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Argumentative Indian of Kudankulam

M C Raj

The Opposition in Parliament stalls proceedings to register its protest against the many thesis of the government as a ruling thesis of the government. The ruling party produced a thesis that corruption in coalition politics is inevitable. Manmohan produced an antithesis that democracy does not live in the streets and that street dynamics should not be taken to the Parliament. The people of Idinthakarai produced a thesis that nuclear power is detrimental to their long- term development. Manmohan produced an antithesis that such democratic aspirations of people would be crushed with brute power of bullets, police and army. What Manmohan asserted in the Parliament is that the Opposition should indulge in deliberations on issues. Simultaneously he also proved in Koodankulam that the ruling class was not ready for deliberation within the parameters of democracy when interests of ruling oligarchy in India were put to risk. Thus Manmohan represents a ruling class thesis that dialectics in Indian democracy would be welcome only under the conditions that certain interests of the ruling oligarchy are served.

That takes us way back to the times when Indian democracy developed as an aftermath of British colonialism. Already in the 1930s Ambedkar proposed a thesis that the Depressed Classes should have separate electorate in order to gain their due and legitimate representation in the mechanisms of governance in India. But the old man Gandhi went on a fast unto death. That was almost a violent form of crushing a thesis, given the type of power that Gandhi enjoyed in India. He himself became an antithesis of his own thesis of non-violence in this case. There was no room for dialectics or deliberation till other leaders intervened. But then Ambedkar could not deliberate anything. He had to simply agree to ‘reserved seats’ in the place of ‘separate electorate’. There was no synthesis, which was expected as the outcome of the progression of thesis and antithesis. There was only a subjugation of Ambedkar’s thesis.

Compare this with Amartya Sen’s thesis that India is a country of ‘argumentative India’ implying that everybody in India has the freedom to argue. He produced a thesis for the consumption of gullible foreign countries that everything was well in Indian democracy. This is the illusion that most ruling class followers would like Indians as well as foreigners to believe. How do you explain this with the type of atrocities that are perpetrated on Dalits in India? Every two hours a Dalit woman is raped on an average. The number of killings and maiming would numb the sensitivities of any normal human being. It is enough to raise the voice and speak to the caste landlord asking for the government fixed minimum wages. Why all these? Don’t we see this even in caste society if women ever dare to raise their voice against their husbands at home? Amartya Sen must be a male chauvinistic or a casteist ‘Argumentative Indian’.

While the ruling oligarchies have provided much space for camouflaging 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 can either raise itself to the level of intellectual argumentation or to the level of street protest.

Forms of democracy that exists in many indigenous communities and common people do not posses the sophistication of argumentation and deliberation. However, they can claim to be the original progenitors of a thesis of democracy. To be in the trajectory of the dialectic movement of thesis and antithesis their praxis in the communities 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 can be derived from its praxis in the streets. In fact the substance of many indigenous democracy is drawn more from its praxis and less from its deliberation. Dialectics of the common people pose 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 common citizens, fine-tuned into argumentation by intellectuals of the common people dominant groups often take recourse to subjugation of counter thesis.

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.

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 development 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 under the pretension that common people have no capacity to develop a thesis at all. Both the intelligentsia and the governing forces feign calculated ignorance of either the existence or the emergence of anti-thesis.

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 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. In building a democratic governance for future India cannot anymore afford to lose sight of the need for dialectic democracy. The more people become aware of their rights and of different development models the less will be the possibility for ruling oligarchies to hoodwink citizens. Use of brute force on an aspiring people may spell the doom for hidden agenda based governance mechanisms of the dominant forces. Respect and space for the thesis developed by common citizens will soon become a compulsion. It is this way that many democracies are still surviving in many nation states. Dominant forces in India have to either respect the dialectic space of the people of all sections or be prepared for the most unexpected antithesis of the people.