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The book is an ethnographic exploration of how ‘democracy’ takes social and cultural roots in India and in the process shapes the nature of popular politics. It centres on a historically marginalised caste who in recent years has become one of the most assertive and politically powerful communities in North India: the Yadavs.
The Vernacularisation of Democracy is a vivid account of how Indian popular democracy works on the ground. Challenging conventional theories of democratisation the book shows how the political upsurge of 'the lower orders' is situated within a wider process of the vernacularisation of democratic politics, referring to the ways in which values and practices of democracy become embedded in particular cultural and social practices, and in the process become entrenched in the consciousness of ordinary people. During the 1990s, Indian democracy witnessed an upsurge in the political participation of lower castes/communities and the emergence of political leaders from humble social backgrounds who present themselves as promoters of social justice for underprivileged communities. Drawing on a large body of archival and ethnographic material the author shows how the analysis of local idioms of caste, kinship, kingship, popular religion, ‘the past’ and politics (‘the vernacular’) inform popular perceptions of the political world and of how the democratic process shapes in turn ‘the vernacular’. This line of enquiry provides a novel framework to understand the unique experience of Indian democracy as well as democratic politics and its meaning in other contemporary post-colonial states.
Using as a case study the political ethnography of a powerful northern Indian caste (the Yadavs) and combining ethnographic material with colonial and post-colonial history the book examines the unique experience of Indian popular democracy and provides a framework to analyse popular politics in other parts of the world. The book fills existing gaps in scholarly analysis of political processes by contributing to the understanding of how democracy has been internalised in the popular consciousness of different societies through various abstract principles of political representation, especially by exploring ‘democracy’ in areas which are not thought of as political per se (for example, family, kinship, kingship, popular religion, and local ideas of personhood).
"Micheluttti’s engagement with this rather interesting puzzle of Indian democracy where poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and political violence co-exist with a commitment to the idea of democracy among the poor and the deprived makes this work a fascinating read for students of comparative politics and democratic theory." - Manish K. Thakur, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta; Contemporary South Asia, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 2010
"The Vernacularisation of Democracy raises important questions about anthropological approaches towards the political and the importance of broadening not only the ethnographers’ thematic focus but also toolkit. The book will be of particular consequence for students and scholars of democracy, South Asia, state/society, popular politics, caste and religion across the humanities and social sciences." - Philippa Williams, Pacific Affairs: Volume 84, No. 4 – December 2011
1. The Rise of Popular Democracy in North India 2. In the Yadav Neighbourhood: Mapping the Vernacular Domains of Democracy 3. Sons of Krishna: Dialogs With the Colonial and Post-Colonial State 4. Reshaping Kinship: The Making of a ‘Numerous Community’ 5. Religion, Kingship and Political Identities: Gods are Ancestors and Ancestors Can Become Gods 6. Krishna, the Democratic Leader: Political Rhetorics and Modern Political Charisma 7. ‘We are a Caste of Politicians’: A Folk Understanding of Democracy. Conclusion: Towards an Anthropological Understanding of Popular Politics
Exploring the Political in South Asia is devoted to the publication of research on the political cultures of the region. The books in this Series will present qualitative and quantitative analyses grounded in field research, and will explore the cultures of democracies in their everyday local settings, specifically the workings of modern political institutions, practices of political mobilisation, manoeuvres of high politics, structures of popular beliefs, content of political ideologies and styles of political leadership, amongst others. Through fine-grained descriptions of particular settings in South Asia, the studies presented in this Series will inform, and have implications for, general discussions of democracy and politics elsewhere in the world.