Accepted paper:

Permanence, precariousness, and the everyday worlds of bureaucrats in post-liberalisation India


Nayanika Mathur (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper dwells on a newly-emergent conflict visible between permanent and temporary state officials involved in the implementation of a public works legislation in India. It traces this conflict to the neoliberal turn taken by the Indian state in the aftermath of economic liberalisation in 1991.

Paper long abstract:

This paper describes an un-commented upon but profound change in the post-liberalisation Indian state's bureaucratic apparatus. It argues that the rural development bureaucracy is being adversely impacted by the new recruitment practices, emerging from the global good governance agenda and involving a cut-back of what the World Bank describes as 'India's bloated bureaucracy'. On the basis of 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork state bureaucrats, I describe a new conflict slowly becoming visible among permanent government employees and a new category of semi-state employees: 'young professionals.' These people are paid their salaries by the government but are employed on a time-bound, contractual basis by a private sector recruitment agency. All these functionaries are involved in the execution of an ambitious public works legislation in India but profess very different relationships to the state. The permanent government employees conceive of themselves as having a direct, intimate relationship with the state. They describe in a range of metaphors that express a loyalty to an imagined state. The young professionals, in contrast, find themselves in a temporally restricted, tenuous, and distant relationship to the state. The time-boundedness of their contracts, the complicated work cultures of government offices, and the seeming lack of direct ties to the state places them in a condition of precariousness. Government offices in rural India are, I argue, becoming sites of new forms of conflict as functionaries argue out what the labour of the state is and how it should be undertaken.

panel P102
The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies