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  Books   20 Apr 2024  Book Review | Manifesto of Indian citizen shows constant vigil must for democracy

Book Review | Manifesto of Indian citizen shows constant vigil must for democracy

THE ASIAN AGE. | RANJONA BANERJI
Published : Apr 20, 2024, 12:47 pm IST
Updated : Apr 20, 2024, 12:47 pm IST

This is a remarkably simple but effective method of reminding citizenry that a fight for democratic rights and privileges is ongoing

Cover page of Audacious Hope: An Archive of How Democracy is Being Saved in India
 Cover page of Audacious Hope: An Archive of How Democracy is Being Saved in India
Audacious Hope has an intriguing format. Rather than tell you anything new, it recasts events, past and present, in the light of a fight for democracy in India. By doing that, it outlines how there has always been a fight for democracy, regardless of the strength and reach of authoritarian and sometimes fascist forces within.

This is a remarkably simple but effective method of reminding citizenry that a fight for democratic rights and privileges is ongoing. And also how to use the past to work out a present course of action. When those who value democracy look back at the last 10 years, all they may see is despair, not to mention wasted efforts and lives.

What Roy, professor of global development politics at the University of York, does is point the light at the struggles themselves and how collectively they demonstrate the significance of eternal vigilance.

Have we got ahead of ourselves? Time to backtrack.

Audacious Hope begins on the premise that Indian democracy is in danger. Actually, this is not a premise. It is fact, and is denied only by those who have put democracy in danger and those who cheer the damage as it is being done. Thus we start with a dive into our democratic history and the first blow, as in the Emergency. Anyone who has lived through the Emergency and the situation India finds herself in now, in 2024, knows which was worse and why what we are going through is dire.

While we’re in the past, we also fast forward from the 1970s to the 1980s and revisit the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the first concerted and ultimately successful effort of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, to bring Hindu majoritarianism to the centre and forefront of Indian polity. And, of course, tied up to that past is the present we are going through now. A Hindu supremacist party in power for 10 years, pushing its agenda of one India, one book, one election, one religion, one language, one diet, one leader…

Roy then rewinds to the recent past, to the struggles of the past 10 years, since the BJP-led coalition, headed by Narendra Modi as Prime Minister came to power in 2014. It’s all here, so much that we’ve forgotten. The death of Rohith Vemula, by suicide, because of severe caste discrimination, and the subsequent anger and uprisings against India’s rampant casteism. Students protesting for democratic freedoms, and against the curtailing of educational standards and limits set on teaching, on subjects, on history, on freedom of speech and expression.

There is so much that we have forgotten in this short passage of history, which is sad because there were so many struggles, some still ongoing, for the sake of our now flimsy, fragile democracy. The women of Shaheen Bagh, sitting and waiting for our citizenship rights to be left alone, without being tampered with. There are reminders that these battlegrounds must remain. That victory is of a war, not of skirmishes and even battles.

The pandemic, and its horrific consequences, did not just expose the inadequacies of the administration. It also brought together social groups, which stepped in where the government — especially the Centre — failed spectacularly. Whether it was help for migrant workers who marched across our enormous land in peak summer or whether it was locating oxygen supplies as Covid-19 patients gasped for breath, it was NGOs, Opposition parties and social groups which stepped in.

The farmers, who sat in the cold and heat and rain, pelted on with water cannons, ripped by nails and lathis and bullets. They got their way, and unlike so many social media warriors, they have returned because of promises unkept.

Roy ends with a few thoughts on saving democracy. These lines stood out for me: “…we must avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism. Politics is far from perfect. A search for utopia that postpones any sort of action until all investigations have been concluded is as far away as it gets from the practice of realistic hope that will help our democracy.”

If you like, as we begin the long election process, this is a manifesto for a citizen. Of a country that will hopefully remain a democracy.

 

Audacious Hope: An Archive of How Democracy is Being Saved in India

By Indrajit Roy

Westland

pp. 217; Rs 599

 

Tags: book review, book review 2024