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‘Democracy belongs to the dissenters’

Talk by Marxist political theorist and philosopher Prof. Aijaz Ahmad

March 22, 2021 09:17 am | Updated 09:17 am IST - Bengaluru

Marxist political theorist and philosopher Prof. Aijaz Ahmad expressed concern that the surge in ‘spectacular resistance movements’ emerging across the country might peter out if there is no political centre around which they can coalesce. He was delivering a talk, ‘Making Sense of Our times: Democracy, Debate, Dissent’, organised by Bengaluru Collective and moderated by N. Ram, Director, The Hindu Publishing Group, on Sunday.

Drawing a parallel to the Arab Spring movements that were eventually defeated, he said, “How do you bring these various resistance movements by farmers, minorities, students, Dalits among others, in relation to each other in such a way that it doesn’t remain fragmented?” The real question in India is whether there can be a political centre around which these forces can coalesce. “The powers that be will try to suppress them, with structures of liberal state increasingly acting in illiberal ways,” he cautioned.

Charting out the crises and failures of liberal democracies, he said that while democracy had failed as a system of governance, democracy itself truly belonged to dissenters. “I feel, to truly have democracy, we need to have socialism. There is something deeply incompatible between democracy and capitalism that only produces oligarchic power,” he said.

Describing the ongoing farmers’ agitation as ‘the first really big movement on the question of neo-liberalism’ in India, he said this was also why the government has dug in its heels.

“When farmers say Narendra Modi dare not withdraw the farm bills as ‘Ambani and Adani’ won’t allow him to do so, there is truth to it. Benito Mussolini once defined fascism as the state and corporations becoming one, which is exactly what we are seeing today. It's a global trend and India is no different,” he said.

However, he said the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not in the traditional mode of fascist takeovers, but a takeover of institutions from within.

“They filled the bureaucracy, military and judiciary with their sympathisers as much as possible. When they eventually came [to power], there was widespread acceptance and consent to their ideology and politics. Now, these institutions, including the judiciary, are ensuring that this government lasts in the foreseeable future,” he said.

According to Prof. Ahmad, the roots of the democratic crisis in the country run far deeper.

He spoke of the failure of the Indian state in the first decades, when it did not create a popular base for democracy to take root above race, caste and classes.

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