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In India, Everyone!

Kamal Mitra Chenoy

By Javeed Alam
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 143, Rs. 175.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

Who wants democracy? A terribly simpleminded question many might say. In an Indian democracy everyone must. But as Javeed Alam, a prominent political theorist shows in this simply, yet elegantly written book the answer to his basic question is not quite that simple. Using data compiled from a study by V.B. Singh and Subrata Mitra, Professor Alam statistically illustrates some of his always interesting, often profound findings.   For example, in 1971 only 48 per cent of the Indian electorate thought that their vote had any impact on how the country is governed. By 1996, this had climbed to a little less than 60 per cent, an increase that in a democracy marked by mass poverty and inequality, is as Alam notes “enormous”. In this there is a specially high regard for the judiciary and the election commission. In 1996, more than 75 per cent felt these functioned in a commendable manner; a degree of confidence that many democracies, including in the global North would envy. Interestingly, in the seventies, eighties and nineties, when there was a perceptible decline in political institutions which scholars like Rajni Kothari, James Manor, et. al. commented on at the time, close to 70 per cent of those polled opposed a system without parties and elections. This demonstrated not only the people’s robust political sense but the deep roots that democratic institutions had in Indian society.   One wishes that at this point Alam had spoken of the profound compromises made during the drafting of the Indian constitution, which he conventially refers to as a “covenant” between the ruling elite and the people. The only economic right in the Fundamental Rights was the right to property that served the propertied who were overwhelmingly represented in the Constituent Assembly. People’s rights like the right to work, right to livelihood, right to leisure, right to education were in the non-justiciable Directive Principles. Speaking on November 25, 2005 just before the draft Constitution was adopted, Dr. Ambedkar warned that though the Constitution had established political equality, it had not significantly removed social and economic inequality. So the Indian Constitution is indeed a covenant, but a highly unequal one.   Alam also notes the changing structure of the middle strata, and influential segment of the Indian polity. The rise of the OBCs and their inclusion along with the dalits and adivasis in the middle class, he terms the neo-middle class. The displacement of the of the exclusionary representation ...

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