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Protection Rackets and Party Machines

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Comparative Ethnographies of “Mafia Raj” in North India

image of Asian Journal of Social Science

Control over means of violence and protection emerge as crucial in much research on corruption in non-South Asian contexts. In the Indian context, however, we still know little about the systems of organised violence that sustain the entanglement of crime, capital and democratic politics. This timely comparative ethnographic piece explores two different manifestations of what our informants identify as “Mafia Raj” (“rule by mafia”) across North India (Uttar Pradesh and Punjab). Drawing on analytical concepts developed in the literature on bossism and “mafias”, we explore protection and racketeering as central statecraft repertoires of muscular styles of governance in the region. We show how a predatory economy together with structures of inter- and intra-party political competition generate the demand for and the imposition of unofficial and illegal protection and shape different manifestations of Mafia Raj. In doing so, the paper aims to contribute to debates on the relationship between states and illegalities in and beyond South Asia.

Affiliations: 1: University of Zurich ; 2: University College London


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