Dr. Ravi Shankar Jayaram (Fellow, Ashoka University)

Municipal Hindu Nationalism: Altered Power Relations and Hindu Nationalist Political Symbolic Forms in Agra’s Urban Political Processes

1 August 2019 – 1 March 2020

Agra Municipal Corporation’s (AMC) power order reflects the transformation of urban Hindu nationalism in Uttar Pradesh. Between 2000 and 2017, AMC incorporated Dalits and other backward classes (OBCs) as elected politicians. By 2017, most elected BJP politicians represented these communities in urban UP. Mayors and city councillors coming from Dalit and OBC communities sponsored Hindu nationalist public rituals, symbols and Hindu temples. This allowed non-Brahmin urban interest groups to coalesce which altered power relations in Agra’s urban polity.

This paper analyses how the BJP’s symbolic strategies incorporated non-Brahmin interest groups in Agra. It investigates whether programmatic elite-citizen linkages are electorally significant for democratic political institutions in urban India. Accordingly, the paper analyses the implementation of affordable housing policies in urban UP. It analyses how the BJP established significant political linkages with historically marginalized ethnic groups, and simultaneously mobilized traditional elite core BJP voters. This research is based on ethnographic political inquiry on urban politics in UP.

The paper is based on official policy data and empirical data collected through ethnographic political inquiry in urban UP. Between 1989 and 2019, the democratic political mobilization of historically marginalized ethnic groups significantly increased the political influence of these disadvantaged groups in urban UP. The BJP significantly counteracted the electoral mobilization of ethnic political parties led by the OBCs and scheduled castes in UP between 2014 and 2019. Economic change, the assertion of lower-caste politics, and urbanization enabled BJP’s electoral success in north India. The BJP, once confined to its core voters among traditional urban commercial elites, significantly expanded its electoral coalition to include historically marginalized ethnic voters after 2014.

This project examines how the BJP displaced rival ethnic political parties in urban UP. In Agra, more than twenty thousand people benefitted from welfare policies providing affordable housing to those from the historically marginalized ethnic groups. During Narendra Modi’s premiership, significant state resources were invested in programmatic political linkages in urban UP. Cooperative institutional arrangements between national, provincial and urban local government in UP executed affordable housing policies benefitting the urban poor. An analysis of empirical ethnographic data and official documents on affordable housing policies implemented by state and local government will be used to examine the association between economic change and the multi-ethnic transformation of Hindu nationalist electoral politics in urban UP.


Ravi Shankar Jayaram was awarded a doctorate in political science from King’s College London in 2016. His doctoral dissertation was based on political ethnography investigating the association between political change and policy in urban Uttar Pradesh. After completing his doctoral dissertation, he was employed at KOAN Advisory, a consultancy specializing in public affairs in New Delhi, and has been a post-doctoral tutor at Ashoka University. He completed military service in Switzerland in 2019. His research on urban politics has been published in the Hindustan Times, and the Wire. 

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