By Mary Ann Chacko & Mosarrap H. Khan
Like every other election in India, the Indian General Election 2014, scheduled to be held in April-May, has generated a cacophony of opinions, predictions, and expectations, across the political spectrum of left, center, and right. Like other General Elections, this one, too, is being hailed as the game-changer after ten years of moderate to lackadaisical economic growth. But in one aspect, this election is truly different from the ones we have been witness to in the recent past.
There is an overt text and a covert subtext in the way the political parties have conducted their campaign so far.
On the face of it, this is one of the very few elections that is being fought on the plank of active economic growth and development. Mr. Narendra Modi is the undisputed mascot of this text. Mr. Arvind Kejriwal’s obsessive focus on eradication of corruption could easily be subsumed within this text of economic growth and development, albeit in doing so, we risk losing the nuances of Mr. Kejriwal’s position, which is not just about economic growth but about greater accountability in the system.
While the overt text is premised on the hope of an economically better and brighter India that is poised to (and it has been poised for quite some time!) take its rightful place in the world, the covert subtext bears ominous potential for divisiveness, violence, and tearing apart of India’s social fabric. The subtext is the ‘crisis’ of Indian secularism. Here, again, Mr. Modi, seems to be the primary focus. He carefully avoids questions about his role in the Gujarat Pogrom, 2002 and does not even openly flaunt the clean chit given to him by the judiciary. Rather he reiterates that ‘India’ comes first for him, while dismissing the dominant version of Indian secularism as “vote bank secularism”.
The run-up to the election swings between these two poles of hope and despair: of economic growth and of renewed violence against the minorities, particularly Muslims.
In this special issue on Indian General Elections 2014, the authors reflect on this schism between economic growth and threat to social equity. As some of the authors point out, democracy is not just about conducting free and fair elections, nor is it about electing a political party or candidate, who will ensure a brighter economic future, but it is also about ensuring social justice and security to the life of every citizen.
However, a lack of consensus (or a conflict between the overt text and the covert subtext) is by no means a negative thing. For far too long, consensus has been hailed as the cornerstone of democratic politics. In a diverse country like India, consensus should be the last thing that our democratic politics should look to generate. Rather, we posit the concept of ‘dissensus’ (after the French philosopher, Jacques Ranciere.) Conflicting visions for economic growth, development, social justice, and secularism offer a space for dissensus as the foundation for a healthy democracy.
Dissensus, according to Ranciere, is the essence of democratic politics, which cannot be reduced to the state or to an exercise of power. It is, rather, an activity that dislodges us from our assigned, taken-for-granted places. It denotes a suspension of our normal experiences and a distancing from the ‘sensible’. Dissensus does two things: it reveals the differences in a society; and it also gestures toward a possible world where different parties share a frame of reference. Thus, dissensus makes possible for someone to see and hear something that he/she would otherwise not have had reason to see or hear.
By presenting a range of opinions and ideas, this particular issue wishes to strengthen the space for dissensus with the hope that we are better able to appreciate the views of others. After all, the fractured mandate in the last few elections have pointed out that consensus is an elusive ideal in Indian polity. Rather, we must learn to appreciate the differences of opinion.
In our euphoric expectation for a better economic future over the next five years, we must not lose sight of the fact that a democratically elected government must ensure social equity and justice for each and every citizen.
With that critical spirit, we invite you to read this particular issue.
We would like to thank Saborna Roychowdhury, Nadira Khan, Saptarshi Kundu, Abdul Matin, Abu Saleh, and Priyanka Banerjee for rendering crucial help in bringing out this issue.
Mary Ann Chacko is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation examines the Student Police Cadet program implemented in government schools across Kerala, India with a focus on adolescent citizenship and school-community relations. She is an Editor of Cafe Dissensus.