University of Sussex
Spicer, Jennifer Margaret.pdf (2.43 MB)

Feeding the people: deliberative democracy and the politics of India’s national food security policy

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Version 2 2024-02-06, 17:23
Version 1 2023-06-10, 02:13
posted on 2024-02-06, 17:23 authored by Jennifer Spicer

In the summer of 2013, India’s Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act, a global landmark in efforts to materialise the right to food. It was the culmination of a long political process involving an umbrella campaign of national and local pressure groups and an extended Supreme Court case, before the eventual adoption of the issue by political parties. The NFSA was also one of a series of flagship rights-based social policies legislated by the Congress-led coalition government; it would ultimately prove to be the last, as the general election of 2014 delivered a majority to the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Given the longstanding and widespread problems of malnutrition and the country’s history of starvation deaths and, under colonial rule, famine, this legislation carried the potential to address a deep-rooted inequality which has left its marks on the bodies of those who make up the world’s largest democracy. Despite its reasonable pride in the eradication of famine since independence, India has fared poorly in comparison with its authoritarian neighbour China when it comes to quotidian hunger and malnutrition, with surveys showing persistently high levels of low calorie intake and micronutrient deficiency, along with the physiological results in terms of wasting and stunting. Reports of deaths from starvation have repeatedly haunted governments. Children, women, and members of protected caste and ethnic minorities (Scheduled Castes and Tribes) are at especially high risk of adverse outcomes. The NFSA thus represented an opportunity to deal with the apparent failure of the democratic process to protect India’s citizens from suffering the lack of the most basic necessities of life. Focusing primarily on the period from 2001 to 2013, this thesis engages with Habermas’ theory of deliberative democracy to analyse the political processes and argumentation around the development of the National Food Security Act. Through documentary analysis and the use of interview data from a period of fieldwork in Delhi, I examine the evolution of the legislation in order to consider the relevance of the theory to India and what the Indian experience has to teach us about the advantages and limitations of such a normative approach to politics.


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Gerard Delanty and Catherine Will

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