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National Strategy Lecture - Explaining India’s peaceful transition and what means to India’s future

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  • February 12, 2011
    Speeches and Lectures

    Chair: Mr. V. Krishnappa

    Professor Mitra spoke on the topic - Governance, citizenship and India’s counter-factual democracy. In that context he spoke on how India is looked at. Whether democracy is deepening and strengthening or is it at edges? Is the state of Indian democracy such that it shows unfolding of liberal dream or will it just disappear with course of time? He suggested the theory of democratic transition and pointed out the sociology of knowledge of politics of India. Then he looked at the state from three perspectives to develop a model for India, in order for India to move from here - poverty, communitarian setups and other irrational concepts – to there - democratic institutions, other rational organisations, democracy, high growth rate, etc.

    To initiate the proceedings, Prof Mitra explained the concept of counter factual democracy, wherein he emphasised that India finds it difficult to reconcile its democratic achievements with its inconsistencies. He substantiated this with the help of examples, contrasting the inconsistencies in Indian democracy, with the help of pictorial presentation of the various comparable events. Working closely with the professional bureaucrats who act mostly by virtue of their ranks, the new political elites like army and judiciary create hybrid political system which holds modern state and traditional society together. It is an ongoing process.

    Three views of the State:

    The speaker examined the state from 3 perspectives:

    The first overview of the Indian state was from the Marxist perspective and goes back to the era of industrial revolution, when the state was considered to be the committee of bourgeoisie. Society was divided into two, on the basis of capital acquisition, as have and have nots. This according to the speaker is the fixed image of state which others have and they cannot look beyond it.

    Another way was that the State goes into battle to produce modernity, growth and institutions, and at the end has its two hands tied behind the back because of democracy. Therefore the state has to be a soft state and cannot face hard problems.

    The third way of looking at State has been drawn from the theory of Rudolf and Rudolf, wherein they defined the Indian state as the Avataars of Vishnu. Simultaneously it is also the State of Marx waiver, wherein the state has the monopoly of legitimate violence and acts as an honest broker presiding over the conflicts of the state.

    Model of the State:

    He pointed out that the Indian state keeps shuttling between neutral enforcer and partisan, on which he developed his model of state. This model presupposes that if there is a structural change in terms of industrialization and political role then the society would polarize and develop its own dynamics, which would lead to ethnic identity mobilization. The speaker compared the position of India with other post-colonial countries. For example the example of Basha Andolan that took place in Pakistan, which created political conflict in ethnic identity mobilization and destroyed the state. India could avoid such a chaos because between the political conflicts and end of all things, elite could intervene with package of policies, which would include order, welfare and identity. The speaker pointed out some of the things that are important for good governance, and for turning rebels into stakeholders. In that context, law and order management and strategic reforms are very important. And also pointing at the third factor that is dignity as to one’s language, family, identity and God, he indicated that it is sacred and if incorporated in the constitutions of the states, will transform the politics framed in sacredness into transactional. Therefore, order, welfare and identity should be put in institutional policies and processes of society to avoid any disorderliness.

    Most importantly, in India, the people took power seriously, which led to mixed economy, creating balance in the economy. According to the speaker, under the rhetoric of parliamentary politics, goes on the real public policy making, which he termed as fuzzy model of Indian state. He also indicated that for states to be successful three things are required- Efficacy, Legitimacy and Trust and explained in detail these concepts from a less ideal as well as the most ideal framework in which the modern state and institutions are bound.

    Successful Governance in India:

    The speaker said that the number of violent deaths and riots have come down from earlier times. The concept of cooperative federalism in India makes sure that the Centre help states out if they are facing impossible odds, like in case of Northeast India and Kashmir. And despite huge variations in budget contributions, India is holding together. The modern institutions are imported and reformed by way of hybridization with the help of innovative legislation, innovative institution, two-track strategy and region meets theory. However, it was pointed out by the speaker that, there is a lot of skepticism about India not only in India, but outside as well.


    There were two interesting questions asked which came up during Q & A session.

    1. Bringing out the difference between India and other colonial countries, it was pointed out that while others developed the state first and then defined their nation, India as a nation came first and then the assimilated other cultures and religions into it, as a state. How true it is?
    2. How the political discourse in India should be with respect to colonial laws?

    On the State-Nation duality, Prof Mitra explained it as a problem of political analysis as far as India is concerned. He identified instances, how a state can help without being part of the nation and supported state-nation duality.

    With respect to colonial laws, he said that the puzzle of Indian governance can be resolved by examining the colonial laws closely, understand them, protect them and then build on them.

    There was a question asked about the learnings from British and how far they worked, while pointing out the role of various movements that took place during that time like Gandhiji’s Satyagraha movement, which proved to be well controlled and successful?

    About the role of ideologies in the contemporary era, since the British rule, the speaker said that militant non-violence had been prevalent earlier, which was displayed in 1920 Gandhiji’s Satyagraha. He urged we must reuse colonial institutions to give it a democratic content. He also said that Nehru and Gandhi still can go together in the contemporary era.

    Report prepared by Haifa Peerzada, Research Intern, IDSA