State against Margin: Search for Alternative Democratic Politics

September 15, 2015

Sanjay Kumar & Badre Alam

We citizens of India claim that we are living in the largest democratic country. But the question arises in practices and in everyday life, do democratic values exist in our caste ridden society? And secondly, more importantly, how could we fight with present communal and authoritarian and corporate regime under the leadership of Modi. Finally, to overcome the existing problems and challenges, how could we conceptualize the agenda of alternative democratic politics in India? These are the some questions; we intend to discuss in this essay, drawing some insights from the writings of the Dr. Ambedkar and Rajni Kothari.

One cannot deny that increasing social violence against Dalits, Adivasi and Minorities has become a order of day. In other words, the language of Indian politics has constructed in a such way, when a social group like Adivasis demand their rights and exercise political agency, immediately Indian state and its agencies call them anti-development, and in the case of Dalits state calls them sectarian. In similar vein, if Muslims try to exercise their political agency than they treated and considered as illiberal and anti-national. Before delving into these issues, let us first discuss the trajectory and crisis of Indian politics.

To understand more, let us unravel the history of Indian political and social life, immediately after the imposition of emergency in 1975. And secondly, how the State and its institutions had became an authoritarian under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. To elucidate point further let us discuss the views of social and political scientists with regard to emergency and it implications for the society at large. Here it is more appropriate to discuss the view of the noted social scientist Rajni Kothari, on crisis of political and public institutions in India.

State and Social conflicts:-

Professor Kothari in his book – State Against democracy (1988), demonstrated that how state has curtailed the freedom and liberty of citizens. In the words of Kothari- ‘the sharp decline in the role of the state as mediator in social conflicts and growing loss of faith in the political process among both operator of the system and the people at large are producing conditions not just of political instability but of incipient breakdown of the social order. The Result is large scale social violence, the rise of negativist identities (Communal and otherwise) and the doctrine of exclusion and dispensability according to which entire populations are looked upon as undesirable and unwanted’ (Kothari: 1988, i).

While highlighting the limitations of the electoral democracy, Kothari has pointed out that electoral democracy is very partial democracy and can in fact coexist with extremely reactionary elements. In contrast to this, true democracy, he suggests, is the notion of a large and extensive infrastructure of the people’s organization (Kothari: 252).

Having discussed the institutional crisis and withering democracy, which had been confronted by masses during emergency, Kothari suggests an alternative view to overcome the crisis. For Kothari, alternative concept of politics emerges after the solidarity of the affected strata such as religious minorities and social minorities ranging from dalits and adivasis to historical disadvantaged communities ( Kothari: 1988, 253).

On the issue of communalism and how to fight against its menace, Kothari points out:

Communalism in India especially at recent vintage is a direct outcome of the decline in democratic politics in participation, in effective citizen action. It is only by rejuvenating citizen initiatives and forcing state to concede the just demands of the minorities that a long-term strategy combating communalism can evolve (Kothari: 1988, 253).

What Kothari talked about as an institutional crisis in his book State Against democracy (1988), Dr. Ambedkar had predicted before the independence and said that-

On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril….

Attacks on Margin:-

It is a fact that both public intellectual insights are even relevant to understand the current crisis of State and civil society in contemporary India. It is not wrong to say that current political dispensation led by Narendar Modi has also created several crises such as growing communalism, saffornisation of higher education, brutal inhuman treatment towards minorities, and attacks on their religious places. In the case of Adivasis, the government’s attitude is very insensitive and the Land Acquisition Bill is likely to destroy theie livelihood and culture.

In a similar vein, growing atrocities against Dalits and rape cases against women are increasing day by day in BJP regime. It is very ironical that state and its institutions are not in accordance with the Constitutional morality, but on contrary guided by the upper caste patriarchal and Brahminical values.

Now it would be appropriate to highlights the recent incidents, which took place in Modi’s regime. For instance, in the case of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circles (IIT Madras), IIFT Pune and Pandeychey University (PU), appointments of RSS-affiliated and communal minded individuals on the higher post of the academic institutions and research centers to destroyed autonomy, diversity, and creativity.

One can see that Ambedkar had always criticised Hindutava ideology and he even opposed partition. He believed that partition will only strengthen and encouraged Hindu Raj. In one of his writings “Must There Be Pakistan”, he says,

If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.

Further Ambedkar added that in India minority had put their faith in the rule of the majority and it was the duty of the latter not to discriminate against them. He further said that the moment discrimination ceased, the minorities will have no grounds to exit. They will vanish. However Ambedkar continued, the problem lay in the fact that the majority in India was communal, and not a political majority.

No one has doubts that RSS and BJP are anti-democracy, minority, women, national, and Dalits and are pro-corporate, as well as being deeply involved in anti-pluralism activitues. To some extent RSS and BJP successes after Babri Masque Demolition, Gujarat genocide, and growing communalism are to divert marginalized community from real issues like poverty, education, and social discrimination. But now Muslim and Christian are more targeted in form of communal program like Ghar Wapsi.


Search for Alternative politics:-

We have discussed the arguments of Rajni Kothari and Dr Ambedkar about predicament of Indian Society; confronting today from various quarters such as crisis of institutions, rise of communalism, and pauperisation of the subaltern masses. In addition to this, crisis of public intellectuals, civil society, and mainstream political parties have failed to conceptualise resistance movement launch by subaltern masses in theory and practice. Ambedkar and Kothari both have identified existing crisis in Indian society at different points of time. It is argued that electoral democracy is not going to provide the solution.

To be very brief, Ambedkar during the formative year of nation-building argued that if political democracy failed to bring out social and economic democracy than in future, political democracy will put in peril. In similar vein, late 1980s, Rajni Kothari had also got disenchanted with functioning of Indian state and its authoritarian intuitions. And, therefore argued for alternative framework for democratic politics, which was rooted in grassroots movement and peace and organisation such as PUCL and PUDR and other human rights groups.

After the completion of the one year of Modi’s government, some social and political scientists have argued that there is similarity between Modi and Indira Gandhi governments because both have centralised the authority in their own hand. Here the question arises, who is going to create counter-hegemonic space against the present authoritarian regime? And secondly, do pubic intellectuals, civil society, or subaltern masses have subversive potentials to buid up effective alliance against present political dispensation? As Kothari has reminded us that, it is the responsibility of the public and political intellectuals to be critical of the existing political regime. However, it is very unfortunate that most of the public intellectuals are unresponsive to needs and problems of the subaltern masses.

However, it is fact that at present BJP and RSS combine are willing to communalise and polarize the Indian society on the basis of the religion as in the Yakub Menon case. Here we suggest that the question of religious minorities’ issues must not be fought in isolation because it will further communalize society and generate a situation like ‘Competitive Communalism’ as it happened in the case of Shah Bano. In a given political context, Muslims must not follow the path of Secular Sectarianism as it happen in many cases. In our view, present political dispensation and its institutions are not only against religious minorities but also against social minorities such as Dalits and Adivasies. In this regards, a recent EPW editorial (August8, 2015, EPW, p.7) says that:

Almost four people are killed every day extra legally by state while in its custody. Violence against the poor in country most often goes without notice. The terror of weak remain unpunished, whether it is communal violence, caste violence or gender violence.

To fight against increasing authoritarianism, it is necessary to build-up wider solidarity between social and religious minorities to fights against the existing authoritarian state. It is not wrong to say that some potential ground seems to be shaping up against the government such in the case of Ambedkar Periyar study circles and former movement against land Accusation Bill and various resistance movements against MNCs like POSCO project and more recently in case of Yakub Memon.

[Sanjay Kumar, Ph.D Research Scholar, Academy International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Badre Alam, Ph.D, Research Scholar, Political Science Department, University of Delhi.]