ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Anti-Politics' and the Development Machine

The Anti-Politics Machine in India: State, Decentralisation and Participatory Watershed Development by Vasudha Chhotray (Anthem Press), 2011; pp 280, $99.

Why planned development projects produce mostly unintended effects on the ground is the question many scholars, including anthropologist James Ferguson, have tried to answer using the notion of the “anti-politics machine”. Ferguson (1990), based on his study on Lesotho (Africa), has argued that the “unintended consequences” produced by development interventions are rooted in false or apolitical assumptions about the nature of bureaucrats and donors.

Ferguson explains further how the “development discourse” works, i e, how the language and practices used by development specialists influence the ways in which development is delivered, and the unintended consequences it fosters. In other words, development apparatus aims to depoliticise the need for development through its practice of treating local contexts or conditions as the source of problems and hence requires technical (blueprint/expertise) and not structural or political solutions. In this context, “anti-politics” refers to the obscuring of these relationships. Ferguson concludes that in the name of depoliticisation bureaucrats further consolidate their powers. In my own work on politics of irrigation reforms I have shown how irrigation bureaucrats along with local political representatives and water user association leaders have sidelined the objectives of the Andhra Pradesh Irrigation Reforms supported by the World Bank and the then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu (Nikku 2014).

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