While I am grateful to Mr. Gudavarthy for an intelligent critique of my brief article, I’m afraid he has attributed much to me that I would quickly disown, especially the assumption that what is popular is unambiguously democratic.

If I may reformulate my argument: institutions and structures, even when born of real revolutionary upsurges such as the Soviet Revolution, can in time turn status quoist and fail to meet the constantly rising aspirations of the people. Hence a whole spectrum of critiques and actions is needed to shake up the system and re-energise it to tilt it in favour of the masses. Mr. Gudavarthy’s statement that “politics has to do with concrete interests and wider social, and cultural beliefs and prejudices of individuals and social groups and does not have the privilege to pick and choose issues” is a surprise. I thought politics was precisely about making choices from the available social realities and even seeking to construct new realities.

Indian society, like any other, comprises multiple communities, castes, classes, rich and poor and so forth; each political party chooses whether to construct its politics on one or the other of these realities And each election poses different sets of choices to the voters: strident Hindutva, development, garibi hatao and so on. Mr. Gudavarthy seems to force a choice between politics and social activism. Not a happy choice, I’m afraid. Social activism seeks to change the nature of politics, not become a substitute for it.

(Harbans Mukhia was a professor of history at JNU.)

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