Accepted Paper:

Voting in Bengal (India) villages  
Mukulika Banerjee (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Using the recent elections held in May 2006 in West Bengal this paper examines how the practice and 'techne' of democracy affects the popular consumption of its ideological message. Comparison with past elections will show how current constructions of the democratic process compare with earlier ones.

Paper long abstract:

In April/May 2006, state level Assembly Elections were held in the Indian state of West Bengal. These elections mark a change in the way elections have been conducted in the state over the past three decades. In an effort to respond to charges of 'scientific rigging' and the questioning of the continuous dominance of the Left Front (a coalition of 13 Left parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Election Commission modified some crucial mechanisms of the voting and campaigning process to address these complaints. Voting was held in five phases, voter ID cards were made mandatory and severe restrictions have been placed on the manner in which election campaigns could be conducted.

On the basis of studying these elections first hand in this paper I will discuss how the practice and 'techne' of democracy affects the popular consumption of its ideological message. Based on my long-term research in West Bengal since 1998, I will compare how current constructions of the democratic process in 2006 compare with earlier ones. My earlier research has shown how the everyday dominance of the Left Front has transformed people's vocabulary of politics such that notions of citizenship, rights and accountability are widely discussed. In this paper I will show how this sophistication is expressed in popular responses to the proposed changes in the electoral processes in 2006. I will also link micro data from the village level to reflect more general understandings of democracy, as part of my ethnographic approach to the study of democracy.

Panel W065
Cultures of voting: ethnographies of the secret ballot