Hydropower Politics in Northeast India: Dam Development Contestations, Electoral Politics and Power Reconfigurations in Sikkim

Rinchu Doma Dukpa, Jaime Hoogesteger, Gert Jan Veldwisch*, Rutgerd Boelens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Around the world, the development of large dams has been increasingly contested. India is no exception and has seen the mobilisation of powerful domestic and transnational socio-environmental movements against dams over more than four decades. In this context, the State of Sikkim in northeast India has been entangled in prolonged hydropower development conflicts since the late 1990s. This article analyses these conflictive entanglements between the Government of India, the State Government of Sikkim, power companies and Sikkim’s autochthonous tribe, the Lepchas. It zooms in on the period of 2011–2017, which saw an abrupt escalation of the conflicts to analyse the messy, deeply political and often unpredictable and contradictory world of dam construction and its contestations. Our analysis is informed by the power cube framework developed by John Gaventa. Our analysis shows how hydropower development is deeply intertwined with local patronage relationships. We show how local elections bring out dam conflict and the operation of power into the open, sometimes leading to abrupt and unexpected switches in positions in relation to hydropower development. We show that these switches should be seen not only as “strategic electoral tactics” but also and importantly as contentious political struggles that (re)configure power in the region. We show how in this process, powerful political actors continuously seek to stabilise power relations among the governing and the governed, choreographing a specific socio-hydraulic order that stretches way beyond simple pro- and anti-dam actors and coalitions as it is embedded in deep hydro(-electro) politics and power plays.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1061
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • hydro-electro politics
  • hydropower development
  • movements
  • power
  • Sikkim


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