition and protests they generated were concen-
trated in cities (Mazumdar 2007; McFarlane 2008). In Bombay, slum demolitions
were carried out with particular force and an estimated 72,000 people were evicted
and relocated in this period (Hansen 2001; Spodek 1983). Although the Emergency
represents a period of political consolidation and relatively unified authority in
Bombay, slum demolitions again became a strategy for communicating state sover-
eignty rather than accomplishing particular developmental objectives.
The slum demolitions and violent evictions undertaken during the Emergency in the
capital of Delhi have been more extensively documented and analyzed, but similar
expressions of state violence were carried out in Bombay in this period.6 Some of the
most vivid accounts of the demolitions in Bombay can be found in Rohiton Mistry’s
novel A Fine Balance. Mistry (1996: 291) writes:

Most of the bulldozers were old jeeps and trucks, with steel plates and short
wooden beams like battering rams affixed to the front bumpers. They had been
tearing into the structures of plywood, corrugated metal, and plastic. “And
when we saw that, we rushed in to stop them. But the drivers kept going.
People were crushed. Blood everywhere. And the police are protecting those
murderers. Or the bastards would be dead by now.”
“But how can they destroy our homes, just like that?”
“They say it’s the new Emergency law. If shacks are illegal, they can remove
them. The new law says the city must be beautiful.”
Scholarly accounts as well as personal narratives that date from the period corrobo-
rate Mistry’s fictionalized account (Hansen 2001; Patel 1996; Spodek 1983). Urban
planner Shirish Patel (1996: 1048) offers a similar description of the demolition of the
Janata Colony (different Janata than the one discussed above):
Starting on May 22, 1976, over the next two or three days the Janata Colony
was flattened by bulldozers. Its residents were given sites 10 ft × 15 ft (half the
size of the sites they had had in Janata Colony) in Cheetah Camp, a location a
few miles down the road. Moving them just before the monsoon, without time
to settle in or construct anything at the new location, meant that for that rainy
season, living conditions in Cheetah Camp were horrifying. The site was under
the high tide, and a common sight was a charpoy, protected by a plastic sheet

For example, see Emma Tarlo (2003).
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 299

above, its wooden legs in the water, stepping blocks of bricks leading to the
charpoy, and someone lying on it with the strings and his body an inch or two
above the water below. There were no civic amenities. Disease was rampant,
and several children and old people died in that first monsoon.

Compared to other parts of the country, in which local officials were less willing to
cooperate with the Emergency regime, the Government of Maharashtra was eager to carry
out the policies of the Emergency (Kamat 1980; Manor 1978; Palmer 1977). In February
1975, Indira Gandhi had replaced the state’s Chief Minister with her close ally and Congress
loyalist SB Chavan (Manor 1978). Described as Indira’s “hatchet man in Maharashtra
during the Emergency,” Chavan aggressively implemented the Maintenance of Internal
Security Act (MISA), which contained many of the Emergency’s most draconian measures
(Hansen 2001; Kamat 1980). The Act was carried out by the police and by cadres of
Congress Youth, empowered to “remove anything that could be seen as abnormal, annoy-
ing, or polluting… [including] a halt on all new constructions, slum clearances, and rather
absurd attempts to police bus queues, making it a punishable offense to step out of line while
waiting for the bus” (Hansen 2001: 206–7). These actions, meanwhile, did not go
unopposed and Bombay’s Emergency regime was met with significant protests and the
emergence of fierce political opponents (Hansen 2001; Mazumdar 2007).
Given the largely urban focus of the Emergency and the efforts of the national
government to exert authority over the country’s cities, it is unsurprising that slum
demolitions were employed as a mechanism of authoritarian control and a visible
display of sovereignty. As has been documented in the literature on social move-
ments, state repression often targets society’s most vulnerable members, given the
easy wins such actions can provide the repressive regime (Alvarez-Junco 1994; Bayat
2002; Linden and Klandermas 2006).7 Given their lack of formal power, as well as
their legal transgressions, which can justify the state’s repression (Chatterjee 2004),
slum dwellers were an effective target for Emergency regime. While family planning
and the forced sterilizations undertaken by the Emergency regime have been
discussed more extensively, state power wielded in the form of slum clearance was
equally aggressive and violent. Indira Gandhi stated in August 1975, “We have to
clean up the country. If your house is dirty, you don’t leave it like that. You clean it up
with a duster and a broom” (quoted in Hansen 2001: 206). The dusters and brooms
used in Bombay, as in Delhi and other cities throughout the country, were bulldozers
and lathi sticks, demolishing slums and evicting residents.
Although Indira Gandhi lost power when elections were restored in March 1977, the
Emergency and the slum demolitions undertaken in that context had allowed the Central
Government and its state-level “hatchet man” to present themselves as the ultimate
authority and sovereign powers of the city. Yet, the demolitions carried out during the
Emergency reveal that the symbolic displays of sovereignty carried out in the context of
slum demolitions are not always successful. When Gandhi agreed to restore the electoral
democracy and hold elections in March 1977, she firmly believed that the power she had
consolidated (and visibly displayed) during the Emergency would protect her against
political challengers. Although her political calculus proved wrong, this case still
demonstrates the ways in which her regime used slum evictions to communicate to

Thanks to Jennifer Earl for making me aware of this literature.
300 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

her political opponents, including those in the BMC and at the neighborhood scale, that
the central government possessed the ultimately sovereignty over these spaces.

Making Mumbai a World Class City

Evictions continued on an episodic basis in Bombay in the 1980s and 1990s, but another
period of heightened demolitions occurred in the mid-2000s, as the newly elected state-
level Congress government launched an ambitious program of urban renewal and made
slum clearance a centerpiece of these efforts. In the immediate aftermath of the Emer-
gency, the Maharashtra Government and the BMC had launched a series of slum
improvement and rehabilitation schemes with central government support and World
Bank financing (Mukhija 2001; Sharma 2000; Weinstein and Ren 2009). Although
demolitions were still pursued on a relatively regular basis in this period, the backlash
against Emergency abuses had revealed the political costs of using force to demolish
homes and evict residents en mass. But by the early 2000s, powerful business interests
had grown increasingly vocal about the city’s slipping standing in global and regional
rankings and were putting pressure on the government to take swift action on the city’s
deteriorating conditions. By this time, it was estimated that more than half of Mumbai’s
population was living in slums or squatter settlements and many more were living in
dilapidated but legally authorized structures. As concern was mounting that the govern-
ment lacked the willingness or capacity to make the improvements these groups
demanded, the Chief Minister launched an aggressive campaign to rid the city of slums.
Over a 4-month period, between late 2004 and early 2005, BMC demolition squads
carrying out orders from the state’s Chief Minister demolished approximately 90,000
hutments. As many as 400,000 people were made homeless in this period, left to rebuild
their homes onsite or relocate to other settlements. With no specific projects slated for
the sites of the cleared hutments, the demolitions were not undertaken to accomplish
their stated development goals. Rather, this campaign was intended to signal to urban
elites, the local business community, and international investors that the government
recognized slum proliferation as a problem and could take bold steps to address it.
These steps were deemed necessary to quell anxieties that Mumbai had become
ungovernable and, as a consequence, was losing its comparative advantage. Lower than
expected investments in Mumbai—even amidst significant growth in the country as a
whole—confirmed fears that the city’s economic position was slipping. Although
Mumbai retained the country’s largest share of business activity and domestic and
foreign investment, its rapidly deteriorating infrastructures, proliferating slums, and
prohibitively high cost of real estate—as well as the rise of extremist politics and anti-
Muslim violence—were believed to be threatening the preeminent position the city had
held since the late-nineteenth century (Harris 1995). Meanwhile, South India’s high
technology centers of Bangalore and Hyderabad had begun to attract a growing share of
foreign and domestic investment.
Articulating this position most boldly was the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and
Industry (BCCI) and Bombay First, the urban policy think tank it founded in the mid-
1990s. The BCCI and the city’s business elite had a long and strong presence in urban
affairs, but had never been able to forge a pro-growth coalition to enact its vision.
Simply one voice in Bombay’s political cacophony, the BCCI has attempted to seize
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 301

the opportunity provided by liberalization and the city’s declining competitive posi-
tion to build a constituency for its agenda. Its mission statement, notes:

At this time of promise and peril, Mumbai must take command of its future. If it
neglects to change course, it risks entering the graveyard of failed cities. But if it
embraces change, there are few cities better equipped to share in the fruits of the
twenty-first century, few places better poised to make an imprint on the world
(Bombay First 2009).

The two key areas in which the private sector in Mumbai has advocated change are
governance and housing policy. With respect to governance, it maintains that Mum-
bai needs a stronger system of municipal government and should have an elected
mayor directly accountable to the city’s voters, rather than a Municipal Commissioner
who serves at the will of the state government.8 With respect to housing, it has called
for curbing slum proliferation, more aggressive housing construction, and the use of
difficult-to-develop (salt pan) lands along the eastern harbor as a site to construct
housing for resettled slum dwellers (McKinsey Report 2003). These proposals,
among other similar recommendations, were outlined in a September 2003 document
prepared by the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. The report presented
case studies of four cities that it claimed had made relatively successful economic
transformations that could be models for Mumbai—Cleveland, Shanghai, Bangalore,
and Hyderabad (McKinsey and Company 2003). Although it presented a rather vague
set of recommendations for “transforming Mumbai into a world class city” in the
model of these cities, the report received considerable attention from both critics and
supporters, due in part to the credibility McKinsey’s participation gave the document
and the enthusiastic reception it received from the state government.9
The McKinsey Report was released in the lead up to state-wide elections, helping
to give it a public platform and to help shape the message of the Congress Party’s
reelection campaign. Campaigning for state officials in Maharashtra in October 2004,
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh employed the language of the McKinsey
Report to advocate for Mumbai’s transformation. Leaving aside the models of
Cleveland, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, Singh promoted the idea that Mumbai could
be transformed in the model of Shanghai:

When we talk of a resurgent Asia, people think of the great changes that have
come about in Shanghai. I share this aspiration to transform Mumbai in the next
five years in such a manner that people would forget about Shanghai and
Mumbai will become a talking point. I have a dream that we can do it. I believe
we can become number one through modernization, expansion and develop-
ment and make Mumbai the number one city in our country.10
Singh’s statement soon became the rallying cry of Maharashtra’s Congress Party
and formed the core platform of the state’s newly elected Chief Minister Vilasrao

Author interview November 18, 2005.
Moncada (2013) examines how measures designed by the private sector can become adopted as public
policy within the context of the politics of urban violence.
Quoted in Srivastava (2005).
302 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

Deshmukh in November 2004. Over the next several months, politicians and bureau-
crats made pronouncements that Mumbai would be "transformed into Shanghai."
Although few specific proposals were made for how this could be achieved, state-
ments about the transformation were accompanied by bold language about state-of-
the-art infrastructures and slum-free cities.
How the government planned to undertake the transformation became clear within
weeks after Chief Minister Deshmukh took office. In early December of 2004, Chief
Minister Deshmukh ordered the BMC to begin demolishing unauthorized hutments.
Authorization refers to the state policy granting legal protections to squatters who have
lived in their current dwelling since January 1, 1995. Although these long-time slum
dwellers remain illegal residents, their longevity gives them some recognition and
protections from uncompensated displacement. But the BMC demolition squads dis-
mantling hutments throughout the city did not ask for documentation of tenure. Rather,
residents were given immediate orders to take their belongings and vacate their homes.
As one resident of the Bhimchaya settlement explained to a newspaper reporter, “In the
morning when the policeman and the bulldozers came and told us get out, there were
women bathing. They were not given time even to dress properly. We lost everything.
We had papers to stay here. Where should I move now?” (Quoted in Ramesh 2005). In a
similar manner, settlements were demolished across the city. In early January 2005,
Miloon Kothari, independent special rapporteur with the United Nations Commission
on Human Rights, visiting the sites of the cleared hutments, described the campaign
underway as the “most brutal demolition drive in recent times” (Srinivasan 2005). By
the time the campaign ended in February 2005, due to mounting protests and increased
pressure from the national-level Congress Party, upwards of 400,000 people had been
evicted from their homes (Committee for the Right to Housing 2006).
At the height of the campaign, Chief Minister Deshmukh unveiled his plan for
transforming Mumbai into Shanghai. In February 2005, Deshmukh outlined a roughly
6.5-billion-dollar plan that included the construction of new roads and bridges,
upgrading the international airport, constructing an underground metro, and continuing
to remove “encroachments” (Indian Express 2005).11 The plan adopted and specified
the proposals outlined in Bombay First’s McKinsey Report. Yet, while the government
took bold steps to carry out the demolitions, its commitment to the accompanying
development plan seemed less clear as Deshmukh’s transformation plan failed the
broad-based support required to enact proposals on this scale. Meanwhile, while the
McKinsey Report did not explicitly advocate the use of bulldozers to carry out its
objectives, representatives of Bombay First affirmed their support for the government’s
actions. “If Mumbai has to be a World Class city, then the slums have to go and…strong
and urgent steps need to be taken” (quoted in Mahadevia and Narayanan 2008b, 551).
And as news outlets around the world reported on the demolition campaign, the
government’s “strong and urgent steps” had been made starkly visible.
With governance failures identified by Bombay First and other interest groups as a
significant contributor to Mumbai’s slipping competitive position, the newly elected
Maharashtra Government felt it necessary to unambiguously display its sovereignty and
authority. Communicating to the city’s business community and domestic and foreign

Despite the manner in which his plan linked slum clearance with development, none of these new
infrastructure projects were specifically slated for sites of cleared hutments.
St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307 303

investors, Deshmukh’s government sought to demonstrate that it had the authority to

oversee a “world class” transformation. While these actions seem to offer support for an
“accumulation by dispossession” narrative, the state’s performance of power for busi-
nesses did not carry over to its implementation of the BCCI’s development preferences.
As during the post-independence period when the city suffered from weak municipal
governance and a disinterested state government whose largest constituent groups were
the state’s rural voters, the formal state remains absent in large parts of Mumbai. Political
life in slums continues to be organized by “big men” who maintain little distinction
between politics and entrepreneurship. But fears about capital flight and concerns that
Mumbai is losing its status as India’s commercial capital to the high tech upstarts in the
south of the country have compelled the state to insert itself into these spaces. If the
government cannot address its slum problem or enforce laws against illegal squatting,
then how can it provide businesses with the type of support they need to engage in a
global economy? But more than simply a means of capital accumulation, slum de-
molitions have been undertaken as a demonstration of state strength.


Examining similar phenomena in other Indian cities and those outside of the subcon-
tinent, the evictions and dispossessions produced by demolitions are frequently
attributed to the working of the state under conditions of neoliberal globalization
(Bhan 2009; Mahadevia and Narayanan 2008a; Weinstein and Ren 2009). These
authors argue that there is something qualitatively different about slum clearance in
contemporary or post-liberalization Mumbai. But by situating the demolition drive of
2004 and 2005 in a larger historical framework and analyzing it alongside similar
episodes in earlier eras, it becomes apparent that both the objectives of the demoli-
tions and the technologies used to carry them out are fairly consistent. Although the
particular challenges to sovereignty are unique in each historical moment, the level of
state carrying out the efforts varies, and the specific audiences with which the state
communicates are distinct, the ways in which the state employs violence remain
constant. Without enumerations of demolitions and evictions over a longer historical
period, it is not possible to say whether the frequency of clearance campaigns and
demolition drives has increased.12 But the longitudinal analysis employed here pre-
sents a relatively stable narrative. This is not to say that globalization and economic
liberalization have not altered the character of urban politics or the redevelopment of
slum spaces, but these processes do not appear to have dramatically changed the way
the state (at its various scales and incarnations) uses its power to demolish.
By understanding the demolition drive as part of the state's repertoires of authority,
we are better able to understand why state and municipal governments in India
periodically undertake such violent and politically costly demolition campaigns. This
explanation is better suited than Harvey's accumulation by dispossession narrative to
account for the failure of the state to undertake the promised redevelopment on the
site of demolished slum settlements. The spaces often remain vacant not simply

It should be noted that the author is presently working with a research team to collect these data over a
longer historical period and in a number of major Indian cities.
304 St Comp Int Dev (2013) 48:285–307

because the landowning agencies lack the resources and capacity to undertake
redevelopment but because redevelopment was not the primary objective of the
campaign. Rather, violent evictions serve to communicate to local power brokers
and to the city's business community, as well as to non-local investors, that the state
possesses the authority over these spaces and could carry out redevelopment if it
chose to. Meanwhile, this explanation is also better suited than the political patronage
explanation to account for the complex political motivations of carrying out such a
campaign. While such actions may also engender dependence if not loyalty toward
big men, including the local party leaders, these actions are rarely ordered by these
particular actors and must then be driven by a distinct set of objectives.
Why the state chooses the public performance of the demolition drive to communicate
this message, meanwhile, is rooted in a complex set of causes that are both generalizable
and unique to the Mumbai case. On one hand, the state employs its monopoly on the
legitimate use of violence against slum dwellers because it can. Although they access
political power through patronage networks and from the big men who help them acquire
basic services and provide some modicum of tenure security, slum residents remain
virtually powerless in the face of the disciplinary violence of the formal state. Meanwhile,
by committing the legal transgressions that are required in the daily existence of the urban
poor, demolitions can be justified as a legal response to their illegal actions (Chatterjee
2004). On the other hand, Mumbai’s slums represent an extreme case of fragmented
sovereignty and diffuse power. Particular features of India’s federalist structure, demo-
cratic institutions, and constellations of political actors provide particular challenges to
the formal state operating at the scale of the informal settlement, compelling it to dig
deeper into its repertoire of authority than it may in other contexts.
Despite the public pronouncements of Indian politicians, demolitions and disposses-
sion are not simply the price of progress. As demonstrated in this paper, the motivations
for the physically violent and socially marginalizing demolition drive are not simply
economic. Such actions do little to further ambitions of capital accumulation and
economic development. Furthermore, these actions directly undermine objectives of
social and political development by maintaining the insecurity and marginality of large
segments of the urban public. Rather than diminishing the authority of local big men,
whose extractive politics keep slum residents in a perpetual state of vulnerability and
dependence, the violence of the demolition drive retains the existing fragmentations and
undermines long-term development objectives.

Acknowledgments Thanks to Eduardo Moncada, Diane E. Davis, Smitha Radhakrishnan, Ashutosh

Varshney, Sam Cohen, Jennifer Earl, and the participants in the Brown University conference, "Violent Cities:
Challenges of Democracy, Development, and Governance in the Urban Global South," for their helpful comments
on earlier drafts of this article.


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Liza Weinstein is assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern University. She is the author of several
articles and chapters on urban informality, housing policy, and the politics of urban development in India.
Her book “The Durable Slum: Dharavi and the Right to Stay Put in Globalizing Mumbai,” is forthcoming
with University of Minnesota Press in 2014.