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

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Exception and Exceptionalism in Politics

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The recent developments leading to the change of guard in the Congress-led state government in Punjab leave a compelling effect on one’s thinking about the practice of electoral politics. The elevation of a Dalit to the position of chief minister can prompt us to think out of the box about the politics in India. That is to say, we need to use the occasion to make a more comprehensive statement, markedly different from the usual thinking that locates such political choices in terms of a narrow party or caste interests. From a realist point of view, the developments in Punjab could be seen as resulting from the Congress party’s workable electoral calculations, strategies to brighten their electoral prospects, or, at best, they express rhetorical allegiance to equality or minimal compliance to the principle of social justice. It is minimal because such opportunities—in the political history of Punjab—are, arguably, rare and promise some semblance of partially achieving the goal of social justice. These opportunities are also fair because they offer some kind of parity with the opportunities that are enjoyed by the non-Dalit chief ministers. Also, such opportunities offer status equality and make sense in a context where it is a rare experience for a Dalit, Adivasi, or minority chief minister to continue for three to four terms in office. However, one’s social background should not be taken as the condition to seek permanence in the chief minister’s office. The opportunity to become a chief minister is tokenism. This is rightly termed by the editorial comment in the current EPW issue, as a token commitment to the principle of social justice.

The elevation of a Dalit to the position of chief minister in the particular context of Punjab has led some to link the decision to tokenism. The political judgment producing the situation of exception may have relevance at least from the point of view of those who necessarily hold on to the realist idea of politics. Thus, from the realist point of view, the appointment of a Dalit chief minister can be considered as significant in the specific context of Punjab, where the Dalits never found such opportunities despite their demographic preponderance over other castes in the state. It is in this context that the Congress’s decision could be seen as a step that could be undermining the unwritten rule, according to which the non-Dalit holds the most coveted position. Moreover, such decisions could also be defended in the context where even the left parties missed this opportunity to elevate a Dalit to such a position. For some, such a decision may sound to be desirable in the context where such a possibility does not even exist in the power configuration of right-wing parties.

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Updated On : 2nd Oct, 2021
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