Gentrifying the State, Gentrifying Participation: Elite Governance Programs in Delhi


Recent scholarship has highlighted the central role of India’s ‘new middle class’ in gentrifying and ‘cleaning up’ its cities. According to this literature, this class experienced a political awakening in the 1990s and began mobilizing to reclaim urban space from the poor. Using the example of Delhi’s Bhagidari scheme, a governance experiment launched in 2000, I argue that urban middle‐class power did not emerge from internal changes within this class itself (as is commonly argued), but was rather produced by the machinations of the local state. In particular, I show how Bhagidari has realigned the channels by which citizens can access the state on the basis of property ownership. In so doing, it has undermined the electoral process dominated by the poor, and privileged property owners’ demands for a ‘world‐class’ urban future. By examining the ‘new state spaces’ it constructs, I show how Bhagidari has effectively gentrified the channels of political participation, respatializing the state by breaking the informal ties binding the unpropertied poor to the local state and thereby removing the obstacles to large‐scale slum demolitions. In making this argument, the article introduces a unique approach to mapping state space that aims to reveal the relationship between state form and political participation.