Populism, Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise in India

Anuradha Sajjanhar of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra has a new article available. “The New Experts: Populism, Technocracy and Politics of Expertise in Contemporary India” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1934889) is an important examination of the role and politics of foundations and think tanks.

anuradha sajjanhar

The abstract for the paper states:

Over the last five years, the Indian right-wing has been discrediting left-liberal experts and encouraging pseudo-scientific religious knowledge systems. Yet, crucially, it has also cultivated its own institutional networks of those it considers to be intellectuals and experts: an ostensibly anti-colonial alternative authority to challenge the “hegemony of the progressives” and the “erstwhile custodians of discourse.” This article examines the evolution of a shifting network of experts and elites, interrogating what is considered to be expertise in the context of governance. Through a study of Indian think tanks, this article shows how two forms of political legitimacy govern contemporary India: (i) populist politics, which appeals to the masses/majority by defining nationalism through rigid boundaries of caste, class and religion; and (ii) technocratic policy,which produces a consensus of pragmatism and neutralises charges of hyper-nationalism. Using data from participant observation and over 50 interviews in New Delhi, before and after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election victory in 2019, this article emphasises the relational dynamic between the two: they function through different, often contradictory, logics and content yet are able to work towards the same goals in key moments of mutual reinforcement.

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