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Transition of Politics in India

Info: 1378 words (6 pages) Essay
Published: 12th Oct 2017 in Politics

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Politics in India has continuously evolved from an empire rule under the Mughals, to colonialism under the British, establishment of multi-party democracy to the current experiment with direct democracy.

This paper has been written with the aim to understand and analyze the structure of politics in India from the British Era to the emergence of democracy, on the basis of three articles by Sudipta Kaviraj. The analysis will be divided into two sections; the first talking about the idea of modernity and establishment of a colonial state; and second on the establishment and functioning of democracy in the post-colonial state.


According to Sudipta Kaviraj[1] modernity is not homogenous. There doesn’t exist a standard form or structure of western societies that can be reproduced in all societies; historical facts and experiences define ‘modernity’. The change in social practices which could arise due to coercive action or transformation by will make the experience unique. Substantiating this he gives the example of transformation of education in Bengal towards Western ideals leading to disappearance of the traditional schools. Further, the processes that constitute modernity are plural in nature due to their historical combination. Critiquing the functionalist approach in Marxism he states that taking the different historical accounts such strong functional characteristics that define the capitalist structure wouldn’t exist. A capitalist transformation via accumulation in all sectors doesn’t mean a homogenous system of social relations expressed as modernity. By this he basically means that considering that each sector would be unique with respect to their product relations and social relations, the act of capital accumulation by itself would not lead to modernity. It is the sequence of the processes and interconnection that define the nature of modernity. The transformation of India was a state driven process through these modern instruments in the absence of forces like the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. A modern state has two aspects to it; as an instrument its society’s capacity for collective action and, as an idea it’s a society based on the principle of sovereignty.[2] Collective agency and working via collective action are the pillars of modern society. Giving examples he elucidates how bureaucratic administration, collective consciousness towards a nationalist thought are all directed towards establishing a process of well-directed collective action. It is these modern processes on the basis of collective action through which the government formulates policies and takes decisions. Here is where he states these policies of society are reflexive. We can define them reflexive in two senses, first that these devices of collective agency are directed to society as much as to other areas (like conflict, war prone areas). Secondly, the effectiveness of these modern devices were constantly monitored and reformed in case of failure. This rationality brings about options to arrange their own structures and learn from their own experiences, and this is what Kaviraj meant by recursive rationalization. This very idea of drawing to experiences and structuring society accordingly is why societies would not emulate the west. Every modern state is hence unique in its formation depending on historical factors and factors of strength of collective agency and rational thought.

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The uniqueness of structure of society in India lies in its social structure .This was the caste system on the basis of which value of human life and his role was established in society. Caste system was the basis of Hindu religion and even with the onset of the Mughal Empire there was no change in the fundamental structure of social order. There existed a dual system of power with both Hindu and Islam principles. Furthermore, the political power was limited to just ‘executive’ powers (of protecting social institutions or maintaining law and order) on the basis of social power governed under the caste system. Modern sovereignty as an idea was alien as even the political leaders were subservient to this social order and therefore did not hold any powers to reconstitute it.

The subsequent process of colonization in itself was unique as it was met with hardly any opposition in the beginning; rather it was in some sense supported by the elite. The British entered Bengal as a revenue raising body and tried to gain control through commerce and revenue activities. This was easy to capture as the traditional society was not organized around the power of state, they did not control the entire functioning of the state. British introduced the idea of ‘state sovereignty’ and ‘different spheres’ of social life defining the political structure in society.[3] This led to condensation of functions and consolidation of power based on European history to formulate a state through techniques of disciplinary power, structure of welfare state and democracy. Before modernity regulatory functions existed through different agencies but the British concentrated them at the center. This is what created a ‘colonial state’ by using disciplinary techniques to bring the society under intellectual control. This idea of sovereignty established a state that had legislative power which could critically judge and restructure social institutions like the caste system, and this was superimposed by developing critical rational thought amongst the intellectual. Rationalism born due to intellectual growth disregarded Edward Said’s assertion that Orientalism led to submission of intellect (Kaviraj, Modernity and Politics in India 2000). This expression of common rational thought also created strong associations among the modern elite. With the establishment of ‘Rule of Law’ and more importance provided to community grievances rather than individuals, unified pressure groups began formulating by the elite. This logic of associationism was the creation of a colonial ‘civil society’. This civil society embarked to be the national leaders of tomorrow. Furthermore, the self-limitation of the state, the separation of the political and social powers in distinct spheres and the idea of self-rule that grew of it conceptualized nationalism in India. National consciousness was brought about through regional patriotism as articles in vernacular languages were brought into print. An idea of the nation state that would replicate modernity (Europe) would require a single language and a homogenous culture. But in India with diversity; a pluralist approach with a constitution granting regional autonomy and laying down the federal structure of powers was decided upon by the leaders. Modern politics was thus created not through imitation of the West but taking into account the historical processes and a self-conscious process of structuring social order according to the particularities of society.


[1] Sudipta Kaviraj(2000);Modernity and Politics in India, Daedalus

Vol. 129, No. 1, Multiple Modernities (Winter, 2000), pp. 137-162

[2] Sudipta Kaviraj(2009); The Post-colonial State: The special case of India ; http://criticalencounters.net/2009/01/19/the-post-colonial-state-sudipta-kaviraj/

[3] Sudipta Kaviraj(2000);Modernity and Politics in India, Daedalus

Vol. 129, No. 1, Multiple Modernities (Winter, 2000), pp. 137-162


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