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Contextualizing Indian Politics

Roshni Sengupta

By Subrata K. Mitra
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 405, Rs. 595.00


The year 2014 would be remembered mainly for a rather bitter, raucous, debilitating and personalized election campaign, which has not only driven the already polarized electorate to choose on the basis of religion, caste and ethnicity, but also enlarged the area of influence of marginal players transforming the political landscape of India for all time to come. As politics in this teeming and throbbing nation made up of several ethnic groups and nationalities witnessed most recently in the largely successful movement for a separate State of Telangana carved out of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, primarily on the basis of linguistic and cultural difference, changes for better or for worse, it becomes imperative for scholars to document and analyse these transformations taking place at a rapid pace. Subrata K. Mitra’s updated edition of his seminal work on politics in India lays bare the problems arising out of a one-dimensional view of processes and the making and unmaking of institutions.   India’s success at not only sustaining a democratic political system, but also the myriad hued process of democratic deepening despite simmering ethnic and religious conflicts, regular and recurrent terrorist violence orchestrated by external and internal forces, and widespread poverty, marks her out as an exceptional example particularly when compared to China as well as some middle-level developing countries such as Mexico and Iran. In view of the Indian political experience, therefore, the book poses questions pertinent to a comprehensive understanding of political structures and processes and the changes taking place therein. The consummate ease with which the political class succeeded in steering the fledgling nation after its dismemberment in 1947 on the basis of religion towards a thriving parliamentary democracy reflects in the presumptuous dichotomy between vast swathes of poor and marginalized sections of the population jostling for space with the ambitious burgeoning urban middle class. It also leads to raised eyebrows against the model of development followed by the economic planners at the helm, which has summarily failed to eradicate poverty even though several welfare measures and empowerment schemes have been successfully implemented, rights guaranteed and a reasonable degree of social integration achieved. Praiseworthy as it may be, the accomplishment of forging a realistically equal society with old hierarchies challenged if not broken, based on the strength of democratic socialism has met with only relative success. Hence, the story of India remains one of unprecedented social paradoxes.   The scholarly work under ...

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