JACQUES DERRIDA SAID democracy’s promise cannot be fulfilled; democracy is never complete. It keeps evolving. The democracy we see across the world today is not a ‘full democracy’. It has to evolve, and constantly. Derrida used an interesting phrase while evaluating the nature of democracy: “democracy to come”.
The phrase “democracy to come” contains the argument that contemporary democracies, mostly dominated by Western-style democracy, need to go beyond the strict “nation state-citizen frame”. In his work The Politics of Friendship (1994), Derrida argued that we need to redefine the membership of democracy constantly. It may include diverse forms of life, diverse ecosystems, cultures and languages. The evolving diversity of forms of life may extend the argument for making democratic friendship with various ecologies and species like trees, animals, etc. In this way, we need to evolve a “sensitive democracy for all” which may expand the meaning of democracy from representative democracy to sensitive and inclusive democracy.
After Independence, the form of democracy we adopted in India has worked largely within the purview of the Western mode of democracy which is essentially nation-state and citizen-centric. The realm of democracies needs to be rethought and broadened beyond the range of representative liberal nation-states. It is interesting to observe that in independent India, no politician, political party, or prime minister thought about innovations in democracy, or new editions of it. The notion of futural democracy is almost absent from Indian political discourse and practice. Not only in India but world over, wherever the Western form of democracy is in practice, there is little concern about democracy and futurity.
Narendra Modi, as prime minister of India and leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is also a product of the post-Independence politics of democracy. He sharpened his vision of democracy through the experience he gained as a cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and then leader of BJP. When he became chief minister of Gujarat, Modi got the opportunity to practise democracy through his policies and governance. If one analysed the political and developmental actions taken by him during his chief ministerial tenure, one can see clearly that Modi was trying to redefine Indian democracy by extending its meaning and boundaries. His process of redefining democracy was two-pronged: deepening of democracy to the grassroots and the marginalised; and extending its boundaries by abolishing the various binaries that had emerged in the perception of democracy, such as that between rich and poor, upper caste and lower caste, labour and master, etc. Modi was facilitating this process through his developmental policies and governance. He was redefining democracy silently by his actions and not by his words. In other words, he has been trying to formulate a new articulation to help theorise his actions for redefining the forms of Indian democracy which may be futuristic and sensitive, and resolve all the binaries in society and polity. Modi understands that democracy means responding to every section of Indian society and respecting everybody’s dignity. He also works to inculcate the sense of dignity (gaurav) among the most oppressed and marginalised communities. It is true that he answers to the representative politics in India but he is also aware that new forms of marginality in society cannot be allowed to emerge.
As we know, aggressive politics of representation quite often also produces multiple marginalities and even new forms of marginalities. The limitation of the politics of representation is in distributing democratic resources vertically, not horizontally. In this process too, new forms of marginality emerge sometimes. Development and its outcomes also produce inequalities. Any sensitive democracy constantly keeps reviewing these new socio-economic changes. Prime Minister Modi, in his vision of governance and in making his policy strategies, attends to these new changes and the invisible and silent inequalities. Recently, the Union government implemented the PM Vishwakarma Yojana to address the silent inequalities and invisible marginalisation affecting the dastkar (craftsmen) communities which come under the most backwards cluster of Other Backward Classes (OBC). Since they are small in number and not yet politically empowered, most parties that have centred their politics on category-wise representation do not pay sufficient attention to such marginal communities. In a sense, this may be perceived as redefining the politics of representation in India which may help us evolve a “samaras-sambhavi” democracy.
Modi understands that democracy means responding to every section of Indian society and respecting everybody’s dignity. He also works to inculcate the sense of dignity among the most oppressed and marginalised communities. It is true that he answers to the representative politics in India but he is also aware that new forms of marginality in society cannot be allowed to emerge
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The mission of redefining democracy, which Modi put into action as chief minister of Gujarat, surfaced in a more nuanced manner in 2014 when he became prime minister. He called it Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas is not only a slogan but also a democratic principle that Modi is trying to infuse into policy, governance and politics. On the one hand, this principle tries to include development and distribution of resources to each and every section of society, especially the most marginalised. His Garib Kalyan policies in the last nine years are directed towards samagra samahan (holistic inclusion). On the other hand, Modi has tried to include ecology—animals like the cheetah, the tiger in general, disappearing birds, etc—within the purview of his democratic friendship. His endorsement of mota anaj, such as millets, which were almost disappearing and were called “chhota log khana”, his emphasis on the mother tongue in education, and so on show how he has tried to gather small things, marginal species, marginal languages, etc into the state-led democratic discourse. By such efforts, Modi is trying to evolve multiple forms of diversity and bring them to the centre of policy and governance.
At the same time, Modi has made the notion of democracy elastic, taking it beyond the boundaries it was confined within. The way he is arguing and working for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in his various foreign policy initiatives is actually an effort to evolve democracy without boundaries for one and all. He is also making an argument for transforming state-centric democracy into a human-centric democracy—that is, a democracy of humanity and for humanity. The proposals passed at the recent G20 summit in Delhi hint at the fact that India under Modi’s leadership is working for Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. As a matter of fact, the principle of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas is not limited to domestic politics. It may also emerge as a basis of global diplomacy. It is one of the ways Indian diplomacy may now be perceived as having gone beyond the non-alignment conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru.
In redefining democracy, Modi argues for an Indian form of democracy. We know that there are various forms of democracy in the world which emerged on the basis of specific social, historical and cultural experiences. Similarly, in his vision of an Indian form of democracy, Modi draws on democratic principles that India evolved and experienced in the ancient period, such as in Licchavi and elsewhere. He derives ideological knowledge and resources from our ancient past to help develop the future of democracy. The argument that India is the mother of democracy emerged from a similar concern.
It is an attempt to decolonise the future—and for that Modi is constantly trying to decolonise the past. The reassertion of the notion of Bharat and evolving a new diction for the public sphere by giving traditional Bharatiya names to monuments, buildings, such as Bharat Mandapam and Yashobhoomi in Delhi, etc, show a well-defined trend of evolving Indian forms of democracy. The politics of renaming cities, roads and districts which had Islamic and colonial recall may also be considered a part of the same project. While expanding the political membership of the Indian form of democracy, he seems to be inspired by traditional notions of trees, rivers, mountains, and so on. That is not to deny that modern discourses on environment and ecology may also have impacted his redefinition of Indian democracy.
Modi has made the notion of democracy elastic, taking it beyond the boundaries it was confined within. The way he is arguing and working for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in his various foreign policy initiatives is actually an effort to evolve democracy without boundaries for one and all. He is also making an argument for transforming state-centric democracy into a human-centric democracy
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Modi uses India’s past and blends it with contemporary aspirations to plan the long-term future of democracy in the country. He is the first prime minister to talk of the future as a political resource and plan for that democratic future. Earlier, we were crushed by an oppressive present and limited to the five-year plan-based visioning of the future. Modi gave it all a sweep and started long-term future-planning, such as Vikasit Bharat in 25 years, India at 100 or even after a thousand years.
It is true that democracy is the realm of collective decision-making, but the role of the individual matters a lot. Therefore, Modi’s critics—who evaluate his contribution as guided by individual ambition and by creating a dichotomy between the individual and democracy—miss the point that the persona and individuality of a leader like Nehru, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk or Nelson Mandela played an important role in bringing in transformative changes. Thus, individual initiatives sometimes play an important role in transforming routine democracy into active, assertive and innovative democracy.
Democracy, not only in India but across the world, requires constant rethinking. Its form and membership need redefining, and for that carving out the future of democracy is necessary. Static democracy, which denies itself a re-evaluation, may turn into authoritarianism of a kind. It is good to see how, for the first time, an Indian politician and statesman has taken the lead in reimagining democracy and planning for its future. In the 1980s, Jürgen Habermas rightly observed that Western society seemed to have lost its ability to imagine a utopian future—and, in this context, one would like to add, even a long-term future of democracy.