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Outsourcing democracy: What does advisory do to political parties and governance in South Asia?

Fri June 2nd 2023, 10:00am - 5:00pm
Event Sponsor
France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
Center for South Asia
The symposium will take place in person. Lunch will be served at 1pm. There will be a hybrid component via Zoom for those interested in participating virtually. The Zoom link will be shared with the registrants ahead of the event.

Four “Core Team Members” political consultants at a neighbourhood rally, Shillong, Meghalaya, India, August 2022. Photo by Jean-Thomas Martelli.

Advisor, salahkar, musheer, in-charge, expert, manager and now consultant; those who counsel decision makers in South Asia have as many names and acronyms as reputational attributes. They are defined by their persuasive power: they could help you win elections, plan cities of the future, master narratives of citizens participation and good governance, unleash misinformation and nativist tales on social media, collect and read through data, build capacity, recruit rivals, design/implement welfare schemes, centralize authority, ensure compliance, legitimize structural changes, spend money efficiently or just ‘show off’ in your constituency. While some of these marketized assertions are catered to mandators rather than the general public, this is a list of outcomes advisers boastfully claim they can deliver.

By bringing together insights from four disciplinary traditions—political science, anthropology, urban studies and sociology—this symposium aims at unpacking the actual impact of consultancy firms and advisors in South Asia when they assist the state and political parties. Beyond the necessary task of defining in a historical context who these actors are, the event will examine the following question: how do these surrogates influence the way democratic decision-making and brokerage work? A series of terms have been traditionally attached to democracies in the region: distributive (via targeted welfare and patronage), majoritarian (through ethnic- and community-based polity) and neo-liberal (by way of privatization of state competences). The event will not only explore how advisory deepens these three hyphens: it will also assess whether such labor refashions political and institutional representation of constituents.


Tentative Schedule


Introduction: Outsourcing Democracy in South Asia?
Jean-Thomas Martelli, Visiting Scholar, Stanford University
Uttara Purandare, PhD Scholar, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

Panel 1 Chair: Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor, Santa Clara University

Political Advisors before the Consultants: A field study of Belgaum
Priyadarshini Singh, Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

Impact Investing and the Rise of Political Consultancy in India
Ajit Phadnis, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore
Akansh Khandelwal, PhD Scholar, IIM Indore
Aarushi Kataria, MS student, University of Chicago

In line with the previously published article entitled “Challenges of Consultant-Led Planning in India’s Smart Cities Mission”
Surajit Chakravarty, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

The Election Experts: The Business of Data-Driven Campaigns in India’s Democracy
Amogh Dhar Sharma, Departmental Lecturer, Oxford University

In line with the previously published article entitled “The Bangalore Ideology: How an Amoral Technocracy Power Modi’s India”
Mila Samdub,  Resident Fellow, Yale Law School


Panel 2 Chair: Jean-Thomas Martelli, Visiting Scholar, Stanford University

Think Tanks, Technocratic Legitimacy, and White-Collar Populism in Modi’s India
Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor, Santa Clara University

Why is Democracy in India’s IT Hubs Not Liberal? Trends in Digital Politics in Southern Indian States
Aasim Khan, Visiting Scholar, Brown University

Discursive Strategies of Anti-minority Mobilization and Disinformation Online
Kiran Bhatia, Research Lead, FemLab
Payal Arora, Co-founder, FemLab & Professor, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Government as (Paid) Service: Technology, Private Expertise and Statehood in Indian Cities
Matt Birkinshaw, Research Fellow, SOAS
Sanjay Srivastava, Professor, SOAS

Democracy through Contraceptives: The ‘Consultant’s’ Guide to India’s Population Planning
Aprajita Sarcar, Research Fellow, UNSW Sydney

Way Forward