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JP and the Limits of 'Lokniti'

Samaddar's cogent formulations (August 2, 2008) on Jayaprakash Narayan's political praxis and his open admiration of JP's ingenuity and originality in recasting the established relationship between nation and democracy give us an opportunity to revisit some of the limitations of the critique of representative democracy.

DISCUSSIONnovember 1, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly62Manish K Thakur ( is with the Public Policy and Management Group, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata.JP and the Limits of ‘Lokniti’Manish K ThakurSamaddar’s cogent formulations (August 2, 2008) on Jayaprakash Narayan’s political praxis and his open admiration of JP’s ingenuity and originality in recasting the established relationship between nation and democracy give us an opportunity to revisit some of the limitations of the critique of representative democracy.Ranabir Samaddar’s ‘Jayaprakash Narayan and the Problem of Rep- resentative Democracy’ (August 2, 2008, pp 49-58) presents an excellent and fine-grained analysis of the ideational universe of one of the leading political practitioners of the 20th century India. This scholarly effort signals the promises and potentialities of not only an Indian history of democracy, but also an Indian political theory. Yet, Samaddar’s cogent formulations on JP’s political praxis and his open admiration for JP’s ingenuity and originality in recasting the hitherto estab-lished relationship between nation and democracy afford us an opportunity to revisit some of the limitations of the projected critique of representative democracy. I will not rehearse here the arguments which have already been made in the original contribution. Nor will I attempt to take recourse to JP’s real-life political trajectory [Thakur 1998] to confirm or contest Samaddar’s under-standing of the dialectics of “social major-ity vis-à-vis the representative majority” (p 50). After all, theories do not become invalid simply because you run into contrary evidence. Popular PoliticsThe popular binary of ‘rajniti’ (govern-mental politics)and‘lokniti’(popular poli-tics) posits the essential contradictions of a political system in terms of political elites (full of machinations, and at times, legitimating themselves by incorporating popular elements) and the fooled people who have been made to believe that their popular will counts but who are actually helpless. Reading JP one gets the impression as if the gullible masses have historically been pitted against Machiavel-lian foxes as if the former have/had no agency of their own. What Samaddar tells us is that JP considered the institu-tions of representative democracy as ill-equipped containers for the general will of the people. This smacks of the theoretically suspect elite-subaltern divide as if the two were self-contained auto-nomous domains.More importantly, JP’s celebration of ‘lokniti’ displays a certain naiveté about what sociologists would call theories of conflict. His personal political role in con-taining Naxalite violence and his partici-pation in peace missions to Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland apart (we need to remember that JP camped in the Musha-hari block of the Muzaffarpur district in the 1970s to bring back peace and normalcy in the wake of the radical peasant uprising there), JP appears not to have engaged with the essential class contradictions of the people themselves. Representative DemocracyIn the excerpts quoted in Samaddar’s article, JP is holding the law (rather its in-effectiveness) of the representative gov-ernment responsible for the lack of “a modicum of social and economic justice” (p 56). One wonders if JP moved closer to the essentially harmonious picture of society along with his increasing involve-ment with Gandhian modes of socio- political action – ‘Bhoodan’, ‘Sarvodaya’, ‘Shanti Sena’. Even if nation and demo-cracy can unite only “by removing the obstacles in the form of sham representa-tive institutions”, it is not clear as to how vehicles of the alternative “immediate” and “direct” democracy – Gramdan villages, Sangharsh Vahinis and Janata Sarkars – will negotiate the contending constellation of interests that permeate society. To put it bluntly, JP’s preoccupa-tion with representative democracy/direct democracy divide made him rather oblivi-ous of the inherent limits of the latter. He does not seem to have given ample thought to the problems encountered by the possi-ble articulation of general will under the auspices of the “immediate” and “direct” democracy. Imported NatureSecondly, JP was concerned about the “imported” (p 54) nature of the institutions and processes of representative democracy. Of course, JP proposed reconstruction and
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 1, 200863voluntary action as moral forces to prop up governmentalised democracy. Noticea-bly, this apprehension and unfounded fear about “the imported” nature of democracy runs through many a political thinker of the last century. The axis of this critique includes the Hindu right as well as many of the Indian socialists, namely, JP, Acharya Narendra Dev, Sampurnanand [Thakur 2000]. Students of political theory will need to probe this concern with “Indianess” on the part of Indian socialists of different hues and its implica-tions for their political praxis.JP talks of moral force to infuse demo-cracy with socialist transformative poten-tialities. Indeed, as Peter deSouza points out, JP’s projection of the concept of total revolution seems to be a set of moral res-ponses which emerged from his impa-tience with the blemishes of existing society and its institutions and processes. According to deSouza, JP’s attempt was to seek morally pure solutions for such blemishes (of representative democracy a la Samaddar). Expectedly, the theme of the self-conscious moral individual is at the centre of each of JP’s holistic choices.Peter deSouza’s succinct analysis of JP’s lifelong attempt to overcome the “discom-fort of moral compromise” offers us an-other peep into the political universe that JP so arduously constructed. But then, the burden of being “so morally pure” as the agents of social change make you take the giant leap out of the historical process for history does not allow us pure choices. Not surprisingly, deSouza finds each of JP’s holistic choices as the choices of the purist [deSouza 1992].Political PraxisLastly, I find it hard not to compare and contrast Samaddar’s reading of JP’s politi-cal praxis with that of another political scientist – Yogendra Yadav. Contrary to Samaddar’s formulations, Yadav notes JP’s grand failure in offering convincing self-definitions to social actors in what Charles Taylor calls the self-defining function of social theory. With the express purpose of enriching the much-needed scholarly debate around JP’s ideas, I quote from Yadav’s essay (1992: 56),In his long intellectual journey, and the vol-umes of writings on India, not once do we come across a systematic attempt to compre-hend the nature of Indian society… what is entirely missing, in any case, is an under-standing of the Indian society in terms of its specificity, its culture, its traditions.I find it harsh and expect its corrobora-tion and contextualisation from the recent selected volumes of JP’s writings that Bimal Prasad has appreciably brought to the public domain. Samaddar, I am sure, will help enlighten us on the issue.ReferencesdeSouza, Peter R (1992): ‘For and Against Participa-tory Democracy’ in Nageshwar Prasad (ed), JP and Social Change, Radiant Publishers, New Delhi, pp 167-78.Thakur, Manish K (1998): ‘Aakalan ki Kasauti To Ho’ (in Hindi),Hans, May. – (2000): ‘Rammanohar Lohiya and the Politics of Anti-Congressism’, Mainstream, March 25.Yadav, Yogendra (1992): ‘JP’s Changing Ideas on Social Change’ in Nageshwar Prasad (ed), JP and Social Change, Radiant Publishers, New Delhi, pp 48-63.SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKSInclusive GrowthK N Raj on Economic DevelopmentEssays from The Economic Weekly and Economic & Political WeeklyEdited by ASHOKA MODYThe essays in the book reflect Professor K N Raj’s abiding interest in economic growth as a fundamental mechanism for lifting the poor and disadvantaged out of poverty. He has also been concerned that the political bargaining process may end up undermining growth and not provide support to those who were excluded from access to economic opportunities. These essays, many of them classics and all published in Economic Weekly and Economic & Political Weekly, are drawn together in this volume both for their commentary on the last half century of economic development and for their contemporary relevance for understanding the political economy of development in India and elsewhere.Pp viii + 338 ISBN 81-250-3045-X 2006 Rs 350Available fromOrient Blackswan LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:

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