gupta - blurred boundaries

Upload: adaltonmarques

Post on 04-Jun-2018




3 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the ImaginedStateAuthor(s): Akhil GuptaSource: American Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 375-402Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological AssociationStable URL: 26/08/2009 13:25

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

    Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .

    Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.

    JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with thescholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform thatpromotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

    Blackwell Publishing and American Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,preserve and extend access to American Ethnologist.
  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    blurred boundaries: the discourse of corruption, theculture of politics, and the imagined state

    AKHIL GUPTA-Stanford University

    While doing fieldwork in a small village in North India (in 1984-85, and again in 1989) thatI have named Alipur, Iwas struck by how frequently the theme of corruption cropped up in theeveryday conversations of villagers. Most of the stories the men told each other in the evening,when the day's work was done and small groups had gathered at habitual places to shoot the

    breeze, had to do with corruption (bhrashtaachaar) and "the state."' Sometimes the discussiondealt with how someone had managed to outwit an official who wanted to collect a bribe; atother times with "the going price" to get an electrical connection for a new tubewel Ior to obtaina loan to buy a buffalo; at still other times with which official had been transferred or who waslikely to be appointed to a certain position and who replaced, with who had willingly helpedhis caste members or relatives without taking a bribe, and so on. Sections of the penal codewere cited and discussed in great detail, the legality of certain actions to circumvent normalprocedure were hotly debated, the pronouncements of district officials discussed at length. Attimes it seemed as if I had stumbled in on a specialized discussion with its own esotericvocabulary, one to which, as a lay person and outsider, I was not privy.

    What is striking about this situation, in retrospect, is the degree to which the state has becomeimplicated in the minute texture of everyday life. Of course north Indian villages are not uniquein this respect. It is precisely the unexceptionability of the phenomenon that makes the paucityof analysis on it so puzzling. Does the ubiquity of the state make it invisible? Or is the relativelack of attention to the state in ethnographic work due to a methodology that privilegesface-to-face contact and spatial proximity-what one may call a "physics of presence?"

    In this article I attempt to do an ethnography of the state by examining the discourses ofcorruption in contemporary India. Studying the state ethnographical ly involves both the analysisof the everyday practices of local bureaucracies and the discursive construction of the state inpublic culture. Such an approach raises fundamental substantive and methodological questions.Substantively, it allows the state to be disaggregated by focusing on different bureaucracieswithout prejudging their unity or coherence. It also enables one to problematize the relationshipbetween the translocality of "the state" and the necessarily localized offices, institutions, and

    In this article I attempt to do an ethnography of the state by examining thediscourses of corruption in contemporary India. I focus on the practices of lowerlevels of the bureaucracy in a small north Indian town as well as on representationsof the state in the mass media. Research on translocal institutions such as "the state"enables us to reflect on the limitations of participant-observation as a technique of

    fieldwork. The analysis leads me to question Eurocentric distinctions between stateand civil society and offers a critique of the conceptualization of "the state" as amonolithic and unitary entity. [the state, public culture, fieldwork, discourse,corruption, India]

    blurred boundaries 375

    American Ethnologist 22(2):375-402. Copyright ? 1995, American Anthropological Association.

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    practices in which it is instantiated. Methodologically, it raises concerns about how one appliesethnographic methods when the aim is to understand the workings of a translocal institutionthat is made visible in localized practices. What is the epistemological status of the object ofanalysis? What is the appropriate mode of gathering data, and what is the relevant scale ofanalysis?2

    An ethnography of the state in a postcolonial context must also come to terms with the legacyof Western scholarship on the state. In this article I argue that the conventional distinctionbetween state and civil society, on which such a large portion of the scholarship on the state isbased, needs to be reexamined. Is it the "imperialism of categories" (Nandy 1990:69) that al lowsthe particular cultural configuration of "state/civil society" arising from the specific historical

    experience of Europe o be naturalized and applied universally? Instead of taking this distinctionas a point of departure, I use the analysis of the discourse of corruption to question its utility inthe Indian context. The discourse of corruption turns out to be a key arena through which thestate, citizens, and other organizations and aggregations come to be imagined. Instead of

    treating corruptionas a

    dysfunctional aspectof state

    organizations,I see it as a mechanism

    through which "the state" itself is discursively constituted.3In addition to description and analysis, this article also has a programmatic aim: to mark some

    new trails along which future anthropological research on the state might profitably proceed.The goal is to map out some of the most important connections in a very large picture, therebyproviding a set of propositions that can be developed, challenged, and refuted by others workingon this topic. In so doing, this article seeks to add to a fast-growing body of creative work thatis pointing the way to a richer analysis of "the state" (some examples are Abrams 1988; Anagnost1994, in press, n.d.; Ashforth 1990; Brow 1988; Cohn 1987a, 1987b; Handelman 1978, 1981;Herzfeld 1992a; Kasaba 1994; Mitchell 1989, 1991; Nugent 1994; Taussig 1992; Urla 1993;

    Yang 1989).I should point out that much more needs to be done to lay the empirical basis for

    ethnographies of the state. Very little rich ethnographic evidence documents what lower-levelofficials actual y do in the name of the state.4 Research on the state, with its focus on large-scalestructures, epochal events, major policies, and "important" people (Evans et al. 1985; Skocpol1979), has failed to illuminate the quotidian practices (Bourdieu 1977) of bureaucrats that tellus about the effects of the state on the everyday lives of rural people. Surprisingly ittle researchhas been conducted in the small towns (in the Indian case, atthe level of the subdistrict [tehsil])where a large number of state officials, constituting the broad base of the bureaucratic pyramid,live and work-the village-level workers, land record keepers, elementary school teachers,

    agricultural extension agents, the staff of the civil hospital, and others. This is the site where themajority of people in a rural and agricultural country such as India come into contact with "thestate," and this is where many of their images of the state are forged.

    Although research into the practices of local state officials is necessary, it is not by itselfsufficient to comprehend how the state comes to be constructed and represented. Thisnecessitates some reflection on the limitations inherent in data collected in "the field." Thediscourse of corruption, for example, is mediated by local bureaucrats but cannot be understood

    entirely by staying within the geographically bounded arena of a subdistrict ownship. Althoughin this article I stress the role of public culture and transnational phenomena, I do not want to

    suggest that the face-to-face methods of traditional ethnography are irrelevant. But I do want to

    question the assumption regarding the natural superiority-the assertion of authenticity-im-plicit in the knowledge claims generated by the fact of "being there" (what one may call the

    "ontological imperative"). Such claims to truth gain their force precisely by clinging to boundednotions of "society" and "culture." Once cultures, societies, and nations are no longer seen to

    map unproblematically onto different spaces (Appadurai 1986; Gupta and Ferguson 1992;Hannerz 1986), one has to rethink he relationship between bodily presence and the generation

    376 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    of ethnographic data. The centrality of fieldwork as rite of passage, as adjudicator f theauthenticity f "data," nd as the ultimate ground or the judgment of interpretations estsonthe rarely nterrogated dea that one learns about cultural difference primarily hrough hephenomenological knowledge gained in "the ield." This stress on the experience of being inspatial proximity o "the other," with its concomitant mphasis on sensory perception, s linkedto an empiricist pistemology5 hat is unable to comprehend how the state is discursivelyconstituted. t s for this reason hat Ihave combined ieldwork with another practice mployedby anthropologists, practice whose importance s often downplayed n discussions of ourcollective methodological ool kit. This is the analysis of that widely distributed ultural ext,the newspaper foran early example, see Benedict 1946; an exemplary ecent discussion canbe found n Herzfeld 1992b).6 have looked at representations f the state and of "the public"in English-language nd vernacular ewspapers n India.

    By ocusingon the discursive onstruction f the state, wish to draw attention o the powerfulcultural racticesby which the state ssymbolically epresented o itsemployees and to citizens

    of the nation.7 These public cultural practices are enacted in a contested space that cannot beconceptualized as a closed domain circumscribed y national boundaries. Folk,regional, andnational ideologies compete for hegemony with each other and with transnational flows ofinformation, astes, and styles embodied in commodities marketed by multinational apital.8Exploring he discursive construction of the state therefore necessarily requires attention otransnational rocesses n the interstate ystem (Calhoun 989). The interstate ystem, n turn,is not a fixed order but is subject o transformations hat arise rom the actions of nation-statesand from changes taking place in international oliticaleconomy, in this period hat has beenvariously designated "late capitalism" Mandel 1975) or the era of "flexible accumulation"(Harvey 1989). For instance, he new liberalization olicies being followed by the Congressgovernment n India since the 1990 elections can only be understood n the context of atransnational iscourse of "efficiency" eing promoted by the International Monetary Fund(IMF) nd the collapse of the former Soviet Union, one of India's most important trategic ndeconomic partners. imilarly, ntense discussions of corruption n India n 1989,9centering ona transaction n the international rms conomy, bring home the complex ntermingling f localdiscourses nd international ractices.What s the theoretical mportance fthese observations?Briefly, t is that any theory of the state needs to take into account its constitution hrough acomplex set of spatially ntersecting epresentations nd practices. This snot to argue hateveryepisode of grassroots nteraction etween villagers and state officials can be shown to have

    transparent ransnational inkages; t is merely o note hat such linkageshave structuring ffectsthat may overdetermine he contexts in which daily practices are carried out. Instead ofattempting o search or the local-level or grassroots onception of the state as if itencapsulatedits own reality nd treating "the ocal" as an unproblematic nd coherent spatial unit, we mustpay attention o the "multiply mediated"10 ontexts through which the state comes to beconstructed.

    In developing my analysis I have drawn substantially n other ethnographers f South Asiawho have paid attention o the state. In her analysisof the rituals f development performed tthe inauguration f a large water project n Sri Lanka, erena Tenekoon (1988) demonstratesthat the symbolic distribution f water in all directions across the landscape of the countrybecomes a means by which the reach of the state is represented. n this case, the literalenactment of traversing he space of the nation comes to signify he ubiquity and translocalityof the state. Conversely, James Brow (1988) shows how a government housing project n SriLanka makes he state concretely visible in the eyes of villagers. Here, the emphasis s on thepossibilities f imagining he translocal hat are enabled by the embodiment f the state hroughspatial markers uch as houses."

    blurred boundaries 377

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    Since the ethnography f the state developed in this article focuses on the discourse ofcorruption, nd since corruption ends tself rather asily to barely concealed stereotypes f theThird World,12 t might be worthwhile o say something about how I proceed to develop aperspective n the state hat s explicitlyanti-orientalist.When notions of corrupt underdevel-oped" countries are combined with a developmentalist erspective, n which "state-societyrelations" n the Third World are seen as reflecting prior position in the development of the"advanced" ndustrial nations, he temptation o compare "them" o "our own past" provesirresistible o many Western scholars.13 nstead, one needs to ask how one can use thecomparative tudy of Third World political ormations o confront he "naturalness" fconceptsthat have arisen rom he historical xperience and cultural ontext of the West. Focusingonthe discursive construction f states and social groups allows one to see that the legacy ofWestern cholarship n the state has been to universalize particular ultural onstruction f"state-society elations" n which specific notions of "statehood" nd "civil society" areconjoined.'4 nstead f building n these notions, his article asks ifone can demonstrate heirprovincialism n the face of incommensurable ultural and historical ontexts.'5

    I begin with a series of vignettes hat give a sense of the local level functioning f "the state"and the relationship hat rural eople have to state nstitutions. veryday nteractions ith statebureaucracies re to my way of thinking he most important ngredient n constructions f "thestate" orged by villagersand state officials. I then look at the broader ield of representationsof "the state" n public culture. Finally, attempt o demonstrate how local level encounterswith the state come together with representations n the mass media. This is followed by theconclusion, which systematically raws out the larger heoretical ssues raised n the article.

    encountering "the state" at the local level

    For he majority f Indian itizens, he most immediate ontext for encountering he state sprovided by their relationships ith government ureaucracies t the local level. Inaddition obeing promulgated y the mass media, representations f the state are effected through hepublic practices of different overnment nstitutions nd agents. In Mandi, he administrativecenter closest to Alipur, he offices of the various government ureaucracies hemselves ervedas sites where mportant nformation bout he state was exchanged and opinions about pol ciesor officials orged. Typical y, large numbers f people clustered n small groups on the groundsof the local courts, he district magistrate's ffice, the hospital, or the police station, animatedlydiscussing nd debating he latest news. It was inplaces such as these, where villagers nteractedwith each other and with residents f the nearby owns, as much as in the mass media, thatcorruption was discussed and debated.

    Therefore, ooking losely atthese settings llowsusto obtain a sense of the texture f relationsbetween state officials and clients at the local level. In this section I draw on three cases thattogether present a range of relationships etween state officials and rural peoples. The firstconcerns a pair of state officials, occupying lowly but important ungs in the bureaucratichierarchy, who successfully exploit the inexperience of two rural men. The second caseconcerns a lower-caste man's partially uccessful actions o protect himself rom he threats fa powerful headman'6 who has allies in the bureaucracy y appealing o a higher official.Thethird

    exampledraws on a series of actions conducted by the powerful Bharatiya Kisan Union

    (literally, ndian Peasant Union),a grassroots armers' movement hat often strikes error n thehearts of local state officials. Because they give a concrete shape and form to what wouldotherwise be an abstraction "the tate"), hese everyday ncounters provide one of the criticalcomponents hroughwhich the state comes to be constructed.

    Small but prosperous, Mandi17 ouses the lowest ends of the enormous state and federalbureaucracy.'8 Most of the important fficialsof the district, ncluding hose whose officesare

    378 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    in Mandi, prefer to live in another, bigger town that serves as the district headquarters. Part ofthe reason is that rental accommodation is hard to come by in Mandi (as I discovered to myfrustration); qually important, it enables them to stay in closer touch with their superior officers.

    Sharmaji was a patwari, an official who keeps the land records of approximately five to six

    villages, or about five thousand plots, lying on the outskirts of Mandi. The patwari is responsiblefor registering land records, for physically measuring land areas to enter them in the records,and for evaluating the quality of land. The patwari also keeps a record of deaths in a family inthe event of a dispute among the heirs about property, or the need to divide it up at some point.There are a number of officials above the patwari whose main-if not sole-duty is to deal withland records. On average, the total comes to about two officials for each village. Astonishingas this kind of bureaucratic sprawl might appear, it must not be forgotten that land is the principalmeans of production in this setting.

    Sharmaji lived in a small, inconspicuous house deep in the old part of town. Although I wasconfused at first, I eventually identified which turns in the narrow, winding lanes would leadme there. The lower

    partof the house consisted of two rooms and a small enclosed

    courtyard.One of those rooms had a large door that opened onto the street. This room functioned as

    Sharmaji's "office." That is where he was usually to be found, surrounded by clients, sycophants,and colleagues. Two men in particular were almost always by his side. One of them, Verma,himself a patwari of Sharmaji's natal village (and therefore a colleague) was clearly in an inferior

    position. He functioned as Sharmaji's alter ego, filling in his ledgers for him, sometimes actingas a front and sometimes as a mediator in complex negotiations over how much money it wouldtake to "get a job done," and generally behaving as a confidant and consultant who helpedSharmaji dentify the best strategy for circumventing the administrative and legal constraints onthe transfer of land titles. The other person worked as a full-time Man Friday who did various

    odd jobs and chores for Sharmaji's "official" tasks as well as for his household.Two of the side walls of the office were lined with benches; facing the entrance toward the

    inner part of the room was a raised platform, barely big enough for three people. It was herethat Sharmaji sat and held court,19 and it was here that he kept the land registers for the villagesthat he administered. All those who had business to conduct came to this "office." At any giventime there were usually two or three different groups, interested in different transactions,assembled in the tiny room. Sharmaji conversed with all of them at the same time, oftenswitching from one addressee to another in the middle of a single sentence. Everyone presentjoined in the discussion of matters pertaining to others. Sharmaji often punctuated his statementsby turning to the others and rhetorically asking, "Have I said anything wrong?" or, "Is what I

    have said true or not?"Most of the transactions conducted in this "office" were relatively straightforward: dding or

    deleting a name on a land title; dividing up a plot among brothers; settling a fight over disputedfarmland. Since plots were separated from each other by small embankments made by farmersthemselves and not by fences or other physical barriers, one established a claim to a piece ofland by plowing it. Farmers with predatory intentions slowly started plowing just a few inchesbeyond their boundary each season so that in a short while they could effectively capture a fewfeet of their neighbors' territory. If a neighbor wanted to fight back and reclaim his land, hewent to the patwari who settled the dispute by physically measuring the area with a tapemeasure. Of course, these things "cost money," but in most cases the "rates" were well-knownand fixed.

    But however open the process of giving bribes and however public the transaction, there wasnevertheless a performative aspect that had to be mastered. I will illustrate this with a story ofa botched bribe. One day, when I reached Sharmaji's house in the middle of the afternoon, twoyoung men whose village fell in the jurisdiction of Verma were attempting to add a name tothe title of their plot. They were sitting on the near left on one of the side benches. Both were

    blurred boundaries 379

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    probably n their ate teens. Their rubber lippersand unkempt hair clearly marked hem to bevillagers, n impression einforced y clothes that had obviously not been stitched by a tailorwho normally atered o the "smart" et of town-dwelling oung men. Theyappeared llat easeand somewhat nervous n Sharmaji's oom,an impression hey tried hard o dispel by adoptingan overconfident one in their conversation.

    Although never did find out why they wanted o add a name to the land records, was toldthat t was in conniectionwith their efforts o obtain ertilizer n a loan for which the land wasto serve as collateral. When I arrived n the scene, negotiations eemed to have broken downalready: he men had decided that they were not going to rely on Verma's help in getting hepaperwork hrough he various branches f the bureaucracy utwould instead do it themselves.

    Sharmaji nd the others present some of whom were farmers nxious o get their own workdone) firstconvinced the young men that they would never be able to do it themselves. Thiswas accomplished by aggressively ellingthem to go ahead and first ry o get the job done ontheir own and that, if all else failed, they could always come back to Sharmaji. Ifyou don't

    succeed, I will always be willing to help you," he said. Thereupon ne of the farmers presenttold the young men that Sharmaji was a very well-connected person. Without appearing obrag, Sharmaji imself said that when big farmers nd important eaders needed to get theirwork done, it was to him that they came.

    Perhaps because they had been previously unaware of his reputation, he nervous clientsseemed to lose all their bravado. They soon started egging or help, saying "Tau father's lderbrother], you know what's best, why should we go running around when you are here?"Sharmaji hen requested Verma o "help" he young men. "Help hem get their work done," hekept urging, o which Verma would reply, "I never refused o help them." The two patwaristhen went into an adjoining room, where they had a short whispered conference. Sharmaji

    reappeared and announced loudly that they would have to "pay for it." The young menimmediately wanted to know how much would be required, o which Sharmaji esponded,"You should ask him [Verma] hat." Shortly hereafter, Verma made a perfectly imed reen-trance. The young men repeated he question o him. He said, "Give as much as you like."When they asked the question again, he said, "It s not for me to say. Give whatever amountyou want to give."

    The two clients then whispered o each other. Finally, one of them broke the impasse byreaching nto his shirt pocket and carefully akingout a few folded bills. He handed Rs. 10 toVerma.20 harmaji esponded by bursting nto raucous aughter nd Verma smiled. Sharmajitold him, "Youwere right," aughing ll the while. Verma aid to the young men, "I'll be happyto do your work even for Rs. 10, but first you'll need the signature of the headman of yourvillage, that's he law." Sharmaji old them that they didn't know anything about the law, thatit took more han Rs. 14 just for the cost of the application because in order o add a name toa plot, the application would have to be backdated by a few months. At the mention of theheadman, he young men became dismayed. They explained that relations were not goodbetween them and the headman and that they were in opposite camps. I sensed that Vermahad known his all along.

    Sharmaji hen told the young men that hey should have first ound out "what t cost" o "geta name added o the register" hese days. "Go and findout the cost of putting our name in theland register," e told them, "and hen give Verma xactly halfof that." He immediately urnedto one of the farmers present and asked him how much he had paid ten years ago. The mansaid it had been something ike Rs. 150. Then both Sharmaji nd Verma got up abruptly ndleft or lunch.

    The young men turned o the other people and asked hem ifthey knew what the appropriatesum was. All of them gave figures anging rom Rs. 130-150 but said that heir nformation asdated because hat is how much it had cost ten or more years ago. The young men tried o put

    380 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    a good face on the bungled negotiation by suggesting hat it would not be a big loss if they didnot succeed in their efforts. Ifthey did not get the loan, they would continue to farm as theyusually did-that is, without ertilizer.

    No one could tell them what the current igure was. Even Man Friday, who was still sittingthere, refused o answer, aying t was not or him o intervene, nd that twas all up to Sharmajiand Verma. The "practice" f bribe giving was not, as the young men learned, simply aneconomic transaction but a cultural practice that required a great degree of performativecompetence. When villagers omplained about he corruption f state officials, herefore, heywere not just voicing their exclusion from government ervices because these were costly,although hat was no small factor. More mportantly, hey were expressing rustration ecausethey lacked he cultural apital required o negotiate deftly or those services.21

    Theentire episode was skil fullymanaged by Sharmaji nd Verma. Although hey came awayempty-handed rom hisparticular oundof negotiations, hey knew hat he young men wouldeventually be back and would then have to pay even more than the going rate o get the same

    job done. Sharmaji ppeared n turns as the benefactor and the supplicant pleading with hiscolleague on behalf of the clients. Verma managed o appear o be willing o do the work. Theact of giving he bribe became entirely a gesture ofgoodwi Ion the part of the customers atherthan a conscious mechanism o grease he wheels. Interestingly, great deal of importance wasattached o not naming a sum.

    In this case, state officialsgot the better of a couple of inexperienced lients. Petty officials,however, do not always have their way. In the implementation f development programs, orexample, ocalofficialsoften have to seek out beneficiaries norder o meet targets et by higherauthorities. The beneficiaries of these programs an then employ the authority f the upperlevels of the bureaucracy o exert some pressure n local officials.

    Several houses have been constructed n Alipurunder wo government rograms, he IndiraAwaas Yojana and the Nirbal Varg Awaas Yojana literally, he Indira Housing Program ndtheWeaker Sections Housing Program, espectively).Both programs re intended o benefit poorpeople who do not have a brick pucca)house. The Indira Awaas Yojana was meant or andlessharijans untouchables), whereas he Nirbal Varg Awaas Yojana was for all those who ownedless than one acre of land, lacked a brick house, and had an income below a specified imit.22

    Iwas told that one of the "beneficiaries" as Sripal, o Ispoke to him outside his new house.Sripal was a thin, small-boned man, not more than 25 years old, who lived in a cluster oflow-caste (jatav) homes in the village. When I saw the brick one-room dwelling constructednext to his mother's house, I could not help remarking hat it looked quite solid. But Sripalimmediately ismissed hat notion.

    Sripalwas selected for hisprogram ythe villageheadman, SherSingh.When his name wasapproved, he village development worker 3 took him to the town, had his photograph aken,and then opened an account n his name in a bank. For he paperwork e was charged Rs.200.After hat he was given a slip (parchi) hat entitled him to pick up predetermined uantities fbuilding material rom a store designated by the village development worker. The moneyrequired o get the material ransported o the construction ite came out of his own pocket.The villagedevelopment worker asked him o pay an additional Rs.500 to get the bricks. Sripalpleaded that he did not have any money. "Take Rs. 1,000 if you want from the cost of thematerial from he

    portionof the house

    grantreserved or

    purchasingmaterials], ut don't ask

    me to pay you anything."Sripal laimed hat hiswas exactly what he villagedevelopment worker had done, providing

    him with material worth only Rs.6,000 out of the Rs.7,000 allocated o him.24Once again hehad to fork out the transportation xpense to have the bricks delivered rom a kiln near thevillage. Sripal laimed that the bricks given to him were inferior ellow bricks peelay eenth)that had been improperly aked. He also discovered hat the cost of labor was supposed o be

    blurred boundaries 381

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    reimbursed o him. Althoughhe had built he house himself because he was an expert mason,he never received he Rs. 300 allocated or labor costs in the program.

    As if this were not enough, Sripaldid not receive any material or a door and a window, soit was impossible o live in the new house. No official had come to inspect he work to see ifthere was anything missing. Sripal complained that those whose job it was to inspect thebuildings ust sat in their offices and approved he construction because they were the oneswho had the authority o create he officialrecord "They re he ones who have pen and paper[kaagaz-kalam nhee kaypaas hai]"). Sripal himself s illiterate.

    Frustrated bout hisdoorless house, he lodged complaints t the Block officeand at the bankthat lent him the money for construction. Meanwhile, Sher Singh, who had been employingSripalas a daily laborer n his farm, became angry at Sripal or refusing o come to work oneday. Sripal xplained hat he could not possiblyhave gone because his relatives had come overthat day and that o leave them would have been construed as inhospitable. nany case, Sripalsaid, he could not do any heavy work because he had broken his arm some time ago.

    When SherSingh

    ound out thatSripal


    about him and thevillage develop-ment worker at the Block office, he threatened o beat him up so badly that he would never

    enter the village again. Fearing he worst, Sripal led from he village and went to live with hisin-laws. Despite he threat o his life,Sripalwas not daunted n his efforts o seek justice. Whenhe saw that his complaints licited no response, he approached lawyer o draft letter o theDistrictMagistrate, he highestadministrative uthority n the area. Thisstrategy aid off in thata police contingent was sent to the village to investigate.When Iasked Sripal o tell me whatthe letter said, he produced a copy of it for me. "What can I tell you?" he asked. "Read tyourself." The letter alleged that the village development worker had failed to supply thenecessary material nd that because the headman had threatened o beat him up he had been

    forced o flee the village.After he police visit, Sher Singh made peace with Sripal. He even hired Sripal o constructa home for another person under he same program. n addition, Sher Singh stopped askingSripal o come to labor on his farm. But he villagedevelopment worker hreatened ripalwithimprisonment nless he paid back Rs.3,000 toward he cost of completing he house.25 Oneof my relatives s a jail warden thanedaadr," e reportedly old Sripal. "Ifyou don't pay up, I'llhave you put away in jail." Sitting n front of the empty space that was to be the door to hishouse, Sripal old me that he was resigned o going to jail. "What ifferencedoes it make?" easked. "Living ike this is as good as being dead."

    Even hough he was ultimately nsuccessful n his appeals for justice, Sripal's ase demon-

    strates hat even members f the subaltern lasses have a practical knowledge of the multiplelevelsof state authority. acedwith the depredations f the headman and village developmentworker, Sripal had appealed o the authority f a person hree rungs higher n the bureaucratichierarchy. Because he central and state governments re theoretically ommitted o protectingscheduled caste people such as Sripal, his complaint regarding he threat o his life was taken

    quite seriously. Sending he police to the village was a clear warning o Sher Singh hat if hedared o harm Sripalphysically, he would risk retaliation rom he repressive rm of the state.

    Before eaving this episode with Sripal, I want to address explicitly what it tells us abouttransnational inkages.Clearly, one cannot expect to find visible ransnational imensions o

    every grassroots ncounter; hat would require a kind of immediate determination hat is

    empirically untrue and analytically ndefensible. For example, IMF conditionalities do notdirectly xplain hisparticular pisode in the house-building rogram. Butby forcing he Indian

    government o curtail domestic expenditure, he conditionalities o have budgetary mplica-tions for such programs. These influence which programs re funded, how they are imple-mented and at what levels,who is targeted, nd for how many years such programs ontinue.Similarly, fone wants to understand why development programs uch as building houses for

    382 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    the poor exist in the first place and why they are initiated nd managed by the state, one mustplace them in the context of a regime of "development" hat came into being in the postwarinternational rder of decolonized nation-states Escobar 984, 1988; Ferguson 990). Whathappens at the grassroots s thus complexly mediated, sometimes through multiple relays,sometimes more directly, by such linkages.26

    Sripal's xperience of pitting one organization f the state against others and of employingthe multiple ayers of state organizations o his advantage no doubt shaped his construction fthe state. Atthe same time, he appeared efeated nthe end bythe procedures f a bureaucracywhose rules he could not comprehend. ripalwas among hose beneficiaries f "development"assistance who regretted ver accepting help. He became deeply alienated bythe veryprogramsthat the state employed to legitimate ts rule. The implementation f development programstherefore orms a key arena where representations f the state are constituted and where itslegitimacy s contested.

    One can also find contrasting nstances where local officials are on the receiving end of

    villagers'disaffectionwith state nstitutions. ome


    provided byseveral actions of

    the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).One of the most frequent omplaints of farmers s that heyhave to pay bribes to officials of the Hydel Department o replace burned-out ransformers.Each uch transformer ypically erves iveto ten tubewells. A young farmer elateda commonincident to me. The transformer upplying lectricity o his tubewell and those of 11 of hisneighbors blew out. So they contributed Rs. 150 each (approximately 10 at exchange ratesprevailing hen)and took the money to the assistant ngineer of the Hydel Department. heytold him that heir crops were dying or a lack of water and that hey were in deep trouble. Hereportedly aid, "What an Ido?We don't have the replacement quipment tthe present ime."So they gave him the Rs. 1,800 they had pooled and requested hat he transformer e replaced

    as soon as possible. He took the money and promised hem that the job would be done in afew days, as soon as the equipment was in. Beingan "honest" man (that s,one true o hisword),he had the transformer nstalled hree days later.

    When the same situation ecurred hortly hereafter, he young man went to the Kisan Unionpeople and requested hat they help him get a new transformer. o about 50 of them climbedon tractors, went straight o the executive engineer's house and camped on his lawn acommonform of civil disobedience in India s to gherao [encircle and prevent movement ofl a highofficial).They refused o move until a new transformer ad been installed n the village. Theexecutive engineer promised hem hat he "would end men at once." Sure nough, he linemencame the followingday and replaced t.

    Not all such incidents nded amicably. The quick response of these officialswas due to thefact that the Kisan Union had already established tself as a powerful orce in that particulararea, as will be evident from a few examples. In one incident, a crowd walked off with sixtransformers rom an electricity tation n broad daylight Aaj 1989f). The farmers no longerfeared he police and revenue officials, n occasion "arresting" he officials, ying hem o trees,and making them do "sit-ups." They refused to pay electricity dues (up to 60 percent ofagricultural ector dues remain unpaid n a nearby district) nd forced "corrupt" fficials oreturn money allegedly taken as bribes. I also heard about an incident n an adjacent villagewhere employees of the electricity board were caught stealing some copper wire from atransformer y irate villagerswho proceeded o beat hem up and "jail" hem in a villagehouse.

    It should be clear from all the incidents described above that lower-level officials play acrucial role in citizens' encounters with "the tate." Obviously, no singular haracterization fthe nature and content of the interaction f villagers and bureaucrats s possible. In contrast oSharmaji and Verma, who manipulate heir gullible clients, stand the officials who aremanhandled by the peasant activists of the BKU. Similarly, ust as local officialsemploy theirfamiliarity ith bureaucratic rocedures o carry out or obstruct transaction y maneuvering

    blurred boundaries 383

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    between different evels of the administrative ierarchy, o too do subaltern people such asSripaldemonstrate practical ompetence n using he hierarchical ature of state institutionsto their own ends. At the local level it becomes difficult o experience he state as an onticallycoherent entity: what one confronts nstead s much more discrete and fragmentary-landrecords fficials,village development workers, he Electricity oard, headmen, he


    the Block Development Office. Yet (and it is this seemingly contradictory act that we mustalways keep in mind) it is precisely through he practices of such local institutions hat atranslocal nstitution uch as the state comes to be imagined.

    The local-level encounters with the state described n this section help us discern anothersignificant oint. Officials uch as Sharmaji,who may very well constitute a majority f stateemployees occupying positions at the bottom of the bureaucratic yramid, ose an interestingchallenge o Western notions of the boundary etween "state" nd "society" n some obviousways. The Western historical xperience has been built on states hat put people in locationsdistinct rom their homes-in offices, cantonments, nd courts-to mark heir "rationalized"

    activity as office holders n a bureaucratic pparatus. People such as Sharmaji ollapse thisdistinction not only between their roles as public servants nd as private itizens at the site oftheir activity, but also in their stylesof operation.27 lmostall other similarly laced officials ndifferent branches of the state operate n an analogous manner. One has a better chance offinding them at the roadside tea stalls and in their homes than in their offices. Whereasmodernization heorists would invariably nterpret his as further vidence of the failure ofefficient nstitutions o take root in a Third World context, one might ust as easily turn thequestion around and inquire nto the theoretical dequacy (and judgmental haracter) f theconcepts through which such actions are described. In other words, if officials ike Sharmajiand the village development worker are seen as thoroughly blurring he boundaries between"state" nd "civil society," t is perhaps because those categories are descriptively nadequateto the lived realities hat hey purport o represent.

    Finally, t may be useful o draw out the implications f the ethnographic material resentedin this section for what it tells us about corruption nd the implementation f policy. First, hepeople described here-Sharmaji, the village development worker, the Electricity Boardofficials-are not unusual or exceptional n the manner n which they conduct their officialduties, ntheir willingness otake bribes, orexample, or in their conduct oward different lassesof villagers. Second, despite the fact that lower-level officials' earnings from bribes aresubstantial, t is important o locate them in a larger "system" f corruption n which their

    superior fficers are firmly mplicated. nfact, Sharmaji's osses depend on his considerableability to maneuver land records for their own transactions, which are several orders ofmagnitude arger han his. His is a "volume business," heirs a "high margin" ne. He helpsthem satisfy heir lientsand, inthe process, buysprotection nd insurance orhisown activities.

    This atter spectcalls for elaboration. t s oftenclaimed hat even well-designed overnmentprograms ail in their implementation, nd that the best of plans founder due to widespreadcorruption t the lower evels of the bureaucracy. f his is intended o explain why governmentprograms ail, it is patently naccurate as well as being class-biased). For it is clear thatlower-level fficialsare only one link n a chain of corrupt practices hat extends o the apex ofstate organizations nd reaches ar beyond hem o electoral politics Wade 1982, 1984, 1985).Politicians aise funds through senior bureaucrats or electoral purposes, enior bureaucratssqueeze this money from heir subordinates s well as directly rom projects hat hey oversee,and subordinates ollowsuit.The difference s that whereas higher-level tate officials aise argesums rom he relatively ew people who can afford o pay itto them, ower-level fficials ollectit in small figuresand on a daily basis from a very large number of people. It s for this reasonthat corruption s so much more visible at the lower levels.

    384 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    The "system" f corruption s of course not just a brute collection of practices whose mostwidespread execution occurs at the local level. It is also a discursive ield that enables thephenomenon o be labeled, discussed, practiced, decried, and denounced. The next section isdevoted to the analysis of the discourse of corruption, nd especially to its historically ndregionally ituated character.

    the discourse of corruption in public culture

    Analyzing he discourse of corruption raws attention o the powerful cultural practices bywhich the state is symbolically represented o its employees and to citizens of the nation.28Representations fthe state are constituted, ontested, and transformed n public culture. Publicculture s a zone of cultural ebate conducted hrough he mass media, other mechanical modesof reproduction, nd the visible practices of institutions uch as the state (Appadurai 990;Appadurai nd Breckenridge 988; Gilroy1987; Gurevitch t al. 1982; Hall et al. 1980; Waites

    et al. 1982). It s "the ite and stake" Hall1982) of struggles orcultural meaning. For his reasonthe analysis of reports n local and national newspapers ells us a great deal about he mannerin which "the state" omes to be imagined.29

    The importance f the media was brought home to me when, barely wo months after RajivGandhi was elected prime minister n late 1984, a higher-caste illage elder whose son was abusinessman with close connections to the Congress I) told me, "Rajiv has failed." I wassurprised o hear him say this and asked why he thought so. He replied, "Rajiv romised oeradicate corruption n his campaign but has it happened? He hasn't done anything bout it."Although RajivGandhi had not visited he area around Alipur during his campaign, his manwas keenlyaware of all of his campaign promises. Likemany others nAlipur,he listenednightlyto the BBC World Service news broadcast n Hindi as well as to the government-controllednational radio (Akaashvaanl). e was well-informed n international vents and would oftenask me detailed questions regarding ontemporary vents in the United Statesor Iran.

    Although radio and television obviously play a significant ole as mass media, newspapersare perhaps he most important mechanism n public culture or the circulation f discourseson corruption.30 n he studyoftranslocal henomena uch as "the tate," ewspapers ontributeto the raw material ecessary or"thick" escription.This hould become evident by comparingnewspaper reports-conceptualized as cultural exts and sociohistorical documents-to oralinterviews. ince newspaper eports re nvariably iledby locally resident orrespondents, heyconstitute, as do oral interviews, certain orm of situated knowledge. Obviously, perceivingthem as having a privileged elation o the truth f social life is naive; hey have much o offerus, however, when seen as a major discursive orm through which daily lifeis narrativized ndcollectivities magined. Of course, he narratives resented n newspapers re sifted hroughset of institutional ilters, but their representations re not, for that reason alone, more deeplycompromised. Treated with benign neglect by students f contemporary ife,they mysteriouslymetamorphize nto nvaluable fielddata" nce they haveyellowed around he edges and allenapart t the creases.3 And yet it is not entirely lear by what alchemy imeturns he "secondary"data of the anthropologist nto the "primary" ata of the historian.

    Apart rom theoretical reasons hat may be adduced to support he analysis of newspaperreports, he importance f all vernacular


    regionalor national


    in the fact that they carry pecial sections devoted to local news.32These are distributed nlyin the region to which the news applies. Thus, if one picks up the same newspaper n twodifferent ities in Uttar Pradesh, ome of the pages inside will have entirely different ontents.News about a particular rea, therefore, an only be obtained by subscribing o newspaperswithin hat area. In this restricted ense, newspaper eports bout a particular rea can only beobtained within "the ield."33

    blurred boundaries 385

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    The method of studying he state advanced n this article relates he discourse of corruptionin the vernacular nd English-language ress o statements made by villagers nd state officials.We will see that local discourses and practices oncerning orruption were intimately inkedwith the reportage ound in vernacular nd national newspapers. This point will be demon-strated by first ooking at a few examples from he national, English-language ress and thenmostlyat vernacular ewspapers.34

    Corruption s an issue dominated wo of the three national lections held in the 1980s. In tssummary f the decade, the fortnightly ews magazine India Today headlined he section on"The 80s: Politics" n the following manner: "The politics of communalism, orruption ndseparatism dominates an eventful decade" (Chawla 1990:18).35Rajiv Gandhi's election inNovember 1984 was fought largely on the slogans of the eradication of corruption andpreserving he nation's ntegrity n the face of separatist hreats rom Sikhs.Precisely becausehe was initiallydubbed "Mr. Clean," he subject of corruption ater came to haunt him as hisadministration ame under a cloud for allegedly accepting kickbacks rom Bofors,a Swedishsmall-arms manufacturer. nfact, Boforsbecame the

    centerpieceof the


    effort o overthrow his regime. In the elections of 1989, in which a non-Congress overnmentcame to power or only the second time in 43 years of electoral politics, another Mr. Clean, V.P. Singh, emerged as the leader. He had earlier been unceremoniously ooted out of RajivGandhi's abinet because, as defense minister, e had started n investigation nto the "BoforsAffair." heeffect of Boforswas electorally xplosive precisely because it became a symbol ofcorruption t all levels of the state. For example, the conductor on the notoriously nefficientUttar Pradesh State Roadways bus justified not returning hange to me by saying, "If RajivGandhi an take 64 crore n bribes, what is the harm n my taking 64 paisa on a ticket?"36

    The discourse of corruption, however, went far beyond just setting he terms of electoral


    political parties.tnot

    only helpedo define "the

    political"utalso served

    to constitute "the public" hat was perceived o be reacting o corruption. ince this was donelargely hrough he mass media, we must pay careful attention o newspapers s cultural extsthat give us important lues to the political ulture fthe period. na series of major preelectionsurveys, he widely read metropolitan English aily, the Timesof India, attempted o analyzethe political mpact of Bofors and set out to establish how the electorate viewed corruption.One of its articles begins by quoting a villager who remarked, "If one [political party, .e.,Congress] s a poisonous nake, he other [opposition arty] s a cobra" Times f India 1989:1).The article went on to say: "Whether he Congress s in power or the opposition makes nodifference o the common man and woman who has to contend with proliferating orruption

    which affects every sphere of life ... Boforsdoesn't brush against heir ives.The pay-off or aration ard or a job does" (1989:1).The article urther laborated he relationship etween the "ordinary itizen" and the state

    with reference o the role of formal politics and politicians:

    In U.P., the majority elt that [increasing orruption] temmed rom he growing corruption n politicalcircles. M. P. Verma, a backward lass leader romGonda pointed out that politicians oday are drivenby a one-point programme-to capture power at all costs. And the vast sums expended on elections areobtained by unfair means. "Without corruption here is no politics," said Aminchand Ajmera, abusinessman rom Bhopal. Times f India 1989:1

    The heme ofcorruption as prominent n an article on a central government cheme to helpthe poor in India Today, which pointed out how the resources being allocated by the centralgovernment were being misused by the state government n Madhya Pradesh 1989).37 n hisexample, formal politics was not reduced to competition among political parties and thebureaucratic apparatus (where payoffs for jobs are given) was not confused with the regime(where the benefits of Bofors presumably went). Instead, the discourse of corruption became a

    386 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    means by which a fairlycomplex picture of the state was symbolically onstructed n publicculture.

    In addition, I examined the local editions of six Hindi newspapers with different politicalorientations most commonly read in the Mandi area: Aaj, Dainik Jaagran, Amar Ujaala,Hindustan, Rashtriya Sahaara, and Jansatta. There were significant differences between the

    English-languagemagazines and newspapers mentioned above, with their urban, educated,"middle-class" eadership, nd the vernacular ress. The reason lay in the structural ocationof the national English-language ailieswithin he "core" egions-the urban enters of capital,high politics, administration, nd education. The vernacular newspapers maintained richersense of the multilayered ature of the state because their reportage was necessarily ocusedon events in different ocalities,which corresponded o lower evels of the state hierarchy. heycould not, however, simultaneously gnore events at the higher levels of state (region) andnation. Bycontrast, metropolitan ewspapers ocused almost exclusivelyon large-scale vents,with local bureaucracies eaturing hiefly in the letters of complaint written by citizens about

    city services.The vernacular ress herefore articularly learly delineated he multilayered ndpluricentric ature of "the state."

    The Hindi newspapers with limited regional irculations, ead mostlyby the residents f themany small towns and large villages dotting he countryside, n fact were, as opposed to the"national" Hindi dailies such as the Navbharat Times, much less prone to reify the state as amonolithic organization with a single chain of command. They made a practice of explicitlynaming specific departments f the state bureaucracy. The vernacular ress also seemed topursue tories of corruption with greater eal than its metropolitan ounterpart.38

    For example, the daily Aaj had headlines such as the following: "Police Busy Warming OwnPockets" (1989a),39 "Plunder in T. B. Hospital" (1989e), and "Farmers Harassed by Land

    Consolidation Official" 1989d). In none of these reports was the state (sarkaa) nvoked as aunitary ntity. In all of them, specific departments ere named, and very often specific peopleas well. They also documented n great detail exactly what these corrupt practices were. Forexample, he article on the tuberculosis ospital tated xactly how much money was "charged"for each step (Rs.5 for a test, Rs. 10 for the doctor, Rs. 5 for the compounder, nd so on) in atreatment hat was supposed o be provided reeofcharge. The article on the land consolidationofficer named him and stated how much money he demanded n bribes rom specific farmers(also named). Similarly, he news story on the police reported hat a specific precinct wasextorting money from vehicle owners by threatening o issue bogus citations.

    Two features of these reports were particularly triking. First, tate officials higher up thehierarchy were often depicted as completely unresponsive o complaints nd even as complicitwith the corrupt practices. "Despite everal complaints by citizens to the head of the region,nothing has been done," was a familiar efrain n the reports. For nstance, one short reportstated hat he dealer who had he contract o distribute ubsidized ations f sugar and kerosenewas selling hem on the black marketwith political protection nd he fullknowledge fregionalsupervisors Aaj 1989b). Similarly, nother story, "To Get Telephone To Work, Feed ThemSweets" (Aaj 1989c), reported hat corrupt employees of the telephone department oldcustomers hat they could go ahead and complain as much as they wanted, but, unless thetelephone workers ot their avorite weetmeats,40 he customers' elephones would not work.

    The second noteworthy eature n regional newspaper accounts was their emphasis on, andconstruction f, the public. A common discursive practice was to talk of "the public" janata)that was being openly exploited by the police, or "the citizens" naagarik) ho were harassedby blackmarketeering, r "the people" (log)whose clear accusation against he hospital wasgiven voice in the paper, or "simple armers" bholaay-bhaalaay isaan)who were ruthlesslyexploited by the land consolidation officer. In all cases, the function of the press appeared o

    blurred boundaries 387

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    be that ofcreating space inwhich the grievances f the massescould be aired and the commongood (janhit) pursued.

    The press was of course doing much more than simply airing preexisting rievances. Thestate constructed here was one that consisted of widely disparate nstitutionswith littleor nocoordination mong them, of multiple evelsof authority, one of which were accountable oordinary people, and employees (secure n the knowledge hat they could not be fired) whotreated itizenswith contempt. Atthe same time, hese reports lsocreated ubjects41 ho wererepresented s being exploited, powerless, and outraged. foreground he newspapers' unc-tions in order to draw attention o the rhetorical trategy deployed by the mass media togalvanize nto action citizens who expect state nstitutions o be accountable o them.

    Although I have sharply differentiated he English-language nd vernacular press in theirrepresentations f "the state" and the construction f subjects, one must keep two caveats inmind at all times. First, fone looks at newspapers rom different egionsof Uttar Pradesh, ndpublished n other languages forexample, Urdu), wide variations re to be found within hevernacular

    ress.42econd, the mass media s not the

    only importantource or the circulation

    of representations f "the tate" n public culture. Police and administration fficialsrepeatedlyvoice their rustration t their inability o counter "wild tories" nd "rumors" hat contest andcontradict he officialversionof events. Policeofficials n an adjoining istrict re quoted ntheTimes f India as saying, "They o about spreading umours ndwe can't fight hem effectively.These rumours elp gather rowds. And he agitated rowd hen turns on the police, provokinga clash" Mitra nd Ahmed 1989:12). The "bush elegraph" sic] spreads rumors quickly andconvincingly Mitra 989).43Unlikeother echnologiesofcommunication uch as newspapers,radio, and television, rumor annot be controlled by simply clamping down on the source ofproduction Coombe 1993). Rumor herefore becomes an especially effective vehicle to

    challenge official accounts, especially when agencies of the state transgress ocal standards fbehavior.By definition, corruption is a violation of norms and standards of conduct.44 The other face

    of a discourse of corruption, herefore, s a discourse of accountability.45 erzfeld puts theemphasis n the right place when he says hat "accountability s a socially produced, ulturallysaturated malgam f ideasabout person, presence, and polity... [whose]meaning sculturallyspecific ... [and whose] management f personal or collective identity annot break ree ofsocial experience" 1992a:47). Expectations f "right" ehavior, tandards f accountability,and norms of conduct for state officials, n other words, come from social groups as well asfrom "the state."46 ometimes hese standards nd norms converge; more often, they do not.

    Thus, here are always divergent nd conflicting ssessments f whether a particular ourse ofaction is "corrupt." ubjects' deployment f discourses of corruption re necessarily mediatedby their structural ocation (this point is developed further below). But state officials are alsomultiply positioned within different egimesof power: n consequence, they simultaneouslyemploy, and are subject o, quite varying discourses of accountability. The manner n whichthese officials negotiate he tensions nherent n their ocation n their daily practices both helpsto create certain representations f the state and powerfully hapes assessments of it, therebyaffecting ts legitimacy. nfact, struggles or legitimacy an be interpreted n terms of the effortto construct he state and "the public" ymbolically n a particular manner.

    Moreover, fone were to document he transformations n the discourse of corruption romcolonial times to the present a project beyond he scope of this article), t would be clear thatthe postcolonial tate has itself generated new discourses of accountability. Actions oleratedor considered egitimateunder colonial rule may be classified as "corrupt" ythe rule-makingapparatuses of the independent nation-state because an electoral democracy is deemedaccountable o "the people." The sense of pervasive orruption n a country uch as India mightthen itselfbe a consequence of the changes n the discourse of accountability romulgated y

    388 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    postcolonial nationalists. naddition, ignificant hanges during he postcolonial period havearisen rom he pressures f electoral politics asevidenced by the Bofors ontroversy) nd frompeasant mobilization. In the Mandi region, the Kisan Union has been very successful inorganizing easants against he state by focusingon the issue of corruption mong ower evelsof the bureaucracy.

    Although here are variations n the discourse of corruption within regions and during hepostcolonial ra, the end of colonialism constitutes significant ransition.One of the reasonsfor this is that nationalist s opposed to colonial regimes eek the kind of popular egitimacythat will enable them to act in the name of "the people." They thus place new responsibilitieson state employees and vest new rights n subjects who are then constituted s citizens. Thepostcolonial tate consciously sets out to create subject positionsunknown during he colonialera: "citizenship" oes not just mark nclusiveness n a territorial omain but indicates a set ofrights heoretically nvested n subjects who inhabit he nation.47 ne of the crucial ngredientsof discourses fcitizenship n a populist democracy uch as India has been that state employeesare considered accountable o "the people" of the country. The discourse of corruption, bymarking hose actions hat constitute an infringement f such rights, hus acts to represent herights f citizens o themselves.48

    The role of the KisanUnion further ighlights ignificant egional variations n the discourseof corruption. Western Uttar Pradesh, he region where Mandi s located, has been the centerofverysuccessful grarian mobilizations ed by the class ofwell-to-do peasants. Thismovementwas first ed by Chaudhary Charan Singh, a former prime minister who consistently mountedan attack on the "urban ias" of state policies. It s now been given a new direction bythe KisanUnion ed by Mahendar inghTikait.49 he landowning astes n this region have become fairlyprosperous sthey have been the chief beneficiaries f the green revolution. But his newfoundwealth has

    yetto be translated nto bureaucratic ower and cultural

    apital.In other words,

    given the central role that state institutions lay in rural ife,these groups seek to stabilize heconditions or he reproduction ftheir dominance. Because heyperceive he state o be actingagainst heir nterests, hey deploy the discourse of corruption o undermine he credibility fthe state and to attack he manner n which government rganizations perate.50

    The discourse of corruption s central o our understanding f the relationship etween thestate and social groups precisely because it plays this dual role of enabling people to constructthe state ymbolically nd o define hemselvesas citizens. For t is through uch representations,and through he public practices of various government gencies, that the state comes to bemarked and delineated rom other organizations nd institutions n social life. The state itself

    and whatever s construed o stand apart rom it-community, polity, society, civil society(Kligman 990),political ociety-are all culturally onstructed n specific deological ields. Itis hence imperative hat we constantly contextualize the construction of the state withinparticular istorical nd cultural onjunctures. have employed he discourse of corruption sa means o demonstrate ow the state comes to be imagined n one such historical nd culturalcontext. The discourse of corruption ere functions as a diagnostic of the state.

    the imagined state

    Banwari,scheduled caste resident f Ashanwad

    hamlet,25 kms. rom

    Jaipur aid,"I haven't een the

    vidhan sabha or the Lok Sabha.51 he only part of the government see is the police station our kms.frommy house. And hat s corrupt. hepolice demand bribes nd don't register omplaints f scheduledcaste people likeme." [Timesof India 1989:7]

    So far, this article has dealt with the practices of local levels of the bureaucracy and thediscourses of corruption in public culture, respectively. Together, they enable a certainconstruction of the state that meshes the imagined translocal institution with its localized

    blurred boundaries 389

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    embodiments. The government, n other words, is being constructed here in the imaginationand everyday practices of ordinary eople. Of course, this isexactly what "corporate ulture"and nationalism o: they make possible and then naturalize he construction f such nonlo-calizable institutions. t then becomes very important o understand he mechanisms, ormodalities, hat make t possible o imagine he state. What s the process whereby he "reality"of translocal ntities comes to be experienced?

    To answer his question, one must grasp he pivotal role of public culture, which representsone of the most important modalities or the discursive onstruction f "the tate." Obviously,not everyone magines he state n quite the same manner. So far, very littleresearch has beendone on the relationship etween diversely ocated groups of people and their employment fthe different media of representation nd of varying resources of cultural apital n imagining"the tate." Forexample, RamSinghand his sons are relatively rosperous men fromone of thelowest castes (jatav) n Alipur.They had recently acquired a television set as part of the dowryreceived nthe marriage f one of the sons. Ram Singh old me, in a confession born of a mixtureof pride and embarrassment, hat since the television had arrived heir arm work had sufferedbecause, instead of irrigating he crop, they would all sit down and watch television. Both hepumpsets used for irrigation nd the television set were dependent on erratic and occasionalsuppliesofelectricity.) elevisionwas a constant pointof reference nRamSingh's onversation.

    I interviewed Ram Singh n the context of the impending lections (theelections ook placein December 1989; the conversation ates from ateJuly).He said:

    The public is singing the praises of Rajiv [Gandhi].52 He is paying really close attention to the needs ofpoor people [Bahut gaur kar raha hain]. Rajiv has been traveling extensively in the rural areas andpersonally finding out the problems faced by the poor. For his reason, Iwill definitely support he Congress(I).

    We consider the government which supports us small people as if it were our mother and father [Usiko ham

    maa-baap keysamaan

    maanteyhain]. If it weren't for the

    Congress,no one would

    pay anyattention to the smaller castes [choteejaat]. Not even god looks after us, only the Congress.

    At this point, his son intervened:

    The Congress is for all the poor, not just for the lower castes. It is exerting itself to the utmost, trying todraw people into [government] jobs [Bahut or laga rahen hain, naukri mein khichai kar rahen hain].

    Ram Singh returned o the discussion:

    Although the government has many good schemes, the officials in the middle eat it all [beech mey sabkhaa jaate hain]. The government is making full efforts to help the poor, but the officials don't allow anyof the schemes to reach the poor.

    "Doesn't the government knows that officials are corrupt?" asked. "Why doesn't it doanything?" amSingh replied:

    It does know a little bit but not everything. The reason is that the voice of the poor doesn't reach peopleat the top [Garibon ki awaaz vahaan tak pahuchti nahin]. If, for example, the government sets aside fourlakhs for a scheme, only one lakh will actually reach us-the rest will be taken out in the middle.53

    Ram Singh's position here displays ome continuity with an older, hierarchical ision of thestate.54Typically, n such views, the ruler appears as benevolent and charitable whereas thelocal official is seen as corrupt. While this may very well be the case, I think that one canadequately xplain Ram Singh'soutlook by examining ontemporary ractices ather han hesedimentation f beliefs.55One should ook at practices of the state that reinforce his outlook.When a complaint of corruption s lodged against a local official, he investigation s alwaysconducted by an official of a higher rank. Higher officialsare thus seen as providing edressalsfor grievances and punishing ocal officials or corrupt behavior.

    RamSingh's ase reminds s that all constructions f the state have o be situated with respectto the location of the speaker. Ram Singh's particular osition helps us understand why heimagines he state as he does. He is an older, scheduled-caste man whose household now owns

    390 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    one of the five television sets in the village, a key symbol of upward mobility. Several of hissons are educated, and two of them have obtained relatively good government obs as aconsequence.56The scheduled castes of this area in general, and the jatavs n particular, avehistorically upported uccessive Congress regimes.

    The irst hingthat mpresses ne about RamSingh's nterpretation f "the tate" s how clearlyhe understands tscomposition s an entity with multiple ayers and diverse ocales and centers.Although he word for regime and state is the same in Hindi (sarkaar),57 amSingh maintainsa distinction between the regime and the bureaucracy. He sees the regime's good intentionstoward he lower castes being frustrated y venal state officials.Clearly, Ram Singhhas a sensethat there are several ayers of "government" bove the one that he has always dealt with (thevery op personified ythen-Prime MinisterRajivGandhi), nd that he different evelscan exertopposing pulls on policy (specifically, hose that affect a scheduled-caste person like him).Interestingly, amSingh reproduces n apologetics or the failure of policy (the formulation sall right, t is the implementors hat are to blame) pervasively ound n India's "middle lasses,"delivered by politicians belonging to the regime in power, and reproduced n the work ofacademics, higher bureaucrats, nd sympathetic fficialsof international gencies.

    The second striking act about Ram Singh's testimony is that apart from his nuanceddescription of the state as a disaggregated nd multilayered nstitution, is analysis closelyparallels a discourse on the state that is disseminated by the mass media and is thereforetranslocal. RamSingh's xample demonstrates he importance fpublicculture nthe discursiveconstruction f the state: he talks knowledgeably bout "the public's" perception f Rajivandof Rajiv's tinerary. His son's perception f the Congress s being "for ll the poor" learly alsoowes a great deal to mass-mediated ources.

    My suspicion that the close association with Rajiv Gandhi and the explanation about the

    corruptmiddle evels of the state was influenced


    impactof television

    gainedforce when

    one of his sons explained:58

    We are illiterate people whose knowledge would be confined to the village. This way [i.e., by watchingtelevision], we learn a little bit about the outside world, about the different parts of India, about how otherpeople live, we get a little more worldly [Kuch duniyaadaari seekh laayten hain].59

    In he buildup o the elections, he government-controlled elevisionnetwork, Doordarshan,spent most of the nightlynewscast ollowing RajivGandhi on his campaign ours. Obviously,it was not just he country hat was being imagined on television hrough he representation fits different parts but also the national state through the image of "its" leader. Popularunderstandings f the state herefore re constituted n a discursive ield where the mass mediaplay a critical role. Ram Singh's words reveal the important art hat national media play in"local" discourses on the state. Clearly, t is not possible o deduce Ram Singh's understandingof "the state" entirely rom his personal interactions with the bureaucracy; onversely, it isapparent hat he is not merelyparroting he reports e obtains rom elevision and newspapers.60Rather, what we see from this example is the articulation between (necessarily ractured)hegemonic discourses and the inevitably ituated and interested nterpretations f subalternsubjects. Ram Singh's veryday xperiences ead him to believe that here mustbe governmentofficials and agencies (whose presence, motives, and actions are represented o him throughthe mass media) nterested n helping people like him. Only that could explain why his sonshave succeeded in obtaining highly prized government obs despite their neglect by localschoolteachers nd their ll-treatment y local officials. Yet when he talks about "the public,"and with a first-person amiliarity bout Raj v'sefforts n behalf of the poor, he is clearlydrawingon a mass-mediated nowledge of what that upper-level of government omprises, who theagents responsible or its actions are, and what kinds of policies and programs hey arepromoting.61

    blurred boundaries 391

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    There sobviously no Archimedean oint romwhich to visualize "the tate," nly numeroussituated knowledges Haraway 988). Bureaucrats, or example, imagine t through tatistics(Hacking 1982), official reports, nd tours, whereas citizens do so through newspaper tories,dealings with particular overnment gencies, he pronouncements f politicians, nd so forth.Constructions f the state clearly vary according o the manner n which different ctors arepositioned. It is therefore mportant o situate a certain symbolic construction f the state withrespect o the particular ontext nwhich it is realized. The mportance f the mass media houldnot blind us to the differences hat exist in the way that diversely ituated people imagine hestate.62

    For nstance, RamSingh'spositionas a relativelywell-to-do ower-caste erson,whose familyhas benefited from rules regarding mployment quotas for scheduled castes, explains hissupport or the higher echelons of government. At the same time, his interaction with localofficialshas taught him hat hey, ike he powerfulmen inthe villages,have ittleor no sympathyfor lower-caste people like him. Therefore, he has a keen sense of the differences amongdifferent evels of the state. On the other hand, if he seems to share with the middle-class aparticular iew of the failure f government rograms, t is the result f the convergence fwhathe has learned rom his everyday ncounters with the "state" with what he has discerned, ashis son indicates, rom the mass media. Congress rhetoric about being the party of the poorobviously resonates with RamSingh's xperience; hat s why he calls the Congress overnmenthis guardians maa-baap) nd blames he officials n the middle or not following hrough withgovernment rograms.RamSingh's iewof the state hus isshaped both by hisown encounterswith local officials and by the translocal magining of the state made possible by viewingtelevision.


    In this article I have focused on discourses of corruption n public culture and villagers'everyday ncounters with localgovernment nstitutions norder o work oward n ethnographyof the state in contemporary ndia.Such a study raises a large number of complex conceptualand methodological roblems, f which Ihave attempted oexplore hosethat Iconsider entralto any understanding f state nstitutions nd practices.

    The irstproblem has o do with he reification nherent n unitary escriptions f "the tate."63When one analyzes he manner nwhich villagers nd officialsencounter he state, t becomesclear that it must be conceptualized n terms far more decentralized and disaggregated hanhas been the case so far. Rather han take the notion of "the state" as a point of departure, weshould leave open the analytical question as to the conditions under which the state doesoperate as a cohesive and unitary whole.64 All the ethnographic data presented in thisarticle-the cases of Sharmaji, ripal, Ram Singh, and the Kisan Union, and the reports romthe vernacular press-point to a recognition of multiple agencies, organizations, evels,agendas, and centers hat resists traightforward nalytical losure.

    The second major problem addressed in this article concerns the translocality f stateinstitutions. have argued hatany analysis f the state requires s to conceptualize a space thatis constituted by the intersection f local, regional, national, and transnational henomena.Accordingly, have stressed he role of

    publicculture n the discursive onstruction f the state.

    Bringing he analysisof public cu ture ogetherwith the studyof the everyday practices f lowerlevelsof the bureaucracy elpsus understand ow the reality f translocal ntities comes to befelt by villagers and officials.

    The third mportant rgument dvanced n this article, also tied to the significance f publicculture for an analysis of the state, has to do with the discursive construction f the state.Foregrounding he question of representation llows us to see the modalities by which the state

    392 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    currently egemonic configurations f power and domination nvolves a cultural truggle,whatGramsci has called the "war f position." What s at stake s nothing ess than a transformationin the manner nwhich the state comes to be constructed. t sa struggle hat problematizes hehistorical divide between hose who choose to do political work "within" he state and thosewho work "outside" t,because he cultural onstruction f the state n public culture can resultfrom, and affect, both in equal measure.

    Bypointingout that advocates of applied work and those who favor activist ntervention maysometimes unintentionally hare a common project of reifying"the state" and then locatingthemselves with respect o that totality the one inside, the other outside), I neither ntend oequate different modes of engagement nor to belittle he often politically ophisticated nder-standings hat practitioners ring o their activities. All I wish to emphasize s that one's theoryof "the tate" does greatly matter n formulating trategies or political action. Just as Gramsci'snotion of hegemony ed him to believe that 1917 may have been the last European xample ofvanguardism what he called the "war of maneuver"), o my analysis of "the tate" eads to theconclusion that we can

    attempto exploit he contradictory rocesses hat go into constituting

    "it."These contradictions ot only address he divergent pullsexerted bythe multiple agencies,departments, rganizations, evels, and agendas of "the state" but also the contested errain fpublic representation. f it is precisely n these practices of historical narrative nd statisticalabstraction, n equal parts hin fiction and brute act, that the phenomenon of state fetishismemerges, we must remember how unstable and fragile his self-representation s and how itcould always be otherwise. Forexample, I have shown how the discourse of corruption elpsconstruct "the tate"; et at the same time it can potentially mpower itizens by marking hoseactivities hat nfringe n their rights.

    One way to think about strategies f political action, about such dichotomies as applied/ac-

    tivist, nside/outside, olicyanalysis/class truggle,nd

    developmentalism/revolution,sto draw

    an initial distinction between entitlement nd empowerment.67 he "machinery" f develop-ment, with its elaborate yet repetitive ogic, focuses on the goal of delivering ntitlements. AsJimFerguson 1990)has argued, tdoes so infactonly to remove all discussion fempowermentfrom he discursive orizon hence the title of his book, TheAnti-PoliticsMachine).Yet he twoare not mutually exclusive. And it is here that seizing on the fissures and ruptures, hecontradictions nthe policies,programs, nstitutions, nd discourses f "the tate" llowspeopleto create possibilities orpolitical action and activism.68 see critical eflection n the discourseof development as a point of departure or political action, not as a moment of arrival. Evenaswe begin to see that we need, as Arturo Escobar 1992) has felicitouslyput it, alternatives o

    development, nd not development lternatives, e must earn not oscoffat a plebeian politicsof opportunism, trategies hat are alive to the conjunctural ossibilities f the moment. Keynesserved o remind conomists and utopians hat "in the long run we are all dead."69 he poor, Imight add, liveonly half as long.


    Acknowledgments. am grateful o PurnimaMankekar, amesFerguson,DavidNugent, Don Moore, LataMani, Jane Collier, John Peters, Elizabeth Perry, Atul Kohli, and three anonymous reviewers for detailedcomments. This article was originally presented at a workshop on State-Society Relations at the Universityof Texas at Austin, February 8-11, 1990. It has benefited from the critical comments of participants of theSSRC/ACLS oint Committee on the Near & Middle East's "Vocabularies of the State" workshop in Hanover,NH, March 24-25, 1990. I am also grateful for the input received from seminar participants at the MITCenter for International Studies and the Anthropology Colloquium at the University of California, Irvine.Many interesting questions were raised at presentations at Stanford University, October 12, 1992, ColumbiaUniversity, February 8, 1993, and the University of Pennsylvania, February 22, 1993, some of which willhave to await the development of a much longer manuscript. I am grateful to the Fritz Endowment of theSchool of International Studies, University of Washington, and to Fulbright-Hays or supporting fieldworkin the summer of 1989 and the 1991-92 academic year, respectively.

    394 american ethnologist

  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


  • 8/13/2019 Gupta - Blurred Boundaries


    26. To have explored the implications of the full chain of mediations for each ethnographic examplewould have taken the article far afield in too many different directions and made it lose its focus. This is atask that I propose to undertake in a full-length monograph. Here, I wanted to stress that we not forget thatthe detailed analysis of everyday life is overdetermined by transnational influences.

    27. I would like to thank Joel Migdal for pointing this out to me.28. The symbolic representation of the state is as yet largely unexplored territory, with a few notable

    exceptions. Bernard Cohn, for instance, has demonstrated how theImperial Assemblage

    of 1877 enabledthe British colonial state to represent its authority over India at the same time as it made "manifest andcompelling the [colonial] sociology of India" (1987b:658). See also Nicholas Dirks's study of a small,independent state in precolonial and colonial South India (1987).

    29. I have deliberately avoided use of the term "public sphere" in this article. As Habermas (1989[1962])makes clear, the "public sphere" is the space where civil society emerges with the rise of bourgeois socialformations. It s there that critical, rational debate among bourgeois subjects could take place about a varietyof topics, including the state, and it is there that checks on state power emerge through the force of literatepublic opinion (Peters 1993, in press). Since the argument that follows raises doubts about the wholesaleimport of these categories to the particular context being analyzed, this notion of the "public sphere" is notparticularly helpful. I should hasten to add that I am by no means implying that "the West" is unique inpossessing a space for public debate and discussion. The notion of the public sphere, however, denotes aparticular historical and cultural formation shaped by feudalism, kingly rule, the rise of capitalism, theimportance of urban centers, and the dominant role of the church as an institution that is not


    the same form elsewhere in the world.30. For hose unfamiliar with the Indian context, it might be useful to point out that the reason why I am

    concentrating on newspapers is that whereas radio and television are strictly controlled by the government,the press is relatively autonomous and frequently critical of "the state." The only other important source ofnews in rural areas, transnational radio, remains limited in its coverage of India in that it remains focusedon major stories and hence lacks the detail and specificity of newspaper accounts.

    31. This is not to imply that anthropologists have not incorporated newspapers into their analysis in thepast (see for example Benedict 1946). Herzfeld explains the marginal role of newspapers very clearly:"Journalism s treated as not authentically ethnographic, since it is both externally derived and rhetoricallyfactual.... In consequence, the intrusion of media language into village discourse has largely been ignored"(1992b:94). Herzfeld makes a strong case for close scrutiny to newspapers even when the unit of analysisis "the village"; others such as Benedict Anderson (1983) and Achille Mbembe (1992) have stressed thetheoretical importance of newspapers in the construction of the nation and for the analysis of "the state,"respectively.

    32. This analysis of newspapers looks at connections between local and transnational discourses ofcorruption but not at the links between transnational capital and local newspapers. For example, althoughnone of the locally distributed newspapers (English-language or vernacular) are even partially owned bytransnational corporations, many of them depend on multinational wire service bureaus for internationalnews. A detailed study would also have to account for the complex relationship between domestic andinternational capital accumulation. Further, he connection between the ownership and content of news-papers is an incredibly difficult one to establish and is quite beyond the scope of this article and thecompetence of the author. I wish to thank an anonymous reviewer for raising these stimulating questions.

    33. Herzfeld has issued a warning that we would do well to heed: "We cannot usefully make anyhard-and-fast distinctions between rural and urban, illiterate and learned (or at least journalistic), local andnational. These terms-urbanity, literacy, the national interest, and their antonyms-appear in the villagers'discourse, and they are part of that discourse ... the larger discourses about Greece's place in the worldboth feed and draw nourishment from the opinions expressed in the tiniest village" (1992b:11 7). "Att