Book Review: Ajay Gudvarthy, ed., Reframing Democracy and Agency in India: Interrogating Political Society and Ajay Gudavarthy, ed., Politics of Post-Civil Society: Contemporary History of Political Movements in India

Published date01 June 2014
Date01 June 2014
Subject MatterBook Reviews
114 Book Reviews
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 1 (2014): 109–117
recognizes that what India must learn from China’s success is not the importance of market forces, but
the need to enhance the state’s capacity to perform a wide range of functions (Business Standard,
6 September 2013).
These two books are both highly learned advocacy documents, designed to be more accessible than
the types of academic publications on which all four co-authors made their reputations. Even so, one
difference is striking: while D&S are careful, most of the time, to entertain alternative explanations for
the phenomena they observe, and readily concede that some of their proposals will be greeted with skep-
ticism, B&P proceed with a grating certitude and a willingness to engage in the most extraordinary
contortions to advance their claims, no matter how shaky their evidence. They, for instance, go to great
lengths to argue that India is not, contrary to some claims, entering its very own ‘gilded age’, of the sort
that in late nineteenth-century America witnessed untrammeled corporate power, atrocious working
conditions and huge disparities of wealth. In an effort to support this point, B&P inform their readers
of the fine qualities of India’s industrialists—none of whom, we are assured, would ever stoop to the
union-busting, resource-hoarding, land-grabbing ways of Andrew Carnegie and his ilk. What is so
remarkable about this extended passage (pp. 50–55), apart from its almost willfully blinkered perspec-
tive, and its utter dispensability in terms of the larger arguments B&P make, is the extent to which it
contradicts the assumptions of self-interested behaviour on which much of their analysis (and indeed
economic worldview) is based. D&S are, to be sure, no less eager to score points on behalf of their own,
equally strongly held, convictions. They are not always convincing. But they retain the one ingredient
essential to intellectual endeavour—sufficient self-doubt to drive further investigation.
Rob Jenkins
Hunter College & The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Ajay Gudvarthy, ed., Reframing Democracy and Agency in India: Interrogating Political Society. New Delhi:
Anthem Press. 2012. 322 pages. ` 595.
Ajay Gudavarthy, ed., Politics of Post-Civil Society: Contemporary History of Political Movements in India.
New Delhi: SAGE Publications. 2013. 263 pages. ` 695.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014526103
The conceptual innovation named ‘political society’ that Partha Chatterjee coined almost a decade ago
has, over time, acquired a life of its own. The idea of political society has implicitly or explicitly influ-
enced several other scholarly interventions in the study of contemporary Indian politics. In these years
Chatterjee himself has revisited and elaborated upon the idea, and has been asked for clarifications about
it. The notion of political society has displayed the capacity to resonate with various contexts, transform
and be refined through these engagements. Anyone attempting to understand the sites of democratic
activity in Indian politics would be interested in this realm Chatterjee outlines. He sees this democratic
activity in the sphere outside of modernity, beyond civil society. He sees a large number of Indians,
part of a continuous political negotiation and management, and inhabiting a space of non-corporate
capital. They constitute democracy in action, that is, political society. Distinct from the political practice

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT