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Politics Matters: A Contextual Reading Of Indian Democracy

Rajeshwari Deshpande

A Project of Niraja Gopal Jayal
2016, Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 366, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

Professor Manor’s scholarship on India extends to nearly half a century now and his distinctive commentaries on various as-pects of development of politics and society have benefitted generations of students of Indian politics so far. The set of writings under review revisits some of the key themes in Indian politics that Professor Manor has addressed from time to time and helps reconstruct an important part of contemporary political history in India. This work, therefore, becomes one of the most important additions to the literature on contemporary Indian politics as politics enters a new phase after the elections in 2014. With a significant exception of his work on Karnataka, the author’s extensive writings on Indian politics so far have been mainly strewn over a number of publications in the form of book chapters, journal articles and introductions. A number of chapters included in the present collection were published outside India or have not been published at all. The collection not only brings them together but also situates them within the author’s larger theoretical/conceptual perspectives concerning politics and society in India. The chapters in the collection also benefit from Professor Manor’s studies of socio- political realities from different countries of the developed and the developing world and introduce a unique comparative dimension to the understanding of Indian politics. There are at least three important takeaways for the students of Indian politics offered in Manor’s writings. One is about the linkages of local, regional and national levels of democratic exercise and the need to understand and highlight them in our understandings of the working of Indian democracy. The other insight is about the significance of comparative exercises—not only those contextualizing the Indian experience vis-à-vis other countries but Manor also underlines the need to take up comparative exercises across Indian States to understand both the specificities of regional politics and also to generalize on the basis of these comparative understandings. But perhaps the most significant aspect of the discussion in this collection is about recognizing and respecting the ‘autonomy of the political’. To quote the author from the introduction: ‘this book argues that politics matters’. On the one hand, it avoids a reductionist understanding of democratic politics where politics is often reduced to social variables. On the other hand the book also rejects the anti- politics tendency to categorize democratic politics as essentially ‘irrational’ and as an ...

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