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Mainstream, VOL LX No 12, New Delhi, March 12, 2022

How to Read Contemporary Indian Politics? | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 11 March 2022, by Arup Kumar Sen


Understanding politics and political theory is a contested terrain. Rajeev Bhargava’s thought-provoking book, What is PoliticalTheory and Why do We Need it? (Oxford University Press, 2010), addressed such contentious questions.He stated in the Preface of the book: “Sound moral and ethical judgements are dependent less on classroom lessons and more on rich lived experience”. While clarifying his own position on theorization of politics, Bhargava argued: “There is wealth of lived experience in slums which is crying out to be theorized but it should not be confused with theory...the most crucial component of theorizing is imaginative thinking which can also be learnt outside university settings. Indeed, quite often the disciplinary structures of academic institutions can throttle imaginative thinking”.

The fact that there is an organic connection between political theory and political practice was emphasized by other political thinkers of India: “Political theory is thus often produced under the pressure and demands of political practice. It is this historical urgency and pressure that often elicits highly original uses of received doctrine or conceptual resources. Political thinking is thus at times an act of intellectual desperation, not of calm and orderly intellectual introspection”. (See Introduction, Sudipta Kaviraj and Sunil Khilnani ed. Civil Society: History and Possibilities, Cambridge University Press, South Asian Edition, 2002)

We are living in contemporary India under a political regime which has come to power through the electoral route, but subverts constitutional rights of minorities and human rights of citizens promised in the Indian Constitution, through its governmental practices. Addressing this paradox theoretically is a big challenge for Indian political thinkers, and confronting this dominant paradigm of politics at the level of political practices demands a sound understanding of the grammar and language of this emerging Hindutva politics.

It may be stated in the above context that Marx also wrote about the radical possibilities of theory in bringing social change. His statement — “...theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses” — needs to be re-thought in our troubled times.

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