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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 18, 19, April 29 & May 6, 2023 (Double issue)

Re-imagining Social Justice Politics in India Today: Idea, Promise and Practice | K Srinivasulu

Saturday 29 April 2023, by Karli Srinivasulu


With the formation of the All India Federation for Social Justice (AIFSJ) at the initiative of DMK Chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, MK Stalin last year and convening of its conference in the first week of April 2023 in Chennai and the promise of regular conferences of the forum, the idea of Social Justice seems to have come back to the centre of Indian social, political and electoral discourse. Though what social justice means and what its character would be and ought to be in the present changing context is a matter of detail the initiative going by the sound-bytes seems to be quite ambitious. The position that Social Justice has to be the basis of an alternative imagination of nation, democracy and governance is a significant departure from the dominant discourse in Indian politics at the present juncture. The present context of political contestation in fact makes it a matter of immediate and urgent concern.


Historical Backdrop 

The evolution of and engagement with the idea of social justice in India has been quite long and protracted. Underlying this concept has been the critique of caste-centric social structure in India and the recognition of the need for reforms in it. The critique encompassing caste, gender and social practices and religious customs and superstitions has been a continuous and evolving reality the lineage of which could be traced back to Buddha and be seen running through the medieval Bhakti movement to the anti-caste efforts since the 19th century as part of responses ignited by the process of colonial modernity. [1]

The history of Indian nationalist movement has had a strong dimension of engagement with the social reform along with the demand for political Independence. The underlying idea was that the loss of freedom and colonial enslavement of India was not only due to the political- military might of the colonial powers but also due to the internal divisions and contradictions in Indian society and politics that rendered India weak vis-à-vis the invaders. This theme could be seen articulated in a variety of modes basically to draw our attention to the need for reforms in Indian society. The most articulate expression of this could be found in the anti-caste tradition which pinned the central faultline onto the caste system. Identifying caste as the historical specificity of India, Jotiba Phule in the 19th century sought to posit the principal contradiction in India society in terms of the Brahminical savarna Sethji-Bhatji forces and the subaltern Bahujan Shudra-atishudra castes. [2] Further elaboration of the dynamics of caste structure could be found in BR Ambedkar who identified Brahminism and capitalism as a combined force oppressing the Bahujans under the conditions of colonial capitalist modernity. Gandhiji in spite of a different take on caste did not shy away from critiquing caste and therefore emphasising the need for social reform: the demand for abolition of untouchability the principal culprit of caste and morally conscientising the savarnas to eschew this practice was a result of this understanding. If Phule and Ambedkar’s effort was to raise the awareness among the Bahujans to resist and liberate themselves from caste dominance and oppression then Gandhi’s task was no less important for his effort has to be construed as an important one in the direction of motivating the upper castes to break free of the varna-jati imbroglio through an appeal to their moral conscience. Social change in India is possible only when there are efforts from below and above ideally attempted in consonance with each other. This was in contrast to the majority of the nationalist leaders who largely assigning centrality to political independence opined that the social reform could be taken up after the country becoming independent. [3]

The continual influence of the thinking that social reform would follow political and economic advancement could be seen in the post-Independence developmental trajectory. The most visible sign of this mindset is the non-priority of universal education (in contrast elite higher education was prioritized) which ought to have been accorded utmost urgency given India’s low literacy and associated abysmal social development indicators. [4] The dominant aspect of state policy has been that the challenges of caste oppression and communal division would be taken care of by the political economy of development. The modernist view that development would be the panacea for the communal, casteist and related obscurantist practices and would ensure the emergence and consolidation of a secular progressive social and cultural fabric in the country could be seen guiding the policy thinking. How naïve, misplaced and misconstrued was this optimism is evident from the fact that the history of modernity and development are prone to the cunning of history and could lead to banal outcomes with appalling consequences. What is lost sight of is the cardinal lesson from the social reform movements that specific and conscious efforts are required to fight the social maladies and social and cultural advancement could not be relied on objective forces alone.

Constitutional Vision

This is not to deny that there was no conscious effort to engage with the question of the social as part of the post-Independence reconstruction. This could be seen amply reflected in the constitution making process. The Preamble of the constitution promising justice — social, economic and political — and Directive Principles of State Policy, seen in relation to the debates around these issues in the Constituent Assembly demonstrate amply the anxieties and concerns of the new state aspiring to become a strong nation. It is no exaggeration to state that the Indian not a mere legal document meant to guide the governance of country but in fact was meant to be a political guide to shape the society through conscious choices and movements. Needless to say that the social concern that was an important and intrinsic part of the swaraj continued to be engaged as a principal aspect in the framing of Indian constitution. A secular, democratic, egalitarian Indian republic could only be imagined on the foundations a just social order.

A wider notion of justice understood as treatment of citizens in a fair and equal manner as per the rule of law and rightfully by preventing and avoiding arbitrariness is foundational to the Indian constitution. The independent judiciary as the guardian of the constitution and adjudicator of rule of law is meant to guarantee justice and democracy.

If the preamble of our constitution spells out justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as foundational values that would ensure the unity and integrity of India as a nation then the further elaboration and specification of justice found in Part III of the Indian constitution dealing with fundamental rights (Articles 14 to 17) signifies the cardinal significance of the idea of justice to the nation.

The subsequent constitutional developments available in the form of the judicial interventions and interpretations by the constitutional courts clarified, expanded and emphasised the importance of the concept of justice as valuable in upholding equal access to rights and opportunities in our society. The practice and enhancement of justice centric constitutional morality in our post-Independent journey alone could help us to overcome and transcend the historically sedimented structures of caste, class and gender and inequality and discrimination based on them. If Kesavanada Bharti judgment is a landmark one in our constitutional history which declared social justice as being integral to basic structure of our constitution then in S.R Bommai v. Union of India judgement, the apex court re-emphasised the foundational constitutional significance of social justice. As widely noted the enunciation of social justice being basic to Indian constitution in letter and spirit has been part of judicial discourse in India.

It is a sad commentary on the post-Independence governance that the constitutional vision and commitment to social justice was not followed up with a commensurate effort at the requisite social mobilization from below as the powers that be lagged far behind in realizing the constitutional promises. As a result we see the trajectory of the real politik not only deviating from the constitutional vision and commitment but even often poised at cross purposes. The most significant and striking result of this process could be witnessed in its culmination in the Emergency raj.


Governmentality and Depreciation of the Social 

The post-Independence state and nation-building process prioritized two aspects: governance and development. It is well noted that the institutional structures of the state and the developmental process were overwhelmingly bureaucratized. The paradox of India’s developmental story is that despite the fact that India’s independence was a result of a protracted mass movement, the post-Independence governance and development was marked by bureaucratization sans any significant popular participation. As popular participation is limited to the electoral politics that was periodic and confined to ballot box it is quite logical that the initiative is left to the political elite and official bureaucracy. With the growing centralisation of decision-making in the party structures that precluded internal democracy and dialogue the spirit of bureaucratization could only be seen engulfing the party system as well. The bureaucratic process in the Congress though became manifest only in the later period its beginnings cannot but be found in the early decades of Independence. There could be seen a positive correlation between the rise of charismatic populist leaders and politics of democratic decline with attendant political disengagement and popular demobilisation. The declaration of Emergency in the mid-1970s was in a significant sense a culmination of this process.

The regional parties which rose challenging the dominance of the Congress system also reflect the centralising logic in politics at the state level. Almost with no exception they have been known as being centralized, dynastic and family owned as they owe their emergence and growth to a charismatic leader. The reality of family control and acceptance of dynastic inheritance have been the basis of personalized exercise of power within the party and in government thus have marked the character and functioning of these parties and their regimes. Democratic deficit in these parties is so deep and conspicuous that it is evident in the conduct of the party rank and file, weak deliberative practices and legislative behavior. Centralisation of decision-making at the top in the hands of the Supremo rendering the politics of representation superficial and vacuous is what characterizes them. Further, there has been a noticeable lacuna and inadequacy on the part of the regional regimes in terms of representation to the subaltern social groups, the OBCs, women and of course denial of substantive participation to the SCs and STs who otherwise enjoy representation because of constitutional reservations. Perhaps as a corollary of this shallowness these party regimes majorly bank on populist schemes to gather popular electoral support. This raises an important question: Can a party which is not internally democratic be an instrument of wider popular democratic politics and with an accent on social justice?

A major lesson to be drawn from the Emergency experience is that democracy could not be taken for granted instead it could be ensured only with the presence of a conscious and vigilant citizenry and free media. The biggest demonstration of the learning of this lesson is evident in the massive rise of social movements pitted against the state and its policies. The rise of civil and democratic rights movement, students’, women’s, Dalit, adivasi and environmental movements in different parts of the country in the post-Emergency period were in essence critical of developmentality of the Indian state and its centralising logic of governamentality thereby bringing forth the need to recognize diversity, democratic decentralisation and popular participation as values intrinsic to any democratic experiment. The discursive and practical rise of centre-state relations as an important contested issue deserving immediate attention shows the reaction to the strong centralising tendency in Indian polity that alternatively demanded the rearticulation of the centre-state relations and democratic resolution of the federal question. [5]

An important dimension of this democratic upsurge in the post-Emergency India was the centrality of the social question with an accent on justice. This has to be seen in the context of the process of bureaucratic centralized developmental process that has led to the concentration of wealth and decline of the traditional small, labour intensive and home-based production systems thereby leading to the large scale dispossession and displacement of small producers, deceleration of the livelihoods and disturbance in the organic link between the agrarian and artisanal sectors. The devastation of the rural economy has led to the dislocation and marginalisation of the vast sections of the productive castes forcing them into new structures of subordination and subalternity in the emergent centralising political economy.


Social Justice Politics and Heraclitan thesis 

Social justice agenda can be likened to the Heraclitus’ river where one cannot step into the same twice. Likewise Social justice is a dynamic and continuously changing idea and objective both conceptually and concretely mainly because of the shifting platforms, emerging challenges and changing dynamic yardsticks of assessment and judgment.

Social Justice defined in its broadest sense can be traced to different intellectual-ideological influences and thus seen manifesting in multiple frames and formats that conform to and in fact ascertain India’s historical and socio-spatial plurality and diversity.

But unfortunately the Social justice agenda and organisational politics have substantially been frozen by its dominant claimant-practitioners theoretically and as a result could be seen rendered fixed and formulaic as amply evident in their practice. Curiously the major loser in this expansion of the social justice politics has been the dominant Congress party. The political developments in UP and Bihar where the Samajwadi party (SP), Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) emerged as dominant players displacing the Congress not only mark the electoral-political shift but in a significant sense a deeper ideological change: that is the exhaustion of the Congress brand of (secular) nationalism seen as porous and compromised. At another level this was seen as representative of the interests of the dominant feudal caste interests in the Hindi heartland. The subaltern caste-class interests thus were sought to be identified with samajwadi or socialist parties led by OBC leadership. The Lohiate samajwadi social and political articulation gained ideological prominence as “anti-Congress” force with a distinctly anti-Brahmin and regional linguistic nationalist face. Thus the anti-Congressism of the samajwadi parties was both intensively ideological and deeply different in terms of social base from that of the Congress.

The Dravidian movement in the south ideologically inspired by Periyar’s anti-Brahmin, anti-caste rationalist atheist thought [6] could initially through agitational politics later coming to power could bring about a radical shift in social politics, power structure and policy regime. Though vastly varying from the Dravidian experiment in Tamil Nadu in temporal, historical, political and ideological terms, the developments in the Hindi heartland shared with the former certain common ground in terms of their anti-Brahminical thrust, subaltern caste concerns, lower caste social base and regional assertion that lent credence to the democratisation of centre-state relations.

The third stream is the regional parties like the Telugu Desam Party, Janata Dal, BJD that have raised the banner of regional autonomy and devolution of powers to the states. These parties controlled by the dominant peasant castes in the respective states have risen against the Congress and positioned themselves against the Congress-dominated centre. Their support base has been carved out with a strong dose of regionalism and populist policy regime.

The rise of the BJP marks a new phase in the social justice politics and parties and their various concerns. The samajwadi leaders and their parties have displayed a contrasting approach towards the BJP ever since its emergence as a major player in Indian politics. If a section got gravitated to the BJP and remained trusted allies of the BJP like George Fernandes and others like the SP and RJD positioned themselves in principle against the BJP. The social justice parties share a deeper antagonism with the Hindutva forces in terms of ideology, social bases and vision of society and change. Yet the growth of the BJP in the Hindi heartland cannot be understood without appraising the contradictions and trapping in which the socialist politics found themselves in the post-Mandal phase as a result of the dynamics of Hindutva politics as much due to the processes of their own doing.

There is a curious paradox in the Hindutva articulation: while denying the internal divisions in the Hindu society based on the hierarchical caste system in pursuit of its homogenising Hindutva agenda it could be seen paying a detailed and meticulous attention to emergent caste dynamics in chalking out the electoral arithmetic of caste calculus emerging out of the social justice politics of socialist parties in Hindi states. This is conspicuous in the electoral performance of the BJP impacting on the fortunes of the SP and RJD in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively. The result of this is the dent in the image of these parties as standing for OBC empowerment and also for the interests of the SC, ST and minorities as part of their social justice agenda.

It is unfortunate that the agenda of social justice is largely identified with and confined to the question of reservations. The limitation of the dominant discourse in the samajwadi tradition is evident in the reading of an otherwise complex understanding of caste available in the Mandal commission report by confining it to reservations issue. The Mandal report by making an attempt at a complex reading of caste opened up the multi-dimensionality of backwardness of the backward class-castes. The OBC category comprising of castes with a diversity of traditional occupational structures ranging from agriculture to artisanal production to services have been central to the rural society providing products and services. With the process of modernity initiated by the colonial state we see the disruption and decline of these occupations. The decline that began with the colonial rule got intensified with the avowed developmental agenda pursued by the post-colonial state. Post-colonial modernity devaluing these occupational skills in fact imparting disrespect and indignity to them fastened the process of the disruption and disintegration of these historically evolved and communally sustained skill based livelihoods. The rise and superiority of the institutionally imparted and text based knowledge and machine-based production systems is evident all over the country.

The Mandal commission report recognizes and evidently records the colossal violence in the developmental process leading to the establishment of domination in terms of knowledge, skills, production of the textual over oral, institutional over community based, machine based over manual, large over small. The violence of this is evident in the processes of marginalisation, displacement, dispossession thus constituting a major aspect of the process of primitive accumulation paving the way for the capitalist industrialisation in India. The result of this development model is not merely social but also spatial - the natural mineral resource endowed regions/ states being exploited and denuded without any adequate social and material compensation. It is no exaggeration that the resultant scenario has been said to resemble a sort of internal colonization a la Sachidananda Sinha [7].

The regimes claiming to be upholding social justice agenda failed to address this development induced underdevelopment/ backwardness instead comfortably confined themselves to reservations issue thus reducing the social justice politics in scope and substance.

There has been no attempt to address the ensuing scenario in theoretical and strategic terms let alone reckoning with it. Apart from many, one significant consequence of the above politics is the perception that the social justice conceived substantially in terms of reservations benefitted a small middle class segment of the OBCs both in caste and class terms while the majority are left to the vagaries of developmental juggernaut. This is sought to be characterised in popular parlance as leading to “Yadavwad” or Yadavisation — meaning the major beneficiary of the social justice politics have been the political and educated elite of the dominant OBC community of Yadavs. The conspicuous presence and visibility of the members of this caste in the domains of politics, administration, education and other public employment is seen as a vindication of such a characterisation.

The perception of being marginalized or left out of ‘development’ has led to the rise of Most Backward Castes (MBCs) as a separate constituency deserving political and policy attention. Castes other than the dominant Yadavs have perceived themselves to be neglected in the social justice regimes like the one led by the SP and RJD. This internal assertion is not just limited to the OBCs.

This development has to be seen against the background that the broad legal- juridical categories of OBCS, SCs and STs or social groupings like Bahujans, Dalits and Adivasis are not homogeneous but are internally highly differentiated and in some cases are also pitted against each other. The processes of modernity and development have only further complicated their relationship.

Viewed thus the social justice parties and anti-caste movements like the Dalit movement ought to have been vigilant towards the actuality of this differentiation and potentiality of the components turning contradictory and even hostile towards each other. The history of these movements and parties clearly demonstrates their failure in this respect leading to their fragmentation in the form of sub-caste (e.g., Madiga) movements and splits in and defections from these parties.

This lacuna could be seen opening up the possibility for the MBCs and non-Jatav marginalized castes like Valmikis among the Dalits looking for instance in UP beyond the SP and BSP which they owed their loyalty to as evident in the elections in the decades of 1990s and 2000s. The deepening of the faultlines in the social base of these parties has opened up the possibility for the BJP which could reach out to these social categories and carve out social support among them in the last decade or so as the electoral outcomes after 2014 amply demonstrate.

The BJP has been successful in meticulously evolving appropriate micro-management strategies to garner the support of these marginalized OBC and SC sections tapping on the internal divisions and disgruntlements among these communities and forging alliances with small caste specific parties that have emerged expressing their disillusionment with the mainstream socialist parties in the Hindi belt.


Social Justice Federation

The AIFSJ conference held in Chennai in early April in which representatives of the various Opposition parties and civil society organizations participated is a major development. The political parties that participated in the conference conducted in a dual mode could be grouped into the following categories: the DMK and other Dravidian parties, regional parties like BRS, TMC, etc., the socialist parties like SP, RJD, the parliamentary Communist parties and the Congress. There is no reason to doubt the real objective of this conference which is basically to forge an anti-BJP front so as to put a combined fight against the BJP regime in the next general elections.

Going by the nomenclature of the front it is meant to be a grouping that would strive for social justice implicitly rather undoubtedly ignored and sidelined or negated by the BJP regime. It is clearly a matter of debate and contestation that whether there is or could be a likely consensus on the meaning and content of social justice for apart from the Dravidian, communist and samajwadi parties which have historically emerged and grown with social justice agenda and anti-caste as the central motif of their political praxis. The proximate position of the other regional formations like the BRS could be described as populist for their welfare schemes. Thus the engagement of the expected constituents in the envisaged front with the social justice agenda has been quite varied from a meditated long-term to electorally expedient one. Given the increasing marginalisation of social welfare in the explicitly pro-corporate policy dispensation and the increasing poverty, unemployment and dwindling socio-economic performance of the neo-liberal regime at the centre a strong social agenda could help the opposition to rally and mobilise the popular caste-classes in the next elections.

Going by the signals emanating from the conference it becomes evident that addressing caste which is perceived as strategic weakness of the Hindutva ideology and politics is projected as the strong platform of the social justice agenda. In fact the demand for caste census has emerged as a strong counterpoint to the Hindutva politics in the recent months prompting the centre to delay the undertaking of the census operation itself.

The caste-centric discourse also has projected the dilution of the reservations through the rapid and visible shrinkage of public employment largely due to non-action as well as actual or proposed privatisation of the large-scale employment-generating sectors. In addition, the demand for the revocation of the reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWSs) [8] and initiative for reservations in the private sector have gathered momentum.

The expectation that caste question would put the BJP on the defensive is a simplistic and even misplaced one. For going by the BJP’s performance especially in the last decade or so it is evident that it could evolve an electoral arithmetical strategy that paid close attention to the micro dynamics of caste and thereby could reap rich dividends.

Thus the BJP could address the subaltern castes that are socially most backward and numerically smaller and have felt neglected by the social justice parties or could be seen prone to a sense of neglect and marginalization and could by doing so rally them with the promise of social improvement and representation. A number of non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Dalits in the Hindi states could be seen gravitating to the BJP. There has been the emergence and consolidation of the sub-categorization demand by the Dalit castes which lagging behind could not obtain the benefits of reservations. It is true that there has been a visible disproportionality in the availing of reservations by different Dalit as well as subaltern OBC castes. This has led to the sub-categorization movement for quota in reservations by these castes in most of the states. The BJP could rally these deprived castes with the promise of rectification though without much progress on the delivery side. What has helped the BJP of course is the meticulously nurtured electoral machinery and detailed attention to electoral calculus.

It is a failure on the part of social justice parties and civil society organizations not to gauge and address the unevenness in the caste scenario by evolving policy and political initiatives to rectify the situation.
The same logic of addressing the disgruntled could be seen in the BJP’s attempts to mobilise the Pasmanda Muslims in the present context despite its pronounced anti-Muslim standpoint.

Another issue that could be seen to be a central concern of the Social Justice Federation is the question of overt and even aggressive centralisation of power. The lopsided centre—state relations could be seen in the fiscal, legislative and administrative fields. The overt interference of the Governor into domain of the political executive in the opposition ruled states in the present dispensation has been a major area of unease and discontent. The policy and cultural interferences in the form of imposition of Hindi and other measures in the non-Hindi states in the south have further soured the relations. The recent direction to print ‘dahi’ on curd pockets has attracted huge indignation even from the BJP ruled Karnataka state. Another instance is the alleged attempt to bring the Karnataka milk cooperative Nandini under the control of the Amul dairy cooperative that attracted the ire of the Karnataka farmers as it is seen to be adversely impacting on the interests of local dairy farmers as well as paving the way to centralisation against the spirit of cooperation; there is a lurking popular suspicion that these measures are intended to prepare the ground for their subsequent hand over to private corporate interests.

It is widely felt that the meta-narrative of aggressive Hindutva nationalism based on ‘one nation’ leitmotif and anti-Muslim majoritarianism diverting attention away from the complex diversity that India is known for would not only hamper and constrict the linguistic cultural identities of Indian states but would also vitiate the social atmosphere through its sustained hate politics.

It is crucial to recognize the importance of representation to social justice politics. In the recent times the question of representation has acquired disturbing dimension as a result of which a large number of castes/ communities have been rendered inconspicuous in party and political representation. If the Muslim community finds almost dismal preference in the Hindutva party then we see dwindling presence of OBCs and women in many parties which have sought to provide disproportionate space to the dominant and neo-rich castes-classes. Similarly women’s presence in the political field could be seen dwindling quite starkly. Any claim of commitment to social justice agenda must pay attention to fair and proportionate representation to the marginalized castes, communities and women at different levels - party, electoral, legislative, administrative and policy, etc. In the case of the Dalits and Adivasis it is necessary to go beyond the mandatory reservations to impart substantiveness to their representation at various levels. [9]

If social Justice has to evolve as a credible alternative vision of nation, citizenship and constitutional morality the sensitivity to and engagement with the social crisis engulfing vast sections of our society has to be substantive and consistent. The crises resulting from neo-liberal policy framework that has substantially dented the welfare side of the state, led to large scale displacement, loss of livelihood, economic and social insecurity, precarious public health, decline of public education, reported wide-spread malnutrition have to be addressed. Social justice agenda has to be expansive enough to encompass food security, clean potable water, hygienic living conditions, access to public health, free and quality public education — on the whole creating those conditions that are envisaged in our constitution as essential for the citizens to realize their individual and collective potentialities. It cannot be a mere ideal but has to be made a realizable goal.

The dominant tendency in Indian politics today at the national as well as state level has been to convert elections into plebiscitary mode: the electoral contest is thus presented and projected as between personalities heading the leading parties. If this tendency is clearly against the parliamentary form of government and democratic spirit of Indian constitution then it devalues and defies the social, cultural and political diversity of India as a nation. It suits the parties that can boast of charismatic popular leaders who are expected to enhance their electoral chances. Following Ambedkar’s warning that hero worship in politics is a sure path to dictatorship the Social Justice agenda should not only be cautious about the tendency of searching for and relying on a popular leader to check a popular opponent but in principle should reject and fight against the authoritarian path by pursuing issue based politics that would enhance democratic prospects and empower the popular classes. It is instructive to remember that Indian politics between the late 1980s to early 2010s was contested on the basis of issues rather than personalities. It is time that this motif be reignited to revive democratic prospect in Indian politics.

The challenges before the Social Justice Federation are evidently huge and multifaceted. Internally the Federation has to evolve a consensus on the idea of social justice and then evolve an acceptable common programme. Further to gather the support of the oppressed and marginalized caste/ communities, their grievances, most often genuine, have to be addressed. Most important challenge facing the Social Justice Federation is to win the public confidence by demonstrating the relevance of its agenda, forging unity of vision and solidarity of purpose.

Thus, given the changed context of Indian politics in terms of nationalism, centre-state relations, policy regime, party competition and persona, the social justice politics in the present phase require to be different from that of the earlier decades and therefore demand hard thinking, reflection and praxis.

Destiny of a nation can be shaped only by evolving a collective sense of justice through sharing, caring and owning by its citizens.

(Author: Prof K Srinivasulu is Senior Fellow, ICSSR. Professor (Retd), Department of Political Science, Osmania University, Hyderabad)

[1It is often assumed that the ideas like justice, equality, rights, freedom are modern and European in origin. For a view that some of these ideas have been engaged seriously in Indian philosophical tradition from Buddha, Lokayata onwards, of course with differences in the mode of reasoning, See, Amartya Sen (2009), The Idea of Justice, Harvard UP, Cambridge, Pp. xii-xv.

[2For Phule, GP Deshpande (2002), Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, Left Word, Delhi.

[3This comes out clearly from Gandhi, ‘Talk with Socialists’, May 27, 1947, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 82, P. 15. I am thankful to SN Sahu for drawing my attention to it.

[4It is worth noting the observation of the eminent education scholar, Krishna Kumar: “.... with the meagre resources available to it, ...the point remains that mass education did not get priority attention in Nehru’s administration.” See, his, Political Agenda of Education: A Study of Colonialist and Nationalist Ideas, (Second Edition) Sage, Delhi, 1991 (2005), P. 190.

[5The democratisation of centre-state relations with demands like decentralisation with autonomy and more powers to the states, strengthening of Inter-State Council, careful and judicious use of article 356, so on, has been at the centre of Indian politics quite explicitly with the emergence of non-Congress governments in the states since the late 1960s. When neglected the demand tended to deviate from its just secular mode. The major landmarks in this journey have been: the Tamil Nadu DMK government’s Rajamannar Committee Report (1969), the Akali Dal’s Anandpur Sahib Resolution (1973), the West Bengal Memorandum (1977) on Centre-State relations.

In spite of the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission (1987) and later Punchhi Commissions (2010) the issue remains contentious and unresolved.
For a critical overview, see, MP Singh and R Saxena (2021), Indian Politics: Constitutional Foundations and Institutional Functioning, PHI Learning, Delhi.

[6For an overview of Periyar’s thought see, Karthick Ram Manoharan (2022) Periyar: A Study in Political Athiesm, Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad

[7See his (1973) The Internal Colony: A Study in Regional Exploitation, Sindhu Publications, Delhi.

[8When the basis of reservations has been understandably the social and educational backwardness, contrarily the EWS quota in educational institutions and public employment to the exclusion of social backwardness has been legislated. Thus it continues to be opposed in spite it being upheld by the apex court.

[9It is instructive to recall Kanshi Ram’s famous slogan “Jiski Jitni Sankhya Bhari, Uski Utni Hissedari” (One’s share as per one’s numerical strength) which was central to the BSP’s campaign that brought a new idiom into Indian politics in the 1990s.

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