This paper examines the politics of urban space in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, focussing particular attention on the relationship of urban redevelopment to neoliberalism, Hindu nationalist politics and their intersections. While many scholars have studied the multiple ways in which urban landscapes are being re-imagined and re-configured as a result of neoliberal programs, few like Jane M. Jacobs and Arjun Appadurai have sought to specifically focus on the ways in which these neoliberal reconfigurations of the city intersect with racial, religious, and ethnic politics. This paper seeks to contribute to this slim but important body of literature so that we might better understand the multiple articulations and geographical specificities of this intersection and the challenges that it poses for creating inclusive cities in many parts of the world. Furthermore, by locating this study in Ahmedabad, a city which on the one hand has witnessed recurring violence against its minority Muslims at the instigation of Hindu nationalist organizations, and on the other hand is increasingly becoming an important local and regional site for articulating the desire to be “global,” this paper hopes to shed light on the ways in which, through their intersections in urban space, the neoliberal project and religious identity politics reconfigure each other, opening up at the same time greater challenges and new possibilities in the struggle for social justice.
The paper examines the politics of urban space in Ahmedabad largely through the lens of an ambitious urban redevelopment project – the Sabaramti River Front Development Project, a US$ 262 million project currently under implementation. By interrogating the discourses and practices that constitute the multiple visions for and claims to the spaces marked for redevelopment under the project, and by examining the ways in which various actors attempt to negotiate their desires, interests and needs through the project, the paper seeks to make three arguments. First, that there are tensions in the pursuit of the project because of frictions between maintaining local legitimacy and pursuing neoliberal rationalities. Second, that the relationship between neoliberalism and Hindu nationalist politics is an uneasy one as a result of tensions between pursuing a wider political legitimacy for the state in order to attract global investment and pursuing blatantly exclusionary projects like Hindutva (a nationalist ideology that views India as a Hindu nation). And third, that as the class bias of urban redevelopment has collided with the religious bias of Hindu nationalist politics in a city where class and religion do not neatly overlap, the project has given rise to new, albeit fragile, alliances in the struggle for social justice and the right to the city.