Land Dispossession and Everyday Politics in India

The recent book by Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Land Dispossession and Everyday Politics in Rural Eastern India is reviewed for JCA by Sirpa Tenhunen of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki in Finland.

Published by Anthem Press, Nielsen’s book, it is an exploration an “unprecedentedly powerful anti-land acquisition movement” that opposed “Tata Motors’ plan to set up a car factory in a fertile farming area in Singur in the eastern part of India, in the state of West Bengal…”. It led to Tata abandoning its plans and also “stimulated a change in India’s land acquisition policies and laws.” In West Bengal, the movement also “helped bring down the three-decades-long rule of the Left Front government, which had launched the land acquisition policy in the state.” Later, in 2016, India’s Supreme Court returned the land to the farmers.

Tenhunen considers:

Nielsen’s book fills a gap in our understanding of contemporary popular politics in India, providing a subtle understanding of the on-the-ground dynamics by analysing popular politics at the interface between development policy, legal regimes and everyday life-worlds in Singur. Nielsen strongly questions dichotomous perceptions of popular politics represented by such conceptual pairs as subaltern versus elite politics, hidden versus public transcripts and civil versus political society.

This work illustrates how the movement “offered a political forum in which social relations of power and authority could be reworked, new leaders could emerge, old ones be replaced, and political office and influence won even at highest state level.” The book provides a “rich account of the internal dynamics and politics of a social movement revealing its ambivalences and ambiguities.”

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