The new experts: Populism, technocracy and politics of expertise in contemporary India

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Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-677
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Volume52
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2022

Keywords

  • India
  • Technocracy
  • expertise
  • knowledge production
  • populism
  • think tanks

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