ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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No More a 'Transmission Belt'

Congress after Indira: Policy, Power, Political Change (1984-2009) by Zoya Hasan (Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2012; pp xiii+256, Rs 795.

Democracy in India is greatly celebrated and much interrogated. The upshot of this interrogation has been a certain disquiet that with all the rigorous observance of formal procedure – regular elections, a well-established compact on the division of powers, and few barriers to the entry of new political players – the ethos of democracy remains weakly diffused. Unflattering epithets such as “patronage democracy” and more disparagingly, “bandit democracy” have been coined in the academic literature to characterise the curious amalgam that is political practice in India.

At the root of this is the paradox B R Ambedkar drew pointed attention to as the Constituent Assembly – a body elected on a narrow franchise of less than a sixth of the adult population – prepared to vote into existence the basic law for a sovereign republic. As he put it:

In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?

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