While South Asian development is mediated through relations between the state, capital and crime and between individuals in politics, the bureaucracy and the illegal economy, this panel explores the phenomenon of bossism and development with wider comparisons.
Grounded in systematic corruption, economic accumulation and physical violence, the politics of 'criminal' bosses are popularly known in the South Asian region as 'mafia raj', 'goonda raj' or 'mastanocracy' 'the rule by mafia' or 'rule by criminals'. Such terminologies are interchangeably used to express popular visions of the relations between the state, capital and crime and between individuals in politics, the bureaucracy and the illegal economy. The South Asian term 'mafia' is also employed to refer to organised crime at large and to refer to business enterprises that seek to monopolise particular trades through extra-legal and violent means. 'Mafia Raj' shares similarities with Caciques and Caudillos in Latin America, Mafiosi in Italy, urban political machines in the United States, and today's gangster politics in Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Bulgaria, Turkey and Brazil. Democratic participation does not translate into accountable states, on the contrary. Systems of 'Mafia Raj' have led directly to the dispossession and precarisation of large sections of society which are kept increasingly under pauperised and uncertain living conditions. Yet much literature on development and poverty assumes that laws, policies and high levels of political participation can address human development. We welcome comparative discussion on the relation between crime and democratic politics, and are interested in papers on South Asia and beyond that resent new evidence and data on how these processes and debates are unfolding in particular, local contexts.