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Venkat, Vidya (2024) India’s Democratic Revolution: Right to Information and the Anti-corruption Discourse. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 14 March 2027.


This doctoral thesis examines the right to information movement in India emerging from a democratic process of contestation of state power. Combining ethnography with history, the thesis situates the demand for an information law within the context of the anti-corruption discourse emanating in the wake of the consolidation of political opposition to the dominant Congress party during the late seventies and traces the trajectory of the grassroots movement thereafter. The passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005 is shown here as the outcome of a process of ‘translation’ whereby diverse actors —poor villagers, urban intellectuals, bureaucrats, political actors— converged around the idea of upholding transparency and accountability in governance. Drawing upon anthropological theories of state, bureaucracy, power, corruption, and actor-network theory, the thesis ultimately addresses the research question: in what scenario does such a project of upholding state accountability via ordinary citizens and/or civil society bear fruit? The thesis demonstrates by means of an ethnographic exploration of information activism in New Delhi and Rajasthan how the formation of a ‘coalition of interest’ surrounding the desire to unseat those holding political office drives the impulse to seek accountability. The fall of the Congress-led UPA government in 2014 after the adoption of the RTI Act is analysed in this context. Using actor-network theory as a scaffold, the thesis demonstrates how state institutions also play a supportive role in the accomplishment of such a process of political accountability. The latter chapters use insights from ethnographic fieldwork to demonstrate the disintegration of such a political project after 2014, when the Indian state’s authoritarian turn impeded the formation of such a strong coalition of interest. The thesis concludes with a discussion on the possibilities and limitations of transparency activism in effecting social change.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: David Mosse
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2024 15:00
Funders: Other

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