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Rural/Urban Responses

Ashutosh Kumar

By Mukulika Banerjee
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xxiv 286, Rs. 495.00


India’s democracy is acknowledged and cel- ebrated, at home and abroad, especially because very few Asian, African and Latin American societies have been able to maintain liberal democratic institutions and practices. The admiration is often laced with a sense of amazement as India still lacks almost all the ingredients that are supposed to make democracy a success. For these analysts, India seems to be ‘an ideal case for testing democratic theories’ (Weiner, 1983: 51) for ‘democracy in India is a phenomenon that, by most accounts, should not have existed, flourished or indeed, long endured’ (Mehta, 2003: 2).   Against the grain of such celebration of the ‘widening’ and ‘deepening’ of democracy in India, many astute commentators have been prompt in cautioning us that democracy is being viewed and judged primarily in its minimalist electoral form, encompassing nothing but a multi-party system, regularly held elections and peaceful transfer of power. Khilnani, for example, points out that ‘the meaning of democracy has been menacingly narrowed to signify only elections’, primarily due to the ‘weakening of other democratic procedures’ (Khilnani, 1997: 58). Arguably, the ‘burden of deliberations and protest have transferred to the institution of elections alone’, as Parekh puts it (p.19). Apart from being largely free and fair and well organized by the Election Commission of India that enjoys a very high level of public trust and legitimacy, high level of electoral participation involving massive populace receives far more emphasis than substantive concerns of democracy such as freedom, justice and accountability where India’s case is not strong.   Not surprisingly, then, the study of electoral politics has assumed great currency in recent decades. A running theme in most of these studies of electoral politics in contemporary India is the phenomenon designated as ‘democratic upsurge’ (Yadav, 2000). The upsurge refers to the ‘third electoral system’ (Yadav and Palshikar, 2009) that has been marked by the fragmentation of the party system and has witnessed the mobilization and politicization of those social groups by the ‘social justice’ parties which had remained politically dormant in the initial years of Independence under the hegemony of the dominant Congress party. These groups were either economically poor or they were identity groups, which had been historically disadvantaged and hence politically dormant on the basis of caste or religion. The overall turnout level in assembly elections has touched around 70 per cent up from around 60 per cent in the 90s. There has also been a substantial narrowing of the ...

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