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Updated: April 28, 2014 21:42 IST

Contextualising development in a democracy

C. P. Bhambhri
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POLITICS IN INDIA — Structure, Process, and Policy: Subrata K. Mitra; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 595.
POLITICS IN INDIA — Structure, Process, and Policy: Subrata K. Mitra; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 595.

The market model of "rational choice", where interests compete, provides a very superficial picture of politics.

This is a well-written book on the post-Independence story of India’s political journey in seven chapters. The author devotes attention to the problems, difficulties and challenges faced by “leaders of modern India” engaged in managing “the transition from colonial rule to democratic governance” in the last six and half decades. The author says “the legacies of British colonial rule”, even “unintended”, led to the growth “of an elite well-versed in the rule of parliamentary democracy”, but because of the adverse and negative consequences of the “long bleeding process of India” by the British colonisers, led to the total disruption of Indian social relations. This is the reason that Indians are engaged in tracking many, multiple and varied agendas which are a direct product of policies pursued by the colonisers.

In this specific historical situation, politics has to be in the driver’s seat, as many agendas have to be tackled simultaneously and many a time political intervention in one aspect of public life immediately creates a situation that has to be addressed before a volcano of contradictions bursts. The author has appropriately focused his attention on “the process of politics-led democratic social change” and he further opines that the selective and strategic allocation of resources, rather than violence or manipulation of human networks – is the main mode of politics in India”.

The primary focus is on mechanisms of management of politics and for the understanding of the tasks of politics, political institutions like federalism, elections, participation and executive, Parliament and judiciary. The scope of this study is a logical extension of the American academic approach of “rational choice” for the understanding of the structures and processes of Indian politics. ‘Rational choice’ is defined by theorists as a situation in which “the entire gamut of politics acquires its direction and momentum from leaders and followers, stakeholders and rebels, providers of patronage and supplicants, who are driven by the single desire to get more than what they want: As rational actors, they seek to avoid the worst and settle down for what is acceptable under the circumstances. It has been suggested that politics in Indian has shown resilience, survivability and gradual adaptive capacities because the institutions of governance based on electoral legitimacy have been able to find solutions and resolve conflicts among competing demands of interest and pressure groups. This leads the author to celebrate: “The reason that the post-colonial state in India has been more successful than many others in achieving orderly rule, democracy, legitimacy, welfare, and citizenship is because leaders and bureaucrats have successfully guided the actors towards behaviour amenable to rules, co-authored by the state and society.”

India has managed difficult problems like economic development on the basis of participatory competitive democracy, has tackled the enormous problem of mass poverty and inequalities by evolving suitable welfare activities and by following policies of social justice based on affirmative action and positive discrimination. In this process, the idea of rights-based citizenship has also been addressed to a large extent. The ground for the relatively successful functioning of democracy with development has been laid down and politics of “continuity and change” through normal institutional channels of the state is at work and the unfinished tasks like identity politics are expected to be resolved on the basis of “give and take” among competing and contending identity-based groups.

If the scholar had followed or even debated alternative philosophical, theoretical and methodological approaches to the scientific study of politics, he would have realised that the market model of “rational choice”, where interests compete, provides a very superficial picture of politics. It is theory and methodology that provide a real key for the study of difficult questions about private property ownership based democracies irrespective of their geographical location. It is not without reason that all famous theorists of democracy from John Locke to John Stuart Mill and John Rawls have ended up as patrons-in-chief of “an empty liberty and abstract individual” because at the theoretical and philosophical level they have failed to find an answer to the basic contradiction between “individual liberty and rights”, and any kind of individual and social equality in any society where institution of private property ownership determines and decides social relationship. It is not without reason that in spite of huge funding by American foundations and financial support given by speculator billionaire George Soros, scholars of democracy in capitalist countries around the world have produced studies on institutions of democracy, citizenship, civil society and minority rights have shied away from asking the basic question: what is the social essence of democracy in the 21 century? Why did Dwight Eisenhower, in his Presidential farewell address, alert his countrymen that they are ruled by an “industrial-military” complex where real power is concentrated? The study of institutional mechanisms of governance is completely sterile without tackling the basic issue of ‘Who rules us in a class-divided society. The raising of this issue will compel academics to grapple with a different set of questions which have engaged serious attention of great masters of philosophy.

This argument gets further substantiated when one comes across studies on India’s unique model of ‘development with democracy’ because many other new entrants have flowed strategies of development under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. This author also falls into this trap because the original formulator of this model, Jawaharlal Nehru, at the end of the 1950s in his ‘Basic Approach’ had stated that India’s ‘Third Way of Mixed Economy was completely different from the prevailing models of free market capitalism and USSR’s design of socialist economic planning. Nehru has been condemned for following the mixed economy model based on economic planning in the democratic framework and all credit has been given to the formulators of New Economic Policy of 1991 for achieving rising rates of economic growth while functioning in ‘democracy’, especially unlike China, a competitor of India.

While a large of energy and effort has been invested in finding the secret of the success of ‘democracy with economic development’, the real issue of growing inequalities of income and disparities, which are a logical product of this so-called Indian model has been ejected from the public domain. The absolute majority of population stands completely “excluded” from the so-called benefits of the rising rates of economic growth. It is a cruel joke that Indian academics are parrot-like repeating that it is in the logic of universal adult franchise based democracy that political parties–in-government have to pursue “socially inclusive’ policies and programmes. If this is so, the explanations should also be found for growing inequalities and social disparities in society; and this unstoppable process of “social exclusion” of the absolute majority of population from the mainstream should also be studied to properly contextualise the reality of “Democracy and Development”.

POLITICS IN INDIA — Structure, Process, and Policy: Subrata K. Mitra; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 595.

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