This article examines the relationship between caste identities and electoral democracy in India. Drawing from fieldwork in Bihar, I suggest that at the center of what is popularly referred to as “caste politics” is the influence of local relations of dominance and subordination on electoral practice, resulting in what I refer to as “territorial democracy.” The article examines how a politics of caste empowerment has challenged a long history of upper caste hegemony, contributing to a breakdown of state institutions as newly elected lower-caste politicians have clashed with an overwhelmingly upper-caste bureaucracy. The article seeks to demonstrate the radical potentiality of democracy and argues that an ethnographic mapping of the ways in which electoral practice is embedded within local power configurations is necessary in order to understand the dynamics and implications of democracy in the postcolonial world.
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