ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Genealogies of Nagaland’s ‘Tribal Democracy’

Compared to the bulky literature on caste and democracy, we still know little about the form and functioning of democratic politics amongst tribes. This is a serious lacuna, one which, at the level of sociology, impedes the kind of careful comparison that has long proven fruitful to capture the inner logic and intricacies of social life. If caste is deemed central to any understanding of contemporary Indian politics, what about those states and constituencies in which tribes preponderate numerically?

The author is grateful to T B Subba and Leishipem Khamrang for their useful suggestions on this article. An anonymous reviewer offered incisive comments that benefited the article significantly.

What do democratic institutions and procedures consist of, if not socially meaningful arrangements between persons concerning governance and power? What is Indian democracy specifically, if not a “human democracy” (Piliavsky 2015) at once animated and agitated by social relations? The form and substance these social relations take often vary from one state to another, but the particular mode and meaning democratic politics and representation take is everywhere formed out of historically evolved political socialities, social subjectivities, and cultural proclivities and penchants, or what anthropologists have begun to call democracy’s inevitable “vernacularisation” (Michelutti 2007).

Most liberal political theorists, and their ventriloquists, find this vernacularisation of democracy difficult to accept, even perceive, and their theories—the one more abstract than the other—often end up eliminating democracy of the sociality that, in fact, shapes it (Piliavsky 2014: 29). Empirically, democratic life in the United States (US) and Europe does not differ from Indian democracy (in the ways they so markedly do) because democratic institutions and formal procedures significantly differ, but because the social inhabitations of these democracies vary vastly. Postulating thus is not to undermine the importance of democratic institutions, laws and procedures, political parties, and ideologies for the functioning of any democratic regime, but to criticise prevailing views that essentialise democratic institutions as quintessentially formal, rational–legal, and detached “things,” rather than approaching them for what they actually are and do: real human beings pursuing meaningful social relations and goals.

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Updated On : 21st Jun, 2018
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