Chasing Tickets: Party Politics, Corruption and Municipal Elections, New Delhi
This thesis is an exploratory study of informal party politics and competition for party tickets in local politics in India. It is an ethnographic account of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP) and its party members in the city of New Delhi where they compete for election tickets in the municipal election of 2017. By exploring the inner political world of the party and the race for election tickets in the organisation’s complex and multi-layered hierarchy, the study tries to explicate the small steps of political candidacy in municipal level politics. It offers a sociological account of party relations in the highly competitive race for local elections and how political competition reshapes these relationships. By examining the opaque processes of ticket selection and competition, the thesis tries to contribute to a better understanding of political representation and party politics in India.
The study draws on fieldwork conducted over ten months in 2016-17, and documents the experience of party workers in New Delhi by following different workers at multiple levels of party hierarchy as they pursue their political ambitions. It also draws upon formal interviews with party leaders, state party members, elected councillors, MLA’s (members of legislative assembly), MP’s (members of the Parliament) and city journalists. By following party members as they try to lobby for an election ticket, the ethnography offers a close up account of their strategies and their shifting loyalties as they navigate the party network and try different methods to attain political power during the tense and conflicted turns of the election cycle. By examining candidate selection processes and the internal politics of the Delhi state unit of the BJP as a case study, I empirically draw out the ‘political opportunity structure’ that exists for party members as they vie for tickets in competition with each other in the party. I interpret and observe three inter-linked processes: the recruitment of members in party organization and the roles and positions assigned to them as party activists; the mobility of these members within the existing party hierarchy; and the dynamic processes of candidacy and electioneering where this mobility is put to test.
The research reveals how the political party exercises power over its constituents and exerts control over ambitious party workers to prevent them from straying too far from the collective fold and to keep them engaged with party goals. It captures the aspirations, intentions, rebellions and concealed acts of ordinary party workers coming to terms with the insecurity of forging a successful career in the party (as well as in urban politics), as they compete in a highly competitive race for political power. It also reveals the kind of machinations and strategies required to bring recognition to one’s efforts and to climb the political ladder in local politics (from ward politics to municipal office). Further, these strategies are extremely gendered, making it very difficult for women party members to compete with the same social and financial capital and emerge successful in their pursuit. By using a narrative approach I explore the corruption and competitiveness of the party machine and dissonance faced by party workers in the pursuit of the electoral power.
The dissertation is aimed as a contribution to the literature on political institutions and political candidacy, informal politics and clientelism and vernacularization of electoral democracy in India.