Till the mid night of June 25, 1975, when this country came under proclamation of internal emergency, seldom had any one realised that under Constitutional provisions themselves, fundamental rights, including the most precious among them, the right to life, could be put under suspended animation sine die. This experience also proved that democracy and civil liberties were valued intrinsically as the electoral verdict of 1977 showed.
Spirit of questioning produced new knowledge, philosophy and challenged the decadence in our society, with thinking minds in the lead. The long period of colonisation failed to put this out. It is this spirit that could see Indian democracy through trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, the spirit of free opinion and questioning is flickering though not extinguished. A dwindling public sphere has made the gap between the citizen and the powers that be gnawing. Here, the words of late socialist leader and legendary parliamentarian, Madhu Limaye that intellectuals allowed their conscience to go to sleep after independence become pertinent, though one may not fully agree.
In his famous essay “A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity” (1960), Jayaprakash Narayan had questioned adaptability of representative democracy which originated in Western atomistic societies, for our society. He made a plea for a consensual and communitarian democracy. In a highly unequal society like ours, where prejudices based on caste and status reign, this can be a highly unworkable proposition. But the vastness of the parched space which lies between the state and the citizen cannot be a vacuum. American sociologists, William H Carpenter and Morris Jones debated on JP’s proposition.
The latter saw the non-governmental organisations and trade unions as fillers of this vacuum. But when fillers themselves become moribund with hierarchical obsessions, the vacuum surfaces again. Power, in the Gandhian concept, is like concentric circles and not like a pyramidal hierarchy which has high and low. It is here that intellectual opinion moving in concentric circles creates waves. Though well said in theory and ill done in practice, it needs serious pondering.
However, the much discussed ‘public intellectual’ is felt more in absence than presence. Gramscian organic intellectuals, who emerge from struggling sections, have now and then showed up as in Munnar’s Pembillai Orumai and other movements. In a liberal democracy with elements of decentralisation, democratising the bureaucracy is an important task. At the same time, in a democracy with a strong bureaucratic framework, debureaucratsing democratic institutions is more important, though an uphill task.
Arrogance and sycophancy are fragile parts of an agile democracy, posing intrinsic threat to it. Jayaprakash Narayan famously said about the declaration of emergency before his arrest “vinashakale vipareetabudhhi” (during troubled times brain works contrary to reason). Society and its thinking people have a duty to prevent the slide to any such troubled times, by guarding spirit of liberty, so that no brain gets the opportunity to work in a similar manner.
(The author is a commentator of issues of Indian federal polity)...