Rajesh VeeraraghavanMay 31, 2022
Information Politics and Social Change in India
Oxford University Press 2021
How can development programs deliver benefits to marginalized citizens in ways that expand their rights and freedoms? Political will and good policy design are critical but often insufficient due to resistance from entrenched local power systems.
Rajesh Veeraraghavan's book Patching Development: Information Politics and Social Change in India (Oxford UP, 2021) is an ethnography of one of the largest development programs in the world, the Indian National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and examines in detail NREGA’s implementation in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It finds that the local system of power is extremely difficult to transform, not because of inertia, but because of coercive counter-strategy from actors at the last mile and their ability to exploit information asymmetries. Upper-level NREGA bureaucrats in Andhra Pradesh do not possess the capacity to change the power axis through direct confrontation with local elites, but instead have relied on a continuous series of responses that react to local implementation and information, a process of patching development. Patching development is a top-down, fine-grained, iterative socio-technical process that makes local information about implementation visible through technology and enlists participation from marginalized citizens through social audits. These processes are neither neat nor orderly and have led to a contentious sphere where the exercise of power over documents, institutions, and technology is intricate, fluid, and highly situated. The book throws new light on the challenges and benefits of using information and technology in novel ways to implement development programs. While focused on one Indian state, the implications for increasing citizen participation and government transparency have global relevance.
Sneha Annavarapu is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Yale-NUS College.