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All Well with Indian Democracy?


Valerian Rodrigues

INDIAN DEMOCRACY: MEANINGS AND PRACTICES
Edited by Rajendra Vora and Suhas Palshikar
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 447, Rs. 680.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 4 April 2005

Given the kind of literature available, reflective considerations on Indian democracy can be foregrounded on diverse planks: What makes Indian democracy click in spite of all the forebodings against it? Historically, what are the major phases of its growth, consolidation or possibly decline and the lessons to be drawn from such outcomes? How is democracy institutionalized in India and what institutions and ways of life has it come to cherish and what has been undermined in the process? What are the social bases of Indian democracy and what have been the shifts in these respects over time? What are the different levels of organizing democracy in India—national, regional and local—and the kind of heterogeneities it has bred and shared ways of life it has fostered? Has Indian scholarship produced a body of concepts that could be considered enriching or advancing democratic theory given the rich experience in store? Should Indian democracy be concep-tually located as an instance of a universal mode of rule shading off its powerful strokes of difference or itself be seen as a possible mode of organizing public life by laying stress on its difference? There could be other launching pads but existing studies on Indian democracy specifically foreground some of these questions. The collection of essays brought together in this volume do not share a common perspective and do not claim to propose one either. Most of the essays are attempts at stock-taking of Indian democracy, underscoring its strengths and weaknesses and in a few instances suggesting ways of strengthening the same. A majority of the essays do not seem to be celebratory about Indian democracy and a deep sense of unease and pessimism permeates across them.   The first six essays in the volume review the trajectory of democracy or of its significant conjunctures and propose the emerging slope of Indian democracy. Keeping the currently evolving configuration of the world and the course of Indian democracy in view, in the charting of which he has played a significant role, Rajni Kothari feels that “India’s representative democracy, the federal system and its extension through decentralization, the lynch pin of which were elections and parties seems to be reaching its limits” (p. 45) and “more decentralized, diversity based pluralistic” alternative, the current slogan of the day, “is by no means going to produce results right away” (p. 49). He advocates moving in two directions, “both the transformation ...


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