Indian Democracy: Ideas in Action, c 1947-2007

Course Material 2022/23

This wide-ranging new option explores the ideas, individuals, and practices that have informed democracy in India since the important yet largely neglected 1970s. Sustained periods of rapid economic growth have moved India from the periphery to the centre of narratives of global change, as we enter the second decade of the much-heralded but ambiguous ‘Asian Century.’ The special subject will historically locate the rise of Indian democracy. While scholars and journalists alike commonly attach the now-clichéd descriptor ‘the world’s largest democracy’ to India, the life and career of democracy in India have made significant departures from its Western counterparts, and have had markedly more radical outcomes. 

India' staggering scale (with record levels of voting) is matched only by the depth of diversity. With the largest Muslim minority population in the world, India further houses over twenty official recognised languages, and its regions too are marked by cultural diversity. With the largest programme for positive discrimination, the question of caste along with religion and gender will be central to discussions. The course also explores debates on the role and power of the law and courts in relation to elected power and parliament. 

A primary focus will be an interrogation of India’s experiments with some of the biggest questions of global political modernity. These include affirmative action and social justice, linguistic diversity, territorial sovereignty, religious and cultural recognition, and the ways both conservatism and capitalism were thought anew in India. Discussions will encompass the role of personality, and the cult of the strongman, campaigns and ideologies from socialism and liberalism to populism that have fuelled the captivating narrative of India's democracy. 

Scholars writing in the last four decades have consistently described Indian democracy as in a state of crisis, but this course seeks instead to understand this ‘crisis’ in terms of the often conflictual democratisation of Indian society, and to understand how conflict and crisis, in this sense, is both threatening to but importantly, generative of democratic change. 

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