“You can't buy a vote”

Meanings of money in a Mumbai election

by Lisa Björkman

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In Mumbai elections, an influx of money is not leading to the commoditization of the vote. Rather, as ethnographic analysis shows, actors involved with moving money have divergent and sometimes-conflicting aspirations, motivations, and agendas, within which cash plays multiple roles simultaneously. Election-time cash flow inhabits a deeply political landscape of contestation where issues at the heart of Mumbai's modernity—land use, infrastructural investment, and business prospects—are negotiated and speculated on. These findings critically engage a conceptual terrain that counterposes individual rationality and political choice to traditional forms of authority mediated by relations of patronage, while producing important insights into long-standing anthropological debates on money and exchange.