This paper explores how social mobilisation and the state interact, influence and mutually constitute each other in India, Brazil and South Africa. Given their broad similarities of democratic political structures, as emerging economies that now often commonly characterise them as ‘middle-income’ and of their persistent socioeconomic inequalities, a focus on these three countries offers opportunities for a comparative analysis on whether and to what extent democracy is deepened to meet the needs of the poor through state-society interactions. Through a political process approach that combines historical analysis with select cases from each country, we critically examine the modes of interaction between forms of mobilisation that raise citizen demands and the state response.
The findings show that these states find it comfortable to adopt participatory modes and to engage with forms of mobilisation that are perceived (from within their institutional ranks) to be close to their own framework and strategy of action. However, the cases in which citizens raise legitimate yet contentious demand through protests and other forms of contestations are highly likely to meet state resistance. However, from the citizen’s point of view, action is important, and despite the potential lack of state response, contributes to a sense of agency and empowerment which is crucial for democracy. Not letting the state off the hook, the paper argues, is in itself an empowering expression of citizenship and political identity.