Rakib Akhtar

Biography

Trained as an architect and an urban planner, Rakib Akhtar is currently a DPhil student at the University of Oxford. His PhD project explores the role of the state, what he calls the ‘actually existing state’, as a great facilitator in the marriage of convenience between ‘liberal’ neoliberalism and ‘illiberal’ Hindutva in a proposed Smart City project in India. While the key contribution of the thesis is in unpacking the state, it contributes towards other themes like development, authoritarian populism or actually existing neoliberalism.

Abstract

Protests, Neoliberalism and Hindutva amongst farmers: the case of Dholera Smart City

The article explores the dispersed protests of the local farmers in the Dholera Smart City, in the Indian province of Gujarat where a population of 39,000 across 22 villages are going to be severely affected. Studying the protests, it is difficult to find either resistance or consent as predominant themes in the subjective expressions of the farmers. Despite imminent dispossession from their farmlands, what emerges is ambivalence as well as aspiration as locals continue to vote for the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while other Hindutva organisations remain predominant in the villages. To explain the continued rise of these organisations and the weak farmer resistance, the article proposes two theses by studying the everyday interactions of the state and the society: (a) Hindutva politics that deploys strategies like coopting protesting farmer leaders, using caste contradictions and caste solidarities simultaneously; and (b) disjuncture in neoliberalism through which the state departs from key neoliberal principles to deliver a neoliberal project. Existing scholarship on the overlap of neoliberalism and Hindutva fail to explain how these two ideologies interact in the everyday lives of the state and society. Such limitations have resulted in the failure to explain the continuing prevalence of Hindutva in rural areas or amongst farmers. When a project with essential neoliberal tenets, that is the Dholera Smart city, comes to these rural areas with the backdrop of continued support for Hindutva, the dynamics are further problematised. Through these two propositions, the article details out how the economic ideology of neoliberalism and the exclusionary cultural ideology of Hindutva help each other, and how they may depart from their own foundational principles, depending on the context in which they are implemented. Analysing these phenomenon, the article also contributes towards the scholarship on ‘authoritarian populism’ in rural areas around the world.

Affiliation: University of Oxford