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Jayaprakash Narayan and the Problem of Representative Democracy

Jayaprakash Narayan's enduring contribution to political praxis has been his articulation of politicising political democracy and his efforts to overcome the formalism and temporality of the representational format to make the practice of democracy direct, immediate and popular. jp's politics was all about establishing institutions of democracy that represented the "general will" of the people, going beyond the mere representative, corporatist state. His ideas and work for the institution of a "civil-political society" through associational politics open up strategic sites for researchers to conduct inquiries into the history of democracy in India.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 2, 200849Jayaprakash Narayan and the Problem of Representative DemocracyRanabir SamaddarTwoquestions persisted with Jayaprakash Narayan (JP)even as his life went through tumultuous experiences, programmes, organisations, initiatives, and doctrinal quarrels, not the least because he was one of the most profound nationalist thinkers in the last century, and helped articulate resolutions of some of the political issues of our country, which we have now come to accept as normal. The two questions that persisted with him were nationalism and democracy. While clearly nationalism and the likely form of the nation occupied his attention before 1947, increasingly the question of democracy became his sole concern to the point where he was to raise in the last days of his life the issue he had raised much earlier in his youth, namely, what kind of nation do we want? Is there a choice between democracy and the nation? What would a democratic nationhood mean? If it were not to be a monolithic, conservative republican nation, but one that must be open to and hospitable to newer and wider array of democratic yearnings, forces, and institutions, did it mean then an expansion of forms of the subjects of sovereignty? Did it signify recognition of the autonomy of those distinct, variegated, yearnings? At times he seemed to be raising the unutterable question for a nationalist, is the nation a true nation that cannot represent democracy? Democracy was of course (he was to say innumerable times before he died) a problematic of representing people, therefore to his surprise, how could one person (Indira) or one party (the Congress), rep-resent the nation that has to represent democracy, that is to say, the variegated masses?Yet the issue of a nation representing democracy was to him not only a matter for the nation to seek the proper ground of legitimacy. For him it was a deeper question involving the history and dynamics of representative democracy and the complexities of time in the process of representation. It seems, Jayaprakash Narayan never saw these questions as issues of simple political temporalities, as if democratic thought would follow and succeed nationhood. The extraordinary convergence of his earlier and later ideas as his life in the mid-1970s of the last century was coming to a close demonstrates, to him it was a question of appreciating the plural temporalities of the political.The temporalities of the political are usually considered as a matter of simple technical constraints. For instance, democracies have thought that too short a term of the executive reduces its capacity to govern a democracy. Or, the longer is the term of the representative, the weaker gets the bond between the represent-ative and the represented. As Jayaprakash Narayan, increasingly now called asJP, wrestled with issues of representative democracy Jayaprakash Narayan’s enduring contribution to political praxis has been his articulation of politicising political democracy and his efforts to overcome the formalism and temporality of the representational format to make the practice of democracy direct, immediate and popular.JP’s politics was all about establishing institutions of democracy that represented the “general will” of the people, going beyond the mere representative, corporatist state. His ideas and work for the institution of a “civil-political society” through associational politics open up strategic sites for researchers to conduct inquiries into the history of democracy in India.The author is indebted to Arun Patnaik for a discussion on some of the issues raised here. The formulations are of course his.Ranabir Samaddar ( is part of Calcutta Research Group.
SPECIAL ARTICLEaugust 2, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly50(particularly from the middle of the 1960s in the last century to the end of his life a decade later), he realised that the issue of the temporality of the political was not a simple one. The subject could not remain indifferent to his/her time. If representation was a part of democracy, direct government was also a simulta-neous legacy. In his last texts in those tumultuous days preceding the imposition of the Emergency, he claimed repeatedly that direct rule meant immediate democracy that must cut, and only that can cut, the Gordon’s knot of representative democracy, which means that legislators must (be made to) resign if people turn against them, government of the day must leave if popular trust is lost, that ‘janata sarkars’ must evolve to put in place alter-native institutions of power, and only in these and other myriad ways immediate democracy could ensure direct democracy. Here we can see that while the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in accusing JP of undermining both nation and democracy throughhis stress on immediate democracy was placing herself in the solid tradition of representative democracy,JP was arguing for an understanding of the plural temporalities of the political on which according to him depended the relation of democracy to time.Immediate democracy means of course democracy based on immediate actions, thus, a denial of mediacy, denial of what Marx had called long ago “the insertion of the third” between “an individual and his mode of action” as the feature of the capitalist age. InThe German IdeologyMarx had written that in the guise of interest the bourgeoisie had always inserted the third that is the mediating instrument. This was ruinous mediation, as it constructed the individual only at the cost of making him a stranger to himself [Marx 1973]. How then, we can see here the significance of the question JP was raising in the last phase of his life and actions, can we rescue democracy from the process of special interest formation growing out of the mediating mecha-nisms, such as representation, government, legislative councils, laws attuned to special purposes, etc? How can the individual be recovered from the condemned life of repeated vote giving, and only vote giving, and restored to his individuality as a political actor in democracy? ToJP the importance of immediate democracy and therefore the advocacy for plural temporalities of the politi-cal were enormous. Historically democratic sovereignty was built around the electoral procedure as the central mechanism for legitimation and rule. But JP within 20 years of this procedura-tion in independent India broke away with this legacy. In the context of rising mass discontent of the late 1960s and early 1970s of the last century, he started arguing that the life of democracy could never be reducible to the electoral moment alone. He argued in his innumerable essays and lectures of that time (to which we shall turn to shortly) that the moment of loyalty to the Indian nation through participating in the electoral rite had passed. Besides loyalty remained the two other elementsofthe social modality of expression, namely, voice, and exit. The people of India must access the various avenues of voicing protests and opinions by forming and participating in associations, embarking on direct actions, and conjuring up newer methods of mobilisa-tion in order to gain the identity of the collectivesubjectof democracy. These ways of voicing also meanttheexerciseofthe option of exit from the given institutional path of representative democracy. We all know how the government of the time reacted, and all governments of the time react. The official argument was andstillremains,thatdemocracy would be diluted because of too many associations, too many ways of configuring democratic procedures,andtoomuchmultiplication of the ways to relate to institutions and one another. At the end of the day, it was a deep dispute between the national form of democracy,and the possi-bility of a non-national democracy, unconcerned or unworried about the possible dilution of the form.Also in this dispute lay the issue of sovereignty, its possible form. We shall not anticipate the discussion here, save to flag the matter, namely, the issue as to whether democracy and sover-eignty remain indefinitely compatible, or are we ready now to accept the fact that there is the compulsory phenomenon of an interface and an overdetermination of the two, producing the third factor. JP’s speeches abound with these questions. He was of course preparing his public to rise up against the dreary republic of universal suffrage, but he was also on the verge of fashioning a new discourse of immediacy, also of multiple temporalities of the political – as I have indicated, a question dangerous for representative democracy. By questioning the legal framework of representative democracy through launch-ing civil disobedience and contesting the electoral outcomesJP was drawing attention of this republic of universal suffrage to the juridication of politics, and its implications in terms of the decline of the political will – a theme that has been made familiar by current writings on democracy. Not only was he disputing the old institutional and ethical framework of representative democracy, he was also disputing the abstract generality of democracy and its necessity and received validity, with the particular experiences of his time, in this case of post-colonial India, of Gujarat and Bihar in particular. JP was thereby doing two things: he was posing the problem of democracy in an age of distrust, and secondly, he was bringing forward the issue of political will with which the power of the representative sovereign was to be confronted. By raising the question of social majority vis-a-vis the representative majority, and therefore the issue of mediation, double figures and double wills, he was suggesting nothing short of a re-politicisation of democracy. This is significant, yet should not surprise us, that JP in his intellectual-activist pursuit of the two themes of nation and democracy would be concentrating on the issue of will – that great factor which would predicate both the themes. Therefore in his quarrel with Indian communists too, he was not taking a liberal position, he was taking a voluntarist stand and complain-ing that the communists in India had little patience with the question of the will of the political. That such an attitude would always produce quarrels and non-conformism, and thusJP was to be known by his intransigence and disputes throughout his life, should not therefore astonish us.This brief introduction will help us to understand the precise way in which JP was theorising and articulating the problems of representative democracy. This way involved reorienting three issues of classical politics: (a) the interface of nationand democracy, (b) the issue of government and its legitimacyin
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 2, 200851popular democracy, and (c) the immediacy of democracy and the issue of political will in forging its direct nature.The Interface of Nation and DemocracyIt was an extraordinary asset of anti-colonial nationalism in a country particularly India, where political thinking always zoomed on the possible and desirable character of the nation on gaining freedom. Therefore visions, directions, and disputes raged throughout the anti-colonial period among thinkers and activists alike as to the social nature of anti-colonial nationalism. Gandhi’s idea of swaraj was not the only vision or direction. There were many other ideas and plans. These raging ideas moulded the fundamentals of Indian democracy. Many of these were neither purely anarchist, nor classically liberal, or Soviet-socialist. But whatever may be the form, unlike the historic bourgeois revolutions, the political was not a pure one in the anti-colonial revolutions. It was always marked by the social, which explains why democracy in India could never remain limited to issues of representation. And even when the republic of universal suffrage was held up as an independent dream, the issue always loomed from behind: why representation, what is the goal? Thus, it was in Jayaprakash Narayan’s early enunciations of socialism, his dispute with Gandhi, his quarrel with liberal ideas of the proper-tied classes, and his effort to strike a socialist path separate from the Indian communist thinking that his vision of democracy developed. He like other great anti-colonial thinkers sought to define the legitimacy of the nation in the social and not primarily in the political, and this in turn defined the emerging framework of democratic understanding in India. In 1936 he opened his tract on the objectives of the Congress Socialist Party with these words,The objectives of the Congress Socialist Party, as laid down in its Constitution, are ‘the achievements of complete independence, in the sense of separation of the British Empire, and the establishment of a socialist society’.This is direct and simple enough. The Party has two objects: the first is the same as that of the Indian National Congress, except that the Party wishes to make it clear that the complete independence of India must include separation from the British Empire.The second object of the Party simply means that independent India must reorganise its economic life on a socialist basis. Why?The question at bottom is one of values and ultimate objectives, which once determined, the rest becomes a matter of logical sequence.If the ultimate objective is to make the masses politically and economi-cally free, to make them prosperous and happy, to free them from all manner of exploitation, to give them unfettered opportunity for devel-opment, then socialism becomes a goal to which one must irresistibly be drawn. If again, the objective is to take hold of the chaotic and conflicting forces of society and to fashion the latter according to the idea of utmost social good and to harness all the conscious directives of human intelligence in the service of the commonwealth, then again socialism becomes an inescapable destination (SWJN, p 18).What were the measures necessary to bring about this goal? “What must the swaraj government do in addition to nationalis-ing key industries…?” He proposed 15 such measures, and pointed out the more important ones. “Transfer of all power to the produc-ing masses” was the most significant one. He said,The cornerstone of the whole scheme is the transference of all power, political as well as economic, to the producing masses, i e, to those engaged in producing goods or rendering service either by hand or by brain. If all power goes into the hands of those who work, it follows that those who do not work shall have no power.The principle involved here is a basic one. Hitherto, in all the known form of social organisation, sovereign power has always rested not with the labouring masses, who in every society preponderated in numbers, but with the possessing classes. Before the rise of modern democracy, this was obvious in all the political systems that preceded it. The state was openly in the hands of the ruling class; it was a instru-ment of class oppression. It was so even in the so-called Greek democracies in which a small group of citizens ruled over and oppressed a much larger number of slaves who worked for them. It was with the appearance of the ballot box and the party system of government that the fiction of democracy came into being. These two institutions were supposed to have conferred power on the whole people, equally on the humblest and the highest. But the economic order which weighs the scales too heavily on the side of propertied interests, makes of this democracy a mockery. The rich have their great resources, their huge election funds, their great newspapers, their schools and colleges…And even this sham democracy, this mockery, turns against the poor workers when in spite of all odds, they seem strong enough to disturb the scale of the economic order ever so little in their favour. The cry of revolution and ‘reds’ goes up, and what looked like democracy disap-pears like a mist. The ballot box is withdrawn from the reach of the workers; party government is thrown over on the scrap heap…Against such background we inscribe the words: ‘All power to the masses’.But Jayaprakash did not stop here. He added these words to the section from which we are citing:We might be told that we are talking through our hats – the thing is just not possible. We firmly declare that it is. We do so, because we know the secret of power – economic domination. When those who toil become masters of the economic order, the thing is not only possi-ble, but natural. If we were to content ourselves merely with this one item, without the proposals, which follow, we would no doubt have been guilty not only of talking through our hats but also of perpetrat-ing a fraud (SWJN, pp 18-19).This was then the other scene of democracy, its secret; the secret of democratic power. The power is to run own schools and colleges, gather huge election funds, control social resources, and to declare to the public the menace of insurgency or revolt at the first sign of unrest from below. This was the other scene, against which the anti-colonial cry had to be “All power to the masses”. It can hardly fail to attract our attention that while these words were similar to the famous words of Lenin, Jayaprakash did not think of any representative organ to which power could be transferred. In his dream of national freedom maturing into socialism, he remained distrustful of representative mecha-nisms.1 Like a true anarchist-socialist he was focusing on the immediacy of transfer of power. In his debate with the Indian communists of his time he was asking if the state could be held representative of the society of the producing masses. Surely the histories of the last 200 years of socialist thoughts and practices tell us not to be sweeping in our judgments about paths, and look back at the great history of democracy as being enriched by various ideas and practices of socialism.Years later in 1959, as if recalling these words,JP wrote in his ‘A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Polity’,The old faith that State ownership of the means of production, distri-bution, and exchange plus planning will bring about socialism has
SPECIAL ARTICLEaugust 2, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly52been falsified… But a new faith has not been created to take the place of the old. For this the socialists will have to go back to the pre- Marxian socialist idealists, the philosophical Anarchists: to Tolstoy, Ruskin, and Morris; to the post-Marxian social idealists: to Gandhi and Vinoba. The ‘communities of work’ of France have a great deal to teach the socialists; and so have the Kibbutzimof Israel and some of the gramdan villages of India. The socialists must also take from Marx what is still valid and from science the best it has to offer (SWJN, p 233).Clearly,JP did not think that there was much to learn from the masters of the art of representative government, Locke, Jefferson or Mill, in forging a society of democratic relations, which to him meant reducing the mediation in relations to a minimum, and certainly in political relations. Was JP wrong? This is not the occasion to go into the history of the ideas and practices of repre-sentative government. But considering for instance what Mill (the younger one) thought, and re-reading his wisdom today,JP possibly was wise in cutting through all the white mythologies about representation in order to put his ideas directly as matter of political practice. Mill for instance did not think that representa-tive government could ever in the name of the people curtail anyone’s liberty to ensure social reconstruction, and wrote, “I deny the right of the people to exercise (such) coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegiti-mate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst” ‘On Liberty’ [Mill 1970: 23]. And, if the people did not have such right, did the individual have? Again, he was concerned here with social stability. The main goal of representative government was not to defend liberty, but to govern people efficiently and adequately, to rule people in the name of people and popular interests. Mill wrote,Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social obligations from it, everyone who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest. The conduct consists, first, in not injuring the interests of one another; or rather certain interests, which either by express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered as rights; and secondly, in each person’s bearing his share (to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices incurred for defending the society or its members from injury and molestation ‘On Liberty’ [Mill 1970: 92].The virtue of representative government rests thus on the idea of social stability. And, yet even this amount of representational facility was not to be universally available. Apart from whatever he wrote in the infamous tract on The Subjection of Women [Mill 1970], Mill further said, if the government was found to be lack-ing in power, “adequate to preserve order and allow progress of the people”, it was an incident “rather to a wild and rude state of society generally”. And then the line, on which every dead anti-colonial political thinker would turn in his grave, comes: “When the people are too much attached to savage independence, to be tolerant of the amount of power to which it is for their good that they should be subject, the state of society (as already observed) is not yet ripe for representative government...” ‘Considerations on Representative Government’ [Mill 1970, Chapter 6]. Therefore, Mill would go on to argue, representative government could perfectly accommodate “government of dependencies” (an euphe-mism for colonial government), but, interestingly, in a differe-ntial manner, that is white colonies could be allowed greater self-rule than coloured colonies [Mill 1970, Chapter 18].In short, representative government was little about democracy and popular welfare. It was about the science of ruling well. The nation of the toilers therefore under representative arrangements could not be represented in an adequate democratic form – adequacy here meaning sufficient degree of directness and immediacy. What were the other significant measures that Jayaprakash Narayansuggested to bring about the congruence of nation and democracy? These were among others, development of the economic life of the country to be planned and controlled by the state, socialisation of key industries, organisation of cooperatives for production, distribution, and credit in the un- socialised sector of economic life, state encouragement of cooperatives and collective farming, recognition of the right to work or maintenance by the state, and finally adult franchise on a functional basis. Here he wrote,This means that representation instead of being on a territorial basis would be on the basis of occupations. Representatives are supposed to represent interests, but interests within a given country are not distributed territorially but functionally, occupationally. Therefore functional representation means truer representation (SWJN, pp 14-15).The same thinking was evident as he closely examined in 1936 what he termed as the “Gandhian Alternative”to the socialist path, and critiqued Gandhi’s idea of trusteeship, because it called for “change of hearts without changing relations”, and once again this mode of representing the interests of the national majority did not ensure the union of democracy and the nation. In his polemic against other socialist parties he was of course insistent of the authenticity of the views of the Congress Socialist Party, which meant socialism aligned along the path of Congress that was to slowly transform in his admission into “democratic socia-lism”; but noticeably here too he was objecting to the trend dominant among Indian communists, particularly among those who had returned from the Soviet Union, namely, that “it alone was the real Marxist party, and that every other party had there-fore to be exploited, captured, or destroyed”. The ‘Problems of Socialist Unity’, as he saw in 1941, were the problem of democracy. He put tersely, “A Marxist never tries to understand a social fact by itself. He understands it historically and in relation with other facts. We all wish that there were only one Marxist party. But, if we wish to understand how in a concrete situation two Marxist parties came to exist, we must look at the matter historically. During the national struggle of 1930-34 there was a considerable radicalisation of the younger cadres of the Congress. By 1934 a coherent socialist group crystallised. Between this group and the existing group, i e, the communist party, there was an impenet-rable wall in the shape of the latter’s attitude towards and isola-tion from the Congress. A new party was bound to be formed; the Congress Socialist Party thus came into being as a result of the mistaken policy of the communist party and the Communist International” ‘The Problems of Socialist Unity’ (SWJN, pp 72-73). Reading these lines more closely, we can realise that for JP even
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 2, 200853in those days (1941) the problem of democracy was the problem of the nation also, because the traditional communists had a “mistaken policy towards the Congress” – in other words, towards the national question. As the impending final round of the battle for independence approached, he spoke more and more of the need for an “efficient organisation and a complete programme of National Revolution” (‘To All Fighters for Freedom – 1’, issued in February 1943 after escape from prison). In another three years, in 1946, in his third call (‘To All Fighters for Freedom – 3’, issued in 1946 shortly after release from prison), his idea of what this organisation would mean had become clearer. “I have come to the conclusion that the CSP should become the organisation of all fighters of freedom”. Clearly the national will demanded the democratic charter. He was to make this point clearer as the country gained independence. In his tract, ‘The Structure of Socialist Party’ (1948) he wrote,Some have the fear that while democratic conditions might exist today they may not be present tomorrow and if the Party is organised so as to function under today’s conditions, it may not be able to function properly in the conditions of tomorrow. This fear is unfounded. If democratic methods are not divorced from a revolutionary outlook, the Socialist Party, if it has functioned properly as a democratic party under conditions of democracy, would have the organisational strength, the popularity, the necessary mass contact, the resilience and the revolutionary will to function equally effectively in conditions of social breakdown…What is a revolutionary will, I may be asked. It is (i) the will that allows no compromise with fundamentals or blurring of the final objectives; (ii) it is the will that does not flinch before danger and suffer and deviate from the right path on their account... ‘The Structure of Socialist Unity’ (SWJN, p 152).The key to the solution of the problem of combining the national and the democratic was to be searched therefore not in the representative mechanisms drawn from liberal theory or received from the colonial practices of British rule, or inetatism of one variety or another, but in the realities of mass politics, popular unity, variety of popular initiatives, and revolutionary will, which has the courage and the consistency to be democratic. We can say today on hindsight that besides re-orienting the nation towards the democratic question JP in this search was actually presenting for us an agenda for re-politicising democracy itself, because only in that re-politicised democracy the national could finally find its home. Giving meaning back to democracy, he was not only showing the way to re-vitalise the nation (which became clear in 1972-75), he was also suggesting a framework involving a whole range of practical works (for instance, bhoodan, building ‘gramswaraj’, cooperatives, struggling against the institution of caste, educational initiatives, prepa-ring ‘sangharsh bahinis’, and setting up ‘janata sarkars’) towards the production of a new generality. In all these and consequentlytheproduction of a new generality, the issue of will was significant. The prominence given to will, hitherto considered a problem in the conventional dynamics of represent-ative democracy, which is always scared of an unruly will often appearing in form of street politics, andthereforerequires trained and disciplined political behaviour, was now turned into an asset by anti-colonial political theory. In this respect few could match up to JP. He made political will a question of the general (because the nation must finally transform into direct democracy and socialism) thereby at one stroke pointing out that the nation and democracy could unite only by removing the obstacles in form of sham representative institutions. As we shall see, he was to become more focused on this problematic as years passed. Government and Its Legitimacy in Popular Democracy Jayaprakash Narayan, as every student of modern Indian politi-cal history knows, moved away not only from Marxism as the first decade after independence advanced, he also moved away from socialism. Yet remarkably he did not go back to the liberal ghetto, as the commentators of the “failing god” did in the west. Instead he delved deeper in the democratic problematic, the issue for him always being: How democratic is our democracy? Or, to say in different words, how much democratic can we make our democracy? His new critique of representative rule started to de-velop from his thoughts on popular democracy. Socialism did not have any answer to the dangers posed by the practices and the culture of a total government, which killed popular democracy. Socialist democracy, at least in India, could never be popular democracy, because it did not give importance to “freedom” of the people, which had been “one of the beacon lights of (his) life”, the “goodness of ends”, the dynamics of “cooperation in a community of direct producers”, “decentralisation” – all these signifying an emphasis on democracy. Sarvodayawould signify, “means morally consistent with ends”. Thus if the end was the realisation of democracy, the means must be democratic, that is, going closest to the people, evolving schemes out of popular desire, making people their own teachers. In this noticeably, for in stance in his self-explanatory pamphlet, ‘From Socialism to Sarvodaya’ (1957), he went at length to critique socialist theory and practices, but there was no praise for liberal democracy and liberal representative institutions. Indeed, he said repeatedly, “The Indian freedom movement was a people’s movement par excellence. It was not rajniti (politics of the State), but lokniti (politics of the people)” (SWJN, pp 181-208).Thus not governmental politics, but popular politics – and that difference would remain even when governmental politics would try to legitimise itself by way of incorporating popular elements – should prevail. JP said in 1959,Perhaps it would be well, at the outset, to keep in mind that the ideal [of democracy] can never be fully realised in India or anywhere else. All that is possible is to approach the ideal as nearly as possible.It is for this reason that many political writers narrow down the ideal considerably and advance a realisable definition of democracy. Consider the following from an internationally recognised political authority: ‘Government of the people by the people’, ‘Government of the nation by its representatives’, these are fine phrases for arousing enthusiasm and fashioning eloquent perorations. Fine phrases with an empty ring. No people have ever been known to govern itself and none ever will. All government is oligarchic; it necessarily implies the domination of the many by a few… The formula ‘Government of the people by the people’ must be replaced by this formula ‘Government of the people by anelitesprung from the people’ (JP was referring here to Maurice Duverger’sPolitical Parties, London, 1954, pp 424-25). ‘A Plea for Reconstruction of the Indian Polity’ (SWJN, p 210).
SPECIAL ARTICLEaugust 2, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly54He went on to say that the most authentic case of democracy would be where people governed them directly, making own laws, dispensing justice, and carrying out and overseeing admini-strative functions. But he also realised that at least in large political units no such self-government existed, and thus at best there could be what he termed as “democratic oligarchy”. Hence was his plea for a reconstruction of Indian polity along the lines decentralisation, autonomy of communities, village work, and all those work that the political representatives and the representa-tive government loathe. He wanted voluntary limits on wants, invention of egalitarian social institutions, and re-imagining of the community (hence the issue of occupation or territorial orientation) essential for a democracy, which would be least burdened by the institution of the government. If the govern-ment failed to facilitate these political tasks, such a government was illegitimate. It is clear then thatJP was not faulting the institution of govern-ment on account of this omission or that commission. His main point was, it could not by its methods represent popular interest. Its legitimacy is suspect because governmental methods are not dialogic, and will always represent elite interest. Thus, when he was accused 15 years later by Indira Gandhi of trying to cause the downfall of a legitimately elected government in Bihar, he replied in a letter to Indira Gandhi,If all this adds up to an attempt to paralyse the Bihar government, well it was the same kind of attempt as was made during the freedom struggle through non-cooperation and satyagraha to paralyse the British government. But (you may say) that was a government estab-lished by force, whereas the Bihar government and legislature are both constitutionally established bodies…. The answer is that in a democracy the people do have the right to ask for the resignation of an elected government if it has gone corrupt and is misruling. And if there is a legislature that persists in supporting such a government it too must go, so that the people might choose better representatives.But in that case how can it be determined what the people want? In the usual manner. In the case of Bihar, the mammoth rallies and proces-sions held in Patna, the thousands of constituency meetings held all over the state, the three day Bihar ‘bandh’, the memorable happenings on the November 4 and the ‘largest ever’ meeting held at the Gandhi maidan on November 18, 1974 were a convincing measure of the people’s will… If that was not conclusive enough proof, I had asked repeatedly for a plebiscite…While I am on the Bihar movement, let me mention another important point that would illumine the politics of such a type of movement. The students of Bihar…met the chief minster and the education minster… But unfortunately the inept and corrupt Bihar government did not take the students seriously… In Bihar, the government was given a chance to settle the issues across the table. None of the demands of the students was unreasonable or non-negotiable. But the Bihar govern-ment preferred the method of…unparallel repression…I have pondered over the riddle: why did not those governments act wisely? The conclusion I have arrived is that the main hurdle has been corruption ‘Putting the Record Straight’ (SWJN, pp 349-50).Here we can locate an interesting turn in his argument.JP was not speaking in this letter from the prison of ordinary corruption. He spoke of the way in which the act of governing destroys the ethics of friendship and community, government develops a self-serving attitude and mode, and develops vested interests in the act of governing, in perpetuating order. Corruption is thus intrinsic to representative organs of rule. Government promotes security at the cost of democracy. Thus it is always the government that first cries “danger to the nation” whenever democracy tends to cross the limits of administration. Therefore he told the prime minister in that letter, “You are reported to have said that democracy is not important than the nation…It is a false choice.” Government in the name of representing the nation destroys or at least seriously jeopardises popular democracy. The reason is that it inverts the pyramid; it recalls the motto of swaraj from above.The striking point about the critique of representative democracy that JP was developing through the years culminat-ing in the fierce arguments in the last phase and decade of his life depended on rising above the traditional liberal/communist divide and creating the image of a possible strategy of going deep, “endlessly deep”, into the people – a strategy only partly grounded in historical experiences of anti-colonialism, but mainly in conjuring an ethical site of democracy. In this strategy, the act of “going endlessly deep into the people” had no other separate objective; its objective was sheer ethicality of the work of going itself. He was thus carrying a profound legacy of anti-colonial-ism, the legacy of setting up ethics against politics. Ethics repre-sented the people. Politics represented elite mechanisms of rule. In his plea for reconstruction of the Indian polity, we find arguments for combining socialism with democracy, revolution with Gandhi’s precepts, emphasis on land redistribution, non-vi-olent confrontational tactics, etc. To the anti-colonialist the nation was ethical, it had an indestructible ethical core; likewise democracy was an ethical project, therefore the possibility that it would be never fully realised, yet as an ethical objective it had to be striven for. The world of anti-colonialism was in this sense made up of images, regardless of whether this world was figurative, whether its inhabitants recognised any identifiable character in it, whether some historical figure had to be recreated, or identifiable spectacles redemonstrated. It was the colonial power that wantedto recreate the imagery of continuity of past spectacle, thus poet Tagore noted the colonial attempt to recreate the Darbarin 1912, while the anti-colonial world had the capacity to create new images, images of a possible new world. What emerged thus, as we can see from the way JP’s critique devel-oped, was a fascinating scenario where there was persistent effort to distinguish the genuine image from its simulacrum on the basis of a precise mode of reproduction of politics. Thus genuine democracy is to be distinguished from its make-up, self-management to be distinguished from government, socialism from state bureaucracy, ethics from its political mask – and all these could be done because there was the constant reproduction of anti-colonial politics even after colonialism had left the scene at least in its direct form. This is the imprint of anti-colonial politics, nation and democracy combining in eternal alterity, never imitating each other yet never leaving each other forever. In this world of unbounded communication between nation and democracy, images of people and popular desires and interests formed a powerful intermediary, that would not tolerate any competition from any other institution aspiring for that role. Representative government thus could at best be tolerated, but
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 2, 200855never beyond a point. If necessary in the interest of immediacy, this institution had to be sent back to the depths of hell to which it belonged.Representative government cannot behave like autocratic government. Hence it has to always oscillate between consensus that it demands in the interest of legitimacy and the schizo-phrenia it suffers from in the absence of the former. It is this strange link or disjunction in the institution of government that JP was targeting. He knew more than anybody else of his time that some things were unrepresentable. No drama could be successfully built around this institution for long, because whatever the government represented would remorselessly try to come out on its own. Will, as he suggested repeatedly, could not be represented. Only actions like the ones he initiated in the 1960s of the last century or other similar popular actions of his time decades earlier such as Quit Indiainitiated against the alien government spoke of the presence of will.The Immediacy of DemocracyAll these discussions were turned inJP’s writings towards vindi-cating what he thought to be the only authentic way in which democracy could be practised, namely, the direct way. Political will generates the determination to strive for direct democracy, which means least mediation by the so-called representatives (who actually form a political class), and therefore immediate democracy. Socialism, Gandhi’s teachings, Sarvodaya, rural reconstruction, ‘sangharsh’ (confrontation against autocracy), janata sarkars (people’s organs for self-rule to be formed at the lowest level and then moving upwards as alternatives to govern-mental organs), total revolution – each of these signified for him direct actions by the producing masses. Here I think we have a broader historico-political lesson for us that will call for standing the conventional wisdom on its head.We have been told that the national movement against alien rule took the form of demanding democratic representation of the people. The people had demanded free elections, universal voting rights, constituent assembly and their own constitution, and of course “no taxation without representation”. This was the model of nationalism, of building the nation-state. But this is only one side of the story. I have already indicated that in the anti-colonial world there were persistent attempts to make a distinc-tion between the original imaginations and thus the genuine images (of freedom) and their simulacrum. Thus from 1857 onwards we find the anti-colonial political thinkers again and again coming up with models of direct action, with as I have argued elsewhere the decade of 1940s in the last century, provid-ing the most striking illustrations of direct thinking and actions [Samaddar 2007].From the attempt to produce parallel institutions of society (schools, clubs, colleges, academies, civil guards, etc) in the early part of the 20th century to forming a parallel army (the Hindus-tan Republican Army) in the 1920s, to the direct call for Quit India ending with the infamous direct action in 1946-47, we have countless instances of anti-colonial politics striving for immedi-ate democracy. Immediate democracy involved similar countless instances towards social reconstruction in diverse fields including education, aesthetic and ethical reorientation, and science. This was the developing area of popular power – a kind of alternative to juridical sovereignty that we see in situations of dual power.JP therefore least talked of sovereignty as if he hated this juridical concept, as if he saw in it the demise of sarvodaya, the direct programme of the people, the demise of political will, and the final triumph of colonialism. This line of thinking in our nation-alist thought was not exceptional; indeed I would argue this was rather in the “mainstream”. Let us only consider for a moment the fact that almost 70 years ago in the 1940s, people in Nandigram dug roads, cut all approaches, and built barricades in defence of their rule; now too they have done it against Left Front government’s attempt to dispossess them of land. When does the surge for immediate democracy happen? AsJP said, when govern-ment acts foolhardy, refuses dialogue, and when (as I have indicated elsewhere) the representational, that is governmental majority, and social majorities become acutely different from each other. Direct democracy becomes the call of social majority.JP was trying to theorise this elementary character of anti-colonial thought.Today as we look around the debris of representative democracy throughout the post-colonial world in the three conti-nents, we can get a sense of the historical background against which the popular assault on representative democracy is taking place with both good and bad effects. The struggle against coloni-alism (and neocolonialism today) was for immediate democracy and not for some far away goods to be realised one day through representative mechanisms (such as party, government, legisla-ture, constitution, etc).Yet all these are not very difficult to understand. The difficult point to reflect in this context will be: was anti-colonial politics (which JP was carrying in the post-colonial period) anti-representation? Did not Congress and Gandhi quarrel for seats in the round-tables, did they not squabble over seats in the elections, and did not they argue over representational right – a quarrel that led to the partition of the country? True as these and perhaps many other such instances were, they reflected what we can call the passive side of the revolution – the eternal attempt to resolve the revolutionary problematic (the problem of direct democracy) in a passive, less conflictual way leading to the setting up of indirect organs of rule at the cost of autonomous spaces in society. However, equally true have been the attempts to realise direct democracy bypassing the representational problematic. It is in this sense that the anti-colonial politics was anti-representational. This was possible in two ways: (a) First, the anti-colonial world in terms of its general destiny was self-demonstrative. Even though there were elaborate arguments at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century to demonstrate why alien rule had to go, by and large anti-colonial politics needed no such brief. This is one more reason why I have argued that, unlike bourgeois democratic politics or liberal politics, anti-colonial politics needed no big theory; actions were self-demonstrative [Samaddar 2007, Chapter 2]. That is why JP in his letters and pamphlets would say in defence of his steps that the explanation was simple. They needed no big theory or big
SPECIAL ARTICLEaugust 2, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly56wisdom. We may say, actions being the critical element in this non- representational dynamics settled the tension between the speculative-effect and the passion-effect. Anti-colonial politics to sum up the point was exactly opposite of what our theoreticians of nationalism have claimed. It never sought resemblance or veri-similitude, there was no model; the non-representational charac-ter was because this politics did not depend on figures or models (of leaders, kings, parliamentarians, etc). (b) Second, to the anti-colonial subject, the representative regime owed its existence to colonial rule. Representation in the colonial framework meant spectacle, distance, centralisation, authority, and withdrawal from the autonomous aspects of life. The opposite was thus always immediate democracy. The disjunction between repre-sentation and immediacy of democracy was too much. JP’s writ-ings in the last phase remind us of this disjunction, and the peri-odic demonstration of this disjunction in the post-coloniallife.JP observed how the imported institutions of representative rule in some countries of Asia were proving non-functional, and therefore he commented, “It is not the abstract virtues of democracy that so excite us, the democratic intelligentsia, but the concrete fruits of democracy in terms of welfare and the palpable stake they have or part they play in working it, that determine the attitude of the mass of the people anywhere to the institutions and processes of democracy” (SWJN, p 249). Further he observed that panchayati raj was becoming a governmental-isedform of self-rule, and democracy needed moral force, collective feeling, and service to the people to rescue it from the bureaucratic trap. Soon JP was speaking of “revolution on the agenda” (1969), which would mean now not only reconstruction and “voluntary action” but direct action. He argued,Take the case of sharecroppers. We hear about the Naxalites. I have sympathy for the Naxalbari people. They are violent people. But I have every sympathy with them because they are doing something for the poor. There is some limit to the patience of the people. Why cannot the question of sharecroppers be settled…Thousands of sharecroppers are being evicted because the landowners have the right to resume the land…these things are happening today and the law is absolutely impotent to help these poor people.If the law is unable to give to the people a modicum of social and economic justice, if even whatever is on papers not implemented, what do you think will happen if not violence erupting all over? Do you think that meremantrasof Shanti, Shantiare going to save the situa-tion or the political parties which are responsible for this legislation? The very people who pass these laws have seen to it that the laws are not implemented ‘Revolution on the Agenda’ (SWJN, p 284).And soJP proceeded to highlight the issue of bonded labour, agricultural labour, poor peasants, and sharecroppers. Here again he saw that legislations like the Minimum Wages Act were proving of no avail, the recommendations of local revenue and development officers were being ignored, and even one act (Privileged Persons Homestead Tenancy Act passed in January 1948) had to wait for 22 years to be implemented in a serious manner. Recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commissions were by and large ignored. Democracy thus had to meet “face to face” the conditions of the people. And democrats had to decide “first things first”. Thiswas the clearest signal that JP was now interpreting direct democracy as immediate democracy. This was 1973. He spoke of the procrastination over the Lok Pal bills, the statutory powers of the Lok Ayukta, of the neglect ofthe Santharam Committee report, the ways in which parties collected funds, the massive corruption that elections stoked, and therefore in the background of all these the need for totalrevolution.“There must be people’s direct action”. These direct actions he stressed must be at all levels, because it was at all levels that popular aspirations were being prevented from being realised. Primacy of the people meant not substituting one government with another, but “going over the heads of organised parties and (people) asserting their will”. He wrote as the National Emergency was clamped on the country in 1975,…There is no possibility in sight and in the near future of India having any other type of democracy than she has today. Hopefully, if the opposition wins the next parliamentary elections, the present Consti-tution and the electoral laws, rules, etc, might be improved. But the ‘type’ of democracy will not change much. Therefore there seems to be no way for a people’s movement (which term should include the students and youth) to carry forward its programmes of revolution except in the context of a party (or a coalition of parties) government.In respect of ‘improvement’ in the present type of democracy, I have mentioned constitutional and statutory amendments under an opposi-tion government. But there may be extra-constitutional and legal ways of doing it also. This can be possible only in the context of an ongoing people’s movement. These Struggle Committees or People’s Commi-ttees, or Navanirman Samitis, Viplavi Samitis (whatever be the name given to the organs of people’s struggles) may perform, as we were aiming to do, the function of (a) being sounding boards or consulta-tion media at the time of candidate selection, (b) and acting as ‘watch-dogs’ and accountability enforcers over their local representatives as well as over the whole working of the government ‘Towards Revolu-tion: Why and How’ (SWJN, p 284).Clearly, we have here the rumblings of the thought that repre-sentative democracy will stymie constituent power as represent-ative mechanisms emerge as the constituted power out of the void. Hence some ways must be found out to recover the constitu-tive power of the founding moment.JP suggested his ways; even if he had not thought of anything else, the fact that he could think along this line makes him one of most astute thinkers in post-independent India. He could see that the future political battle will be not between autocracy and democracy, but between representative democracy and the direct democratic demands of the people.A Different Political HistoryToday it is difficult to believe or appreciate that, these and similar other writings and the prescient points were made as part of political struggles and actions, and did not emerge out of a theoretical exercise. At the same time we can also note that these writings and actions had a specific idea of politics behind them whose history is irrevocably marked with the history of democracy. It is in this sense that we can say that in modern time the history of the political and the history of democracy are enmeshed with each other. To speak of the boundaries of politi-cal realm would be to speak of the boundaries of democracy. Why is it so? We can locate two reasons. First, democracy evokes the issue of power related to the demos thereby demon-strating the principle of unity. Second, and this is a paradox; democracy besides meaning life in common, also exhibits
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 2, 200857dissemblance, “disembodied power splintered between diverse agencies of legitimacy, in particular agencies of the law and knowledge” [Ranciere 2007].JP hinted his frustration at this situation and pointed out on various occasions, this situation in democracy, namely, disembodied power splintered between diverse agencies of legitimacy, and said that one of the many factors responsible for this situation is the multiplication of the representative institutions. Both these reasons tell us why the modern history of the political is linked to the history of democracy, which is continuously challenging the political to renew itself in form of participation or counter-power. AsJP’s life and themes dear to him showed, this continual renewal of the will through actions opens up the possibility of the emergence of the political subject. I have presented here a rapid survey of his writings and views. Yet this survey tells us many a thing that pages of political theory and philosophy do not tell us. How easily he cast away the burden of law in his confrontation with the representative mechanisms of democracy may be a matter of wonder; yet we should remem-ber that this could happen because inspired with the virtue of directness and immediacy he could throw out the idea of legis-lator as teacher. He concentrated his examination throughout his life on what we can call the crisis of governability, and as a scien-tist he threw light on the intermediary bodies that had made government possible, and had helped the democratic state become a network state full of seemingly autonomous institu-tions, organs, and associations. As I have shown, he was not lured by the multiplicity of images of freedom, because he could say that after all these images contributed to a collective imagery of being together – a false imagery, an imagery that needed to be shown what worth it was. But the fine point here is that, and this too we should note, JP was not arguing for a corporatist state when he was attacking the intermediary bodies for failing the people; he was in fact saying that the nation had no such “sentimental contract”, and the question of the general economy of the society was more impor-tant than bonds and effects. The figure of the community that he was raising in the democratic discourse repeatedly was not one of sentiment and bond, but of the way in which counter-power could be and was organised against the dynamics of delegated proce-dure.2JP was thus always operating on two registers – ethical and the political, civic and the programmatic indicating the polit-ical. This was in fact indicative of the way in which the anti-colonial manifesto had developed, because in this path the national and the associational were not opposed to each other. By pitting popular associations against representative government and other representative mechanisms, JP would say that he was not at all championing a corporatist nation; he was only drawing the attention of society to the wider reality of democracy.3 He was not a pluralist therefore in the old functional sense; he was in fact providing a better understanding of “general will”, that is to say understanding of the dynamics of the production of an alternative generality to a politics that had called for the estab-lishment of institutions to represent general will.And, this is significant. Till date the vagueness of general will (yet the hold of the idea over people that they as nation do constitute a general will) has facilitated the claim of the repre-sentative government that it represents the former. But the politics of the anti-colonial world made it imperative for the anti-colonial thinkers to study institutions closely.JP was among those who took this task seriously and in his post-independence speeches and writings he studied the institutions of representa-tive government even more closely to come out with the realisa-tion that an institution was a social form, therefore there was no mysticism in it beyond popular scrutiny. His realisation and writings on the institutions of bureaucracy and government particularly in the post-independence period at times echoed the views of Marx, who inThe Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right had said that bureaucracy was the final end of the state, it was a circle from whom nobody could escape, and while it claimed to represent general interest, each bureau went on deceiving the other, thus marking the deadly game of interests. JP’s realisation akin to this led him to stress the need for parallel institutions to make democracy direct. Inasmuch as government and state surveillance needed institutions, the immediacy of democracy too called for a counter institutional effort, which would be essentially decentralised in nature. Thus superintendence over government has to be social, that means widespread, decentralised, and at the village level.4 It was this parallel history of associa-tions that JP was constantly invoking (and this was the main point in his homage to Gandhi that Gandhi had encouraged the growth of various social associations in the service of the people)5 in his journey to discover the route to direct democracy. This was of course a tradition beginning in the 19th century. The commu-nists had deployed the strategy, before them, the militant nation-alists. It helped the anti-colonial politics to counter the generality of rule with a parallel generality that was not hegemonic and centralised, but spread over the society and drawing sustenance from the associations that were springing up at every moment of colonised life at all places, anticipated and unanticipated. To the spectre of social and political dissolution of the country raised by Indira Gandhi,JP was saying that if freedom and democracy were to be rescued from the draconian and centralised rule, associational bodies had to be encouraged. As against represent-ative de jure bodies, he was thus pitting associations. This was his half-finished blueprint for reorganising the polity. To be true to him, he was giving us an illiberal conception of democratic politics having deep roots in anti-colonial thinking. It too spoke of general interests, it too created a public, but in this concept the immediacy of people and popular interests as opposed to corpo-rate and group interests was paramount.We must press this point little more.JP for instance raised the issue of right to work. It meant the freedom of work-based associ-ations, that is trade unions. Or, he raised the issue of the right to be heard, which meant not only the right to associate but to rebel also, if other avenues of being heard had been shut. Now, as we know thanks to new researches into the history of democracy, these rights had been raised in the 19th century. From Tocqueville to Marx all had commented on these rights that went beyond the contemporary theory of liberty.6 While some said that the state had to take responsibility to provide work or maintain institu-tions of hearing the people, others thought that this would be

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