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Producing local neoliberalism in a leftist regime: neoliberal governmentality and populist transition in West Bengal, India

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This paper presents a theoretical reassessment of a much debated chapter in India’s economic liberalisation - the case of West Bengal, a state ruled by the pro-labour Left Front coalition, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM) from 1997 to 2011. The onset of neoliberalism in India had naturally created a serious political dilemma for the CPIM, but it eventually transitioned to a private-industrialisation agenda, thus prompting serious questions about its ideological deviation from a Leftist path. While the political-economy of the CPIM/Left Front and its industrial fortunes have been under extensively scrutinised, this study introduces a rather different theoretical perspective on the story. Going back to the initial period of the policy transition (c.1994), it uses the analytical categories of local neoliberalisms and populist transition to show how the state of affairs in West Bengal under the CPIM was demonstrative of a particular variant of interventionist neoliberal governmentality, characterised by a gradual intensification of pro-market impulses in both action and discourse. Furthermore, the study also contextualises West Bengal within wider political economic trends, arguing that pro-market transitions by populist regimes tend to be characterised by a series of mobile calculative techniques of governing, embedded in local historical and geographical specificities and localised relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-391
Number of pages19
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number3
Early online date15 Mar 2019
Publication statusEarly online - 15 Mar 2019


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