Adivasis In and Against the State
Subaltern Politics and State Power in Contemporary India
Author: Alf Gunvald Nilsen
The question of the state has come to occupy a central place in recent debates on subaltern politics in contemporary India. Against those critical voices that have claimed that the emancipation of subaltern groups can only proceed by challenging and moving beyond the modern Indian state, a range of scholars and commentators have asserted that it is precisely by seeking to harness the state that social movements can hope to advance their oppositional projects. Intervening in this debate, this article argues that although these new perspectives constitute a decisive advance in terms of developing a relational understanding of subaltern politics in India, questions pertaining to the structural constraints that social movements face in advancing their oppositional projects through the institutions and discourses of the state are still neglected. The article addresses these questions through a detailed exploration of the ways in and extent to which Adivasi movements have managed to democratize local state–society relationships in western Madhya Pradesh, and discusses the conceptual and political lessons that can be drawn from these experiences. Drawing on recent advances in Marxian state theory, the article argues that it is necessary to move beyond the theoretical impasses of both anti-statism and state-centrism and toward a politically enabling engagement with contemporary Adivasi mobilization in India.