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Sujata Patel, D. Parthasarathy, George Jose. MUMBAI/BOMBAY: Majoritarian Neoliberalassism, Informality, Resistance, and Wellbeing

Min Tang
Bibliographical reference

Sujata Patel, D. Parthasarathy, George Jose. 2022. MUMBAI/BOMBAY: Majoritarian Neoliberalism, Informality, Resistance, and Wellbeing. London: Routledge. 257 pages

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1In MUMBAI/BOMBAY: Majoritarian Neoliberalism, Informality, Resistance, and Wellbeing, Sujata Patel, D. Parthasarathy, and George Jose offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the intricate dynamics shaping urban transformation in Bombay/Mumbai after the 1980s. The book stems from the three main authors’ collective reflection with their close academic circle. It aims to highlight numerous issues raised by the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns, namely the mismanagement of public health and social infrastructure for citizens and the exodus of migrant laborers from many Indian cities (including Mumbai). This book builds on and further examines many issues discussed in the three influential volumes on Bombay/Mumbai published more than 20 years ago (Patel and Thorner 1995a, Patel and Thorner 1995b, Patel and Masselos 2003), when economic liberalization was formally adopted. As an extension of these works, this book examines the process of urban transformation that occurred in the aftermath of two significant crises: the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1992–1993 and the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.

2The three main authors have chosen to examine current socioeconomic, political, and spatial transformations by primarily focusing on the interconnected dynamics of neoliberalism and majoritarianism. They contend that this focus sheds light on the process of marginalization and the distinct inequalities and exclusion found within these transformations. They effectively divide the 12 chapters into three distinct sections titled “Work and Labor: Deregulating and Restructuring,” “Infrastructure and Politics: Negotiation and Resistance,” and “Well-being and Reproduction of Life: Corporatization and Privatization.”

3To provide a solid foundation for the three sections, the introduction contextualizes the notion of “majoritarian neoliberalism” along with its associated conflicts and contradictions, in both India and the historical setting of Bombay/Mumbai. It argues that the origin of a “behind-the-scenes introduction of neoliberalism-like policies” can be located in Bombay in the 1960s (p. 2). Since independence, this process of economic intervention through privatization has led to the informalization of work and labor. The associated deregulation of land has resulted in radical spatial changes, such as the renewal of previous industrial areas, the building of new infrastructures, the (re)development of slum settlements, and the emergence of new peripheries.

4Nevertheless, economic competition has been inextricable from democratic growth and cultural changes. As one of the world’s most multifaceted and multiethnic societies, India has perpetually sought an idea of majority. Majoritarianism suggests that existing ethnic, linguistic, or religious majorities have a natural and moral right to political dominance (p. 3). It emphasizes the evolving political and ideological endeavors of the Indian elites and those in power as well as their shifting idea of who constitutes the preferred majority that aligns with their goals. In their introduction, the authors deftly explain that the language movement for cultural rights in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the division of states along linguistic lines (i.e., Bombay and Gujarat). It reflected the post-independent nationalist ideology and the competition between political parties. Nevertheless, the linguistic standards for constituting the majority subsequently transformed into the populist ideology of Hindutva. The shift exemplified the Shiv-Sena-BJP’s pragmatic political strategy of appealing to Marathi-speaking migrants, who were significantly impacted by the decline of the textile industry and the growth of informal labor starting in the 1970s.

5Just as neoliberalism affected the formation of the majority, majoritarianism similarly influenced the design and execution of many neoliberal programs to determine who could (or could not) benefit from them. The authors evoke the idea that the state’s economic interventions of privatization and deregulation have enabled those in power to keep transforming the welfare benefits of the public into business and corporate group benefits, especially after the 1990s. The Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRS) implemented by the Shiv-Sena-BJP coalition in Mumbai serves as a prime example of programs that have prioritized short-term gains and the pursuit of rent-seeking activities. Under the slogan “offering free-house to slum dwellers,” the SRS were able to motivate slum dwellers to vote for the SS-BJP. However, private developers were the real beneficiaries of the SRS policy. Since the public policy of slum redevelopment made the building of commercial housing on public lands for profit possible, it further incubated the growth of Mumbai’s new real estate market.

6The case of SRS highlights how election victories could help consolidate the use of the state apparatus to make the rent-seeking actions of elites invisible. All political parties thus choose to support majoritarian neoliberalism, regardless of their ideological and targeting group differences (p. 5). A significant additional consequence of majoritarian neoliberalism is the resulting inequality, marginalization and violence experienced by minorities, including Muslims, Dalits, tribals, women, the poor, and LGBTQ groups, among others. From the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1992–1993 to the 2020 migrant laborers’ exodus, the book also delves into the growing phenomenon of vigilante violence targeting minorities, particularly within the present populist ideology of Hindutva.

7The introduction concludes with a series of claims. The ambivalence and contradiction of majoritarian neoliberalism in Bombay/Mumbai requires a historical understanding of the uneven urbanization process in India, one that should also highlight the voices of marginalized groups and uncover the elite’s hidden rent-seeking activity and violence against minorities. In order to achieve this, researchers who delve into the complex interplay of institutional reform and customary resistance should adopt a multifaceted approach to the analysis of time-space and employ interdisciplinary methods of investigation, directions that the book’s 12 chapters aim to cover.

8The first section, “Work and Labor: Deregulating and Restructuring,” focuses on the various aspects of the informalization of labor, which is essential for emphasizing the impact of neoliberal economic reform and its relationship to the rise of majoritarianism politics in the city. In Chapter 1, Neeraj Hatekar elucidates the background and two defining moments of the right-wing populist party Shiv Sena, arguing that the party has adapted to the shifting neoliberal economic order by undergoing a transformative majoritarian-making strategy.

9The following two chapters focus on ethnographic micronarratives of work, workers, and workplaces. They depict the precariousness and strategies of minority groups confronted with structural informality and the state’s withdrawal of public benefits and infrastructure for basic living. In Chapter 2, Ritu Dewan elaborates on women’s participation in the construction labor force and vividly illustrates the time burden on their daily lives, which alternate between the private and public spheres as well as a series of “paid work, underpaid work, unpaid work, and unpaid carework” (p. 51). In Chapter 3, Raghav Mehrotra and Maansi Parpiani examine the operations of “informal” small-scale manufacturers. They are located in many of Mumbai’s geographically-peripheral or socially-marginalized settlements, serving as arrival cities (Saunders 2011) for many Northern Indian, male, Muslim, and impoverished informal laborers. In order to survive the state’s neglect and stigmatization and handle business over the long term, the producers must utilize “pehchaan building” (know someone, everyday credibility) and the “party walas network” as strategies. The party walas network refers to villagers as well as diverse actors in the garment network, including hotels near the international airport, wholesalers in Dadar, shops in Andheri, and factories in Vassai (p. 77). However, the daily maintenance and building of pehchaan not only comes at the cost of migrant laborers’ vulnerable situation, but also reinforces the image of informality in such garment manufacturing units in Kurla (p. 78), which actually contribute to the economy of Mumbai.

10Chapter 4 echoes chapter 1 and explores the BJP-Shiv Sena government’s 2015 beef ban. It provides a detailed spatial history of Bombay’s slaughterhouses and recent ethnography of related social groups in the Deonar Slaughterhouse. Shireen Mirza uncovers how the state actively regulates the meat market, which is mainly operated by pastoral and lower-caste Hindus and Muslims. Through the formalization and corporatization of fragmented informal caste labor, the beef ban is indicative of the state’s restriction of the meat market in order to create an expanded and valuable beef-export market with formal export companies (p. 92). The majoritarian neoliberalism logic deliberately sacrifices the livelihoods of minorities in the beef business by serving both the interests of Hindutva and the Hindu nationalist agenda as well as the benefits of large capital and global corporations.

11The second section, “Infrastructure and Politics: Negotiation and Resistance,” delves into different infrastructural projects in order to understand neoliberalism. Infrastructure projects began receiving increasing investment in the 1990s but have also created serious social and environmental conflicts. The material development of infrastructure became a matter of social and political negotiation and resistance, particularly as a result of the interplay between land acquisition and public-private partnerships (PPPs). The section begins with Sripad Motiram’s survey of the evolution of the provision and delivery of infrastructure projects from colonial Bombay to the new neoliberal models, as exemplified by the Mumbai Metro and Navi Mumbai International Airport. The chapter argues that neoliberal infrastructure developments clearly ignore people’s needs. Infrastructure projects have led to land speculation, boosted the real estate sector, displaced people, and posed a threat to natural resources in order to establish Indian cities as international and world-class.

12Chapter 6 by George Jose and chapter 8 by D. Parthasarathy respectively illustrate these tensions by focusing on the spatial transformation of Mumbai’s periphery. Chapter 6 examines the planning processes that designated Virar as a new town and identified the green lands as “urbanizable” (p. 120). These planning decisions resulted in sustained opposition from a self-organized coalition of indigenous peasants, fishermen, and Adivasi. During the wrangling, the planned new town failed to materialize. Instead, advancements in infrastructure enabled the mutually-beneficial alliance between builders and politicians, resulting in unintended and spontaneous urbanization of the area as a dormitory town for large numbers of migrants. Jose contends that planning meant to contain land speculation and control urban sprawl became a tool for the political elites to informally facilitate urban land supply on the periphery of Indian cities. Jose also explicitly establishes links between his writings about Vasai-Virar and the critical works of Roy (2003), Bayat (2007) and Yiftachel (2009) as well as those of Simone (2010) from the peripheries of the Global South (pp. 117–18; p. 129).

13Similarly, Chapter 8 addresses the process of neoliberal spatial transformation in Powai, which consists of road projects, scam-ridden land acquisitions for a luxurious residential colony, start-up harbors for foreign capital, and the ongoing metro project. However, the chapter gives more weight to grassroots resistance and the solidarity networks or micro-level alliances among affected small-scale retailers and street vendors. Parthasarathy reveals that the fragmented emerging politics (31 collectives, mapped in 2020) in an everyday, continuous negotiation with the state and market in Powai have replaced the old grassroots and mass social movements. To elaborate, the groups also include elites, who face insecurity and ambiguity regarding property rights in this area, and have to rely on informality. Temporary and issue-based activities with diverse participants appropriate public and private spaces, link politics to sociocultural life, and demonstrate strategies for selectively employing imposed and newly-emerged identities (pp. 167–68). Borrowing Bryant (1993)’s notion of civility, Parthasarathy sees these practices as politics of solidarities from below (p. 169), which are imaginative yet innovative ways of facing the transformation of neoliberalism.

14In addition to the hard-core material infrastructure, Chapter 7 scrutinizes the developments of soft digital infrastructure for the platform economy that began in 2013 and which ushered in a new phase of neoliberalism. Tobias Kuttler illustrates how digital mobility firms (e.g., Uber) are dynamically (dis)embedding in the accumulated urban space and social network of Mumbai’s symbolic kali pili (black and yellow) cabs. Unpacking the different practices of making and operating fleets, Kuttler argues that the fleet model represents a game-changing moment for the digital platform. It allows firms to hide behind the fleet, extract value, capitalize on the taxi community’s existing credibility and social structure in addition to continuously exploiting vulnerable, newly-arrived northern Indian migrants (p. 145). Fleet serves as an intermediary of such a socially-produced platform economy, a link between algorithmic, human, and place-based control of the workforce, and a shield for firms to circumvent responsibility and regulations.

15The final section, “Well-being and Reproduction of Life: Corporatization and Privatization,” continues the exploration of infrastructure in the neoliberal era but provides readers with a detailed examination of the transformation of sociocultural infrastructures (health, education, and art) contextualized in urban crises. In chapter 9, Padma Prakash and Sangeeta Rege discuss Maharashtra’s peculiar health care system in relation to the COVID-19 crisis. The authors contend that the independent operation of public health and clinic care at all levels in Mumbai allowed the private sector and civil society to actively assume responsibility for some state services. Their ways of contributing include private hospitals run by charitable trusts and built on public land since the mid-twentieth century, the giant PPP-hospital that began in the 1990s, and many small- to medium-sized nursing houses operating in sheds. During the COVID-19 crisis, the municipal corporation (BMC) suspended the private sector’s operations in healthcare, but continued to look for partnerships with civil society and community networks to deliver a reformed PPP format. For example, BMC promoted the most successful and well-known “Dharavi model” (the former assistant commissioner of Mumbai Kiran Dighavkar even authored a book on it). However, Prakash and Rege see it as a roughly-sketched variation of PPP (p. 183) and question whether supporting civil society could prevent a fragile public health service from disintegrating during a crisis if healthcare inevitably became a highly sought-after capital investment (p. 187).

16In chapter 10, Harris Solomon focuses on the ambulance service in the everyday crisis of trauma. Solomon shows that Bombay’s ambulances were historically owned by different actors, including the state, private hospitals, communities, and political actors (such as Shiv Sena’s ambulance fleet). While the PPP ambulance service in Maharashtra formally began in 2014, it did not significantly improve the emergency response’s channels, such as the golden rescue time for casualty survival, structural management of moving people, and service across a series of healthcare spaces.

17Chapter 11 tackles an important aspect of residential segregation between Muslims and Hindus as well as among Muslims in India (Galonnier 2015), which is a direct result of majoritarian politics and violence against Muslims. Within the context of mainstream public education increasingly becoming a terrain appropriated by the communal ideology of the Hindu right (p. 215), Sameera Khan selects an alluring entry point, the Islamic-English school. She reveals that Islamic-English schools’ cultivation of “good Muslim students” was a reaction to achieving the middle-class Muslims’ aspiration to be upwardly mobile, shaped by neoliberal capitalism and residential or educational segregation. For instance, privatized schools attempt to combine “pure” Islamic values with modern working abilities (proficiency in English, IT technology, etc.). The former prompted the school to censor religious practices at home and in the community as well as to reject mainstream culture externally. The latter helps students secure a white-collar job. Khan argues that it obstructed young females’ access to secular public space through education and consolidated an intractable cycle of exclusion. By isolating young Muslims from the wider society, it strengthened the majority agenda and their minority identity.

18The final section by Olga Kanzaki Sooudi provides a detailed analysis of how neoliberalism transformed Mumbai’s art spaces and their changing relationship to the city and society over three distinct time periods: before the 1990s, the booming capital-drive period between the 1990s and 2008, and the reflection on a more sustainable art ecosystem following the 2008 economic crisis. Mumbai’s “art ecosystem” (the word originated from art dealers and artists) was historically dominated by private art actors and geographically concentrated in South Mumbai. These private actors serve as arbiters for the art market and the intellectual field, classifying art world insiders and outsiders. They establish white cube-like art spaces for elite consumption and an art scene hub that excludes artists who live and work in Vasai and other suburbs (see Chapter 6). Sooudi argues that if art is a powerful means to discuss and express the sociopolitical critiques that are inseparable from the city and society, it should be more accessible to the public, both physically and mentally. Only by doing this can the art ecosystem become more sustainable.

19One of the book’s significant strengths is the diversity of issues brought up by its various authors, enriching the discourse on urban transformation by bringing together past, present, and future. The critical analyses deployed from an interdisciplinary method of investigation effectively produce macro-narratives and micro-narratives to showcase the dynamic interplay between structure and agency. The introduction is also an essential asset to the volume. It plays a crucial role in establishing the overall problematic of majoritarian neoliberalism and carefully guiding the reader through Bombay’s earlier transformation before delving into the complex issues in each section. This is not a simple task, as not all chapters explicitly emphasize both neoliberalism and majoritarianism. Although the book does not include a conclusion, it is beneficial to reread the introduction after finishing all of the chapters.

20Diversity is a double-edged sword. It can attract a larger audience by permitting them to selectively read chapters based on their individual interests. For those who have previously worked or lived in Mumbai, these variations provoke thoughts and connections to the book. For instance, as a researcher who has studied the sociospatial changes in Dharavi and the daily lives of its younger generation (Saglio-Yatzimirsky and Tang 2021, Tang and d’Auria 2023), the practices examined in this book—including women’s (un)paid work (chapter 2), the textile workshops’ pehchaan building (chapter 3), the beef business (chapter 4), and Muslim-English Schools (chapter 11)—closely align with my own ethnographic observations. In addition, the informants have either relocated from Dharavi to the periphery of Mumbai or begun participating in the platform economy as riders and drivers. Hence, the examination of Vasai-Virar’s transformation (chapter 6) and the logic of platform mobilities (chapter 7) explores issues that I have considered but not traced in previous research. They strongly encourage readers (including this reviewer) to rethink Mumbai, stimulate thinking that connects specific sites to other urban areas, and transcend the realm of policy to examine the lived experience of politics and everyday survival.

21On the other hand, while the main authors begin each section with an informative chapter dedicated to a more comprehensive examination of the subjects addressed, followed by three empirically-oriented chapters, the transitions are not always effective. The third section, which jumps from health to education, and art, could benefit from a smoother flow. Additional papers could perhaps have been included to expand some topics into a new section. Supplementary contextual framing, such as basic maps or photographs of Mumbai, could have been included in the book to help readers new to Mumbai gain a basic understanding of the uneven geography and unequal neoliberal spatial reorganization of the city.

22Numerous chapters (chapters 2, 3, 7, and 11) focusing on resistance and negotiation from below share similar and perhaps pessimistic ideas. In the absence of state support for public services, the way in which marginalized groups operate may exacerbate the structural inequality and stigmatization brought about by majoritarian neoliberalism. Consequently, for many readers, a key concern would be how to extend the book’s findings beyond the research and have an impact on practitioners (who should also be the book’s designated audience). Turning research into practice is an ever-present challenge for all of us.

23Overall, the book offers a valuable contribution by providing a diverse view of the impact of majoritarian neoliberalism embedded in rapid urbanization, through its multidisciplinary approach. At the end of the introduction, the authors regret that “there are many areas originated in Bombay that this volume has not been able to address—like media and culture industry—both, print and digital and in television, OTT platforms, and film making” (p. 17). I assume from this statement that the book may have a sequel. If this happens, I am very much looking forward to its successors building upon the three volumes of 1990s-2000s and this current achievement.

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Bibliography

Bayat, Asef. 2007. “Radical Religion and the Habitus of the Dispossessed: Does Islamic Militancy Have an Urban Ecology?” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 31(3):579–90.

Bryant, Christopher GA. 1993. “Social Self-Organisation, Civility and Sociology: A Comment on Kumar’s ‘Civil Society.’” British Journal of Sociology:397–401.

Galonnier, Juliette. 2015. “The Enclave, the Citadel and the Ghetto: The Threefold Segregation of UpperClass Muslims in India.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39(1):92–111.

Patel, Sujata and Alice Thorner. 1995a. Bombay Metaphor for Modern India. Bombay: Oxford University Press Bombay.

Patel, Sujata and Alice Thorner. 1995b. Bombay Mosaic of Modern Culture. Bombay: Oxford University Press Bombay.

Patel, Sujata and Jim Masselos. 2003. Bombay and Mumbai: The City in Transition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press New Delhi.

Patel, Sujata, D. Parthasarathy and George Jose, eds. 2022. Mumbai/Bombay: Majoritarian Neoliberalism, Informality, Resistance, and Wellbeing. London and New York: Routledge.

Roy, Ananya. 2003. “Calcutta, City Requiem: Gender and the Politics of Poverty.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Saglio-Yatzimirsky, Marie-Caroline and Min Tang. 2021. “The Aesthetics of Slum? Exploring the Lived and the Imagined Narratives of Dharavi (Mumbai).” Pp. 185–206 in Aesthetic Perceptions of Urban Environments, edited by V. Arundhati. New York: Routledge.

Saunders, Doug. 2011. Arrival City. London: Windmill.

Simone, Abdou Maliq. 2010. City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads. New YRoutledge.

Tang, Min and Viviana d’Auria. 2023. “Popular Cartography: Collaboratively Mapping the Territorial Practices of/with the Urban Margin in Mumbai.” City:1–26. doi: 10.1080/13604813.2023.2219172.

Yiftachel, Oren. 2009. “Theoretical Notes Ongray Cities: The Coming of Urban Apartheid?” Planning Theory 8(1):88–100.

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References

Electronic reference

Min Tang, Sujata Patel, D. Parthasarathy, George Jose. MUMBAI/BOMBAY: Majoritarian Neoliberalassism, Informality, Resistance, and WellbeingSouth Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 31 | 2023, Online since 28 February 2024, connection on 18 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/samaj/9040; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/w3o2

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About the author

Min Tang

Research Professor, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, China

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