Book review: Bidyut Chakrabarty and Rajendra Kumar Pandey, Reconceptualizing Indian Democracy: The Changing Electorate

AuthorRadhika Kumar
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 151
the technical solution, she explains, for the ills of the criminal justice system. This is how a liberal
democracy seeks to resolve the tension between law and excessive violence, she maintains.
Lokaneeta, a political theorist, connects the dots to depict the big picture of everyday violence in a
Foucauldian sense where torture is justified eventually by confession. Foucault defines the use of
scientific knowledge as ‘micro physics of power’ illustrating that power and knowledge imply one
another. Lokaneeta maintains that the liberal state too promotes a logic of power through a foundation of
violence. Everyday policing is thus a visible site of state power. She takes forward the Weberian idea of
bureaucracy and the state’s monopoly over legal coercion and goes on to propose that everyday practice
of policing in India is much more contingent and much less rule based. Her fieldwork shows that this
contingency factor, ironically, makes the truth machines a matter-of-fact choice for the police.
The author’s use of ethnography and fieldwork to assess the scientific foundations of truth machines
is exhaustive. My minor quibble is that the gold mine of her normative research material, which has
direct import on moral harm or wrongful convictions, gets somewhat eclipsed by the demands of political
theory. Nonetheless, this is an extremely important critique of modern forensics, a missing piece in the
jigsaw puzzle of India’s flawed criminal justice system. The book is a ready reckoner not only for
academics and practitioners but also for lawyers, judges, journalists, activists and anyone else interested
in police reforms and the rule of law.
To Lokaneeta, forensic techniques serve as a tool to analyse the relationship between state power and
legal violence. She proposes a desegregated conception of a ‘contingent state’ which can make an
exception from routine violence in conflict areas and crisis situations. The liberal and the security state
is able to justify violence and, to an extent, evade scrutiny of law for a higher purpose of defending
sovereignty. She argues that the ‘scaffold of the rule of law’ tends to buckles under lame procedures in
cases involving terrorism. She quotes several terror suspects including Abdul Wahid Sheikh, a Mumbai
schoolteacher, who was arrested, tortured, but finally acquitted, in the 2006 Mumbai train bombing case,
to illustrate ‘criminal racialization’ and feminization of young men mostly on the basis of their religion
and masculinity.
In such a backdrop the truth machines are innocuous developments at the margins of police practice,
she explains, and a part of constant innovations to ‘create new confessional sites’. The author closes the
issue on an optimistic note, invoking the nascent area of State Violence Studies, with its focus on human
bodies as sites of state power, in order to connect the dots between law, state, and violence embedded in
Vipul Mudgal
Vipul Mudgal
Common Cause (India)
Bidyut Chakrabarty and Rajendra Kumar Pandey, Reconceptualizing Indian Democracy: The Changing
Electorate (New Delhi: SAGE, 2020), 258 pp., `1,050.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221082829
Covering 12 general elections and organized into 10 chapters, this book establishes a correlation between
the way democracy has been conceptualized in India and the electoral process. It is argued that every
successive national level election has left its imprint on the way democracy is theorized and practiced.

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