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

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In Search of a Robust Egalitarianism


In the context of the elections that were held to choose the 15th President for India, one often hears the following expression, “we are the first political party that has made it possible for a person from the deprived social groups to be elected to the highest office of the country.” From such an expression, what would follow, at least for some, is the following: (i) such a claim would obliquely suggest that a party or a group of parties with an obligation to stay politically correct occupy the special and perhaps superior moral position to give meaning to inclusive democracy by supporting, in the present case, an Adivasi who hitherto has been excluded from occupying the highest public office; and (ii) some of the politics of symbolic presence is likely to argue that producing the election outcome in favour of an Adivasi or a Dalit is proof that the political party stands for the principle of justice. For such political observers may further claim that these do have the strength and will power to rotate the chakra or the wheel of justice so as to get the most deprived into the coveted constitutional office.

One could also notice the subtext of such a claim inasmuch as it indirectly suggests that other parties, which did put up an opposition candidate, do lack the foresight to look for the inclusion of a person whose public presence was not considered worthy of attention, particularly by the opposition. The editorial in the current issue of the EPW does bring out the complicity of the idea of political presence. One would not expect parties that brandish their virtue of social generosity to use other more comprehensive criterion, except social background, as an adequate ground for defending the choice of the candidate from the marginalised social group. Choosing a candidate from the most neglected sections only shows the limits of such an egalitarian choice because there are likely to be many on the list of the most neglected. For example, one would not expect such parties to defend their claim by electing the candidate from the margins on the grounds that elevation through election is the compensation, for example, for tribal displacement caused by the processes of “development.” Or it is a compensation for the humiliation of Dalits. Without this frankness and objectivity, their claim that they are committed to the principle of justice looks weak at its best and hypocritical at its worst. The redressal of the perennially worsening condition of the marginals—the Adivasis and the Dalits—makes the “top-down” claim of justice to the margins more of a symbolic value rather than bearing any substantive significance.

In this context, it is interesting, if not intriguing, to observe that the elevation of the marginal either through election or nomination has been considered powerful, particularly by the self-styled well-wishers of the Dalits, Adivasis, and the Bahujans. Thus, affirmative applauding, which, albeit, has been treated as powerful only by its face value, does not dampen the zeal for egalitarianism.

Arguably, the significance of certain public positions such as the post of the President, even in a symbolic sense, does add to the legitimation of egalitarian principles, especially when such a position is occupied by a person from the deprived sections. But the real essence of egalitarianism lies in an incumbent’s—in the current context, the President elect’s—capacity to convert what is treated as a symbolic into a substantive position. This value conversion depends on the conviction to speak and act in favour of those whose social capital forms the basis of their public success.

The celebration of the public success of the marginalised, however, contains a zeal only for the subsidised satisfaction which is unconditional in the sense that in its appreciation and social assessment of the elevation of the marginalised, they project such an elevation only symbolically as an event or a spectacle that necessarily entertains the idea of symbolic redressal of historical forms of discrimination and deprivation of the excluded social groups. It is in this sense that the liberal egalitarian principle scratches only the surface of the deeper questions that have a bearing on the social life with dignity for the embattled humanity.

This is not to suggest that public positions are less important just because they are considered as lacking in effective executive power or they derive their power practically from the rituals of constitutional protocol. This reading of the power of the President cannot be sustained on the grounds that there are notable examples who, during their tenure as the President, have lived up to the constitutional reputation of the coveted post. Thus, converting the symbolic into the substantive depends on the person’s capacity for autonomy that is necessary to convert an opportunity into an asset—an asset not just for the Dalits, the Adivasis, or women but for the entire country.


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Updated On : 13th Aug, 2022
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