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M C Raj

M C RajThe practice of governance seems to be as old as human society. Democratic form of governance has marked the history of many indigenous communities. Non-discursive praxis of democracy is very much alive in many forms of governance of indigenous communities in different parts of the world. Even in the progression of modern democracy discourses on culture developed as a scientific discipline mainly because indigenous forms of democratic governance were able to withstand the challenges of industrialization and modernization without being affected by them. Indigenous people have been practicing democratic governance without making any deliberation about it, meaning without making it into an abstract discursive practice. Progression of post-modern democracies has a specific political trajectory that is most suited to the economic and social designs of ruling oligarchies in different parts of the world. Starting from the period of enlightenment and liberalism it has made rapid strides in replacing Feudalism and Monarchy. In its trajectory it has re-invented the wheel of exploitation and oppression through the production of more acceptable and to some extent also mystifying discourses and paradigms.

 Colonial Democracy

‘Power as resistance’ sounded very attractive in as much as resistance was directed against the praxis of governance in the monarchical and feudalistic phases of history. While discourses of resistance were loaded with attractive paradigms of dissolving the concentration of power in the hands of monarchs and feudal lords, that the ‘resistant powers’ would replace such forms of governance with more sophisticated accumulation of wealth of nations and production of weapons of mass destruction was completely camouflaged under the discourses of democracy. Monarchy and Feudalism became intolerable ‘nuisance’ in the designs of liberal sharing of the wealth of nations that were accumulated through the many ‘discoveries’ and subsequent colonization of nations. Democracy became a very attractive package of governance for those who wanted to have liberal share of wealth accumulated through colonizing praxis in other parts of the world. Thus in its very emergence modern democracy had this irresistible spin of head and tail. Head for the colonizing democracies and tail for the colonized nations! Governance as practised by Great Britain and European nations during the different phases of this emergence of democracy had this stark contradiction. It was liberalism mixed with a heavy doze of protectionism in the ‘colonizer’ country. The same proponents of modern democracy in their countries practiced obsolete forms of oppressive and exploitative governance in ‘colonized’ countries. Clubbing these two dimensions together we arrive at what is proposed as ‘colonial democracy’.

One cannot escape from the embedding of a design of dominance within the pole of ‘power as resistance’ in political science. This embedding of dominance within the ambience of resistance is what marked the emergence of governance through attractive discourses of democracy as well as the resistance to ‘colonization’ in different nations of modern world. It is a significant lesson in history that resistance to colonization did not develop in those countries that clamoured for liberalism and democracy engulfed as they were with ‘enlightenment’. It is only after unrestricted accumulation of power and wealth that beautiful theories of democracy developed in the colonizing nations.

India’s independence struggle under the leadership of MK Gandhi offers an example of very attractive resistance leading to the establishment of dominant form of governance. The discourse was not so much how a people should be governed as who should govern India. The end result of power as resistance, spearheaded by Gandhi was the answer to who should govern India after the British left. Power as dominance that is one of the poles in political science was not replaced as later history showed in India. The same colonial democracy became the model of governance in India with some paraphernalic changes in the Instruments and Mechanisms of governance. The ruling class of India believes in power as dominance as much as its British counterpart. Though Gandhi raised some issues of the ‘how’ of governance the cumulative essence of Indian democracy still is a colonial legacy of which the Indian intelligentsia is very proud and happy.

 Deliberative Democracy

Amartya Sen has brought out a volume on the argumentative Indian. The space that is available in India for argumentation is hailed. Such argumentation seems to be perched more in romantic branches than in scientifically tested grounds. The rest of the world has started discoursing on ‘deliberative democracy’. We are beginning to witness here and there formal exposition of deliberative democracy as the most appropriate form of democracy in the post-modern period. For one who listens to deliberative democratic discourses it sounds very enterprising. Many who have read argumentative Indian, coming as it is from Amartya Sen develop an elated sense of intellectualism. Political space created in both these discourses is problematic for the progression of democracy to the end users of the Instruments and Mechanisms of governance.

Argumentation and deliberation are quite significant in the development of mature democracy, provided one does not ignore the huge void that both can create in the praxis of democracy. Particular sections of society in a democracy, especially those who have the reins of power to govern do not grudge a space for argumentation and deliberation as long as it does not threaten their hold on their dominant power. They can camouflage the deep pitfalls in procedural democracy by even promoting argumentation and deliberation as the prerogative of the privileged. The intelligentsia in any country can easily indulge itself in these attractions leaving substantial and procedural democracies to peripheral praxis. Availability of argumentative space and deliberative democracy caters to their palate unendingly. Their indulgence is what suits the designs of the ruling elite in any country. Foucault argues that more than solutions to problems it is problematizing that matters most. People should be able to problematize instead of offering solutions. In fact, according to him problematizing is itself a solution to problems. In the development of discursive practices over the past many centuries starting from the period of enlightenment, deliberative democracy is only next logical phase. It is an elite form of democracy and will naturally hesitate to take a stand in favour of all sections of people for whom democracy is meant.

 Dialectic Democracy

While the ruling oligarchies have provided much space for argumentation and deliberation they have been constantly threatened by what I term as ‘Dialectic Democracy’.

Dialectic democracy is one that evolves Instruments and Mechanisms of governance in congruence with the synthesis that is arrived at as a consequence of the movement of thesis and anti-thesis. It is a progression in history. Its prerequisite is adequate space for differing worldviews and practices that may or may not find a place in argumentation and deliberation. While deliberative democracy preconditions itself by the existence of cognitive knowledge dialectic democracy will be effective even with empirical knowledge without necessarily precluding cognition. In as much as deliberative democracy requires sophistication in terms of knowledge and communicative language, dialectic democracy satisfies itself with organic evolution of instruments and mechanisms of governance based on their communicative competence. Forms of democracy that exists in many indigenous communities do not posses the sophistication of argumentation and deliberation. However, they can claim to be the original progenitors of a thesis of democracy that developed without any necessity to be an antithesis of anything else. To be in the trajectory of the dialectic movement of thesis and antithesis its praxis is good enough. The very fact that indigenous people in different parts of the world practice different forms of democracy poses a dialectic challenge to the discourses, argumentation and deliberation that are developed in the progression of modern democracy.

Dialectic democracy does not confine itself to mere argumentation. Unlike deliberative democracy the validity of dialectic democracy is derived from its procedural democracy. In fact the substance of many indigenous democracy is drawn more from its praxis and less from its deliberation. Procedural democracy poses the stiffest challenge to the ruling oligarchies as it is not confined to the elites but is spread out into the practicing communities of people. Lacking the ability to proceed with the dialectics of the indigenous communities, fine-tuned into argumentation by intellectuals of the indigenous communities dominant groups often take recourse to subjugation of counter thesis. Gandhi for example was not willing to enter into a dialectics with Dr. Ambedkar on the question of separate electorate for the Dalit people. New Zealand has recognized the need for progress in democracy through dialectic movement and has given space to the Maori people to have separate electorate. Norway, Sweden and Finland have gone many steps further and have set up a separate Parliament to the indigenous Sami people. Gandhi simply subverted the progression of dialectics through his notorious fast unto death against the thesis of Ambedkar that Dalit people should have separate electorate. He used the iron fist of his moral authority to obliterate the thesis of Ambedkar and made him accept Gandhi’s own anti-thesis, which is reservation.

All over the world ruling oligarchies have a limited level of tolerance towards dialectic movement and its consequent synthesis in society. This is because their agenda of progress is set dominantly and they perceive dialectic not as progress but as a blockade to their designs of progress. The blockade to dialectic movement in dominant societies is wrought generally in two ways. The first way that the dominant society takes recourse to, including the discursive elites, is to turn a deaf ear to counter thesis or to original thesis that existed much before power was vested in its hands. Both the intelligentsia and the governing forces feign calculated ignorance of either the existence or the emergence of anti-thesis either through a praxis or through a discourse. If this does not work the ruling elite takes recourse to use of brute power, often blindly oppressive armed forces, to obliterate any possible anti-thesis. The intellectual elites in such cases take recourse to ascriptive practices to invalidate the legitimacy of anti-thesis. The ruling elite finds support in such ascriptions and makes use of them as the legitimization for use of blind force.

The government of India has further embellished the Gandhian model by subjugating the Tribal people of the North Eastern States through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and by making unrestricted space available to the Indian Army for the exercise of brute power. Irom Sharmila of Manipur has developed a dialectics with the Indian democracy not through argumentation and deliberation but through her very bold act of fasting unto death for the withdrawal of AFSPA. That India has not yet ratified ILO 106 is a clear indication of the arrogance of ‘power as dominance’ not to enter into any dialectic movement within the ambience of democracy. That India has not yet removed untouchability from the face of India despite the loud profession of the Constitution, is another glaring evidence of its callous subjugation of the Dalit thesis towards a meaningful democracy.

It is one of the biggest advantages in dialectic democracy that one can develop either a thesis or an anti-thesis without necessarily developing a discourse, argumentation or deliberation. It sounds very romantic to think of India having liberal space for argumentation and deliberative democracy. But with the type of illiteracy prevalent within its borders Indian ruling coterie can very easily absolve itself of its subtle subversion of democracy by subscribing to the argumentative Indian and deliberative democracy. One must also acknowledge here that deliberative democracy has not yet come out with its congruent procedures.

Deliberative democracy however, has many advantages. Certain schools of electoral reforms in India are focusing on reduction of corruption, less use of muscle power, money power, restricting space for criminals to contest elections etc. They are highly argumentative and deliberative within the existing democratic framework. Their deliberations are heavily concentrated on procedural democracy. This is a much-needed dimension within the praxis of given democracy. However, ultimately when such argumentation and deliberation succeed within the given framework of procedural democracy they would have only strengthened the quality of existing democracy which has a history of serving the needs of the ruling elite, in other words serving the needs of those who believe in ‘power as dominance’. Most other countries in the world have already reformed their electoral systems towards a Proportionate Representation in their democratic praxis. It looks as if those countries like the United States, United Kingdom and India who have proven dominant streak of governance are still very reluctant to reform their electoral systems that will give representation to historically suppressed people. These three countries serve as the benchmark of racial slavery, colonial exploitation and caste oppression.


There are other schools such as the Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) whose efforts are focused on dialectic democracy and congruent procedural democracy. While not discounting the significance of deliberative democracy they move a step further to a dialectic movement in democratic theory and practice. By adding a third pole to political theory, ‘power as participation’ they have also challenged the validity of praxis of democracy in India through the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system. Their thesis is that Indian democracy should take recourse to Proportionate Electoral System and develop its congruent procedures. This thesis is a veritable and democratic alternative to draconian measures such as AFSPA. Indian government will do well to acknowledge the need for space in governance for dialectic democracy by replacing its FPTP electoral system with Proportionate Electoral System. A synthesis that is arrived at through such dialectic democracy will be much more lasting and peaceful than suppressing the legitimate democratic aspirations of the indigenous people of the North East, the Dalits all over India and the religious minorities.