South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Discussant: Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, University of Chicago
Chair: Atul Kohli, Princeton University
The year 1997 marked the fiftieth anniversary of India as a sovereign democratic republic. Democracy has not only survived in India but it has widened and deepened. This is no mean achievement in light of ethnic diversity as considerable as that of Europe; social and economic inequalities that divide the citizenry; and severely strained economic resources that frustrate the quest for a more just society.
The success of democracy in India defies many prevailing theories of democratization. Atul Kohli, who chairs this panel, argues that two related sets of political processes have guided the management of power conflicts in India. First, a delicate balance has been struck between forces of centralization and decentralization. Second, accommodating the interests of the powerful while responding in a more limited way to the weaker groups may have strengthened democracy. The record on both of these fronts has been far from perfect. The failures have put a great strain on Indian democracy.
The papers explore the extent to which various tiers of the polity and mobilized groups have demanded redistribution of power and resources, to what extent the central or federal states have responded, and how these actions impact democracy. Lloyd Rudolph explores Kohlis first proposition when he argues that changes in the party system and the impact of liberalization are enhancing the autonomy of the federal states, while the implications for an appropriate centre/state balance still remain obscure. Amrita Basu suggests that when a centre or states respond positively to powerful challenges from organized caste and ethnic forces, they may indeed deepen democracy, but responsiveness to Hindu nationalist demands may weaken democracy. Mary Katzenstein explores a double logic for the consequences of social movements: their proliferation may dull the capacity of the state to respond; their activities may expand the efficacy of civil society by preparing spaces in which previously excluded groups can learn how to exercise influence.
Amrita Basu, Amherst College
My paper explores the relationship between Hindu nationalism and Indian democracy. It comprises three parts. The first examines the relationship between the growth of Hindu nationalism and the changing character of the state. There is a direct relationship between the strengthening of the state and its commitment to secular democratic principles; there is an inverse relationship between the strength of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the strength of the state. The second part assesses the implications of Hindu nationalism for Indian democracy. While it is true that the self-correcting mechanisms of the democratic system have to some extent moderated the BJPs stance, particularly when it has come to power at the regional level, I contend that the BJP has weakened the courts and the civil service, two bulwarks of Indian democracy. It has also polarized the electorate along Hindu-Muslim lines and reaped electoral dividends by fomenting riots. The last part of my paper compares the implications of Hindu nationalism with caste and ethnic mobilization. Whereas the state strengthens democratic processes by conceding rights to ethnic self-determination, it undermines democracy by accommodating groups that employ religious nationalist appeals.
In the final analysis, the threat that Hindu nationalism presents to democracy is less significant than the challenges to democracy in most post-colonial states for it entails neither the likelihood of territorial disintegration nor the creation of a religious state. But what is at stake is a more contested and possibly truncated understanding of Indian democracy. Hindu nationalism may be said to pose the greatest challenge to Indian democracy that it has confronted in fifty years of independence.
Lloyd I. Rudolph, University of Chicago
Constitutions are not monuments, their meaning and legitimacy fixed in time and space. They are contested and subject to change. Political myths and procedural consensus represent a kind of political capital that can be run down and built up, squandered or replenished. This paper will consider variations in Indias constitutional life over the fifty years since independence in 1947. My analysis of change in Indias conventional and formal constitution will include the decentralizing effects of three developments: how transformations in the party system have strengthened the role of the states, individually and collectively, in Indias federal system and in the formation of national government; how post-1991 economic liberalization policy has strengthened the states roles with respect to foreign investment, making them agents of a complex local to global economic diplomacy and holding out new promises of fiscal autonomy; how in 1992, the 73rd and 74th amendments created a constitutionally sanctioned "third tier" of local government that challenges the spatial and gender dimension of the Nehruvian style centralized state.
Mary Katzenstein, George Washington University
Existing theories about the relationship between social movements and democracy are drawn largely from the historical experience of social movements in the United States and Western Europe. Some of these studies hypothesized that the mass mobilization of the population undermined democracy by stirring sentiments and frustrations that extremist movements then captured in their bid for power. The second set of discussions developed in the context of the 1960s. This literature portrayed social movements as enhancing democratic processes by providing sectors of the population without regular channels to electoral institutions an avenue to make their claims heard. The third and still developing conversation suggests that what many countries are now experiencing is a "social movement society." The numbers of protesters has proliferated, their targets have broadened, and their reach (across national boundaries) is far wider than before. The consequence of this emergent "social movement society" (if indeed the characterization is an accurate one) is arguably both favorable and unfavorable for democracy. The "noise" such a proliferation of social protest creates may dull the capacity of the state to "listen." At the same time, the spread of social protest may be creating new locations within civil society in which new groups can seek recognition, exercise influence, and reshape social understandings.
These theories provoke questions about the relationship of social movements to democratic politics in India. Does the development of social movements since Independence fit within these frames or at the intersection of them? Do ethnic movements, Dalit organizations, environmental groups, and womens organizing provide a countervailing force against movements that make unitary and potentially xenophobic appeals? Do they strengthen the voices of the least advantaged or are they vehicles of the middle classes dressed in a populist guise? Do they enhance or do they undermine administrative and electoral institutions?