Book Review: Samir Kumar Das (ed.), India: Democracy and Violence

Published date01 December 2016
Date01 December 2016
Subject MatterBook Reviews
256 Book Reviews
thing. However, the comparative cases are not helping much with the broader theoretical framework.
Therefore, in my opinion, a purely India-centric volume, a no small achievement in itself, would have
been more helpful in thinking about similarities and deviations in other places and not just in South Asia.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, this book should be essential reading for scholars not just of South
Asia but also of democracy, patronage and elite behaviour in general. It makes a significant contribution
to our understanding of how patronage operates in South Asian democracies and how the attempts
to paint patronage only in a negative light miss the intricacies of South Asian democratic cultures.
Perhaps patronage is indeed a remnant of the past in these countries, but it is changing and acquiring new
meanings in modern times. It thus remains an indispensable theoretical construct.
Rahul Verma
Lokniti-CSDS and Travers Department of
Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, USA
Samir Kumar Das (ed.), India: Democracy and Violence. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2015.
267 pages. `995.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023016665691
The emergence of postcolonial criticism, influenced largely by the writings of Foucault and Derrida
among others, has seen an upsurge of approaches that privilege the vantage point of what has hitherto
been considered as margins. The significance of this methodological orientation lies in how it seeks to
fracture the normalized narrative of modernity through which marginality is discursively produced.
Samir Das’s India: Democracy and Violence evinces this mode of critical inquiry as it underscores the
disjuncture between the normative claim and the practice of democracy in the postcolonial context of
India. In this regard, the book takes issue with the popular conception that celebrates the constitutional
mechanisms and normative ideals like rule of law as the true expression or embodiment of democracy,
while treating violence as unwarranted aberration. The introduction by Samir Das inventively sets the
tone of the book by defining ‘democracy as politics’ (p. 4) rather than in terms of a state, government,
regime and institutions. This allows for positing democracy as a process necessarily enmeshed in violent
contentions and claim-making of rights and entitlements by marginal groups beyond the confines of a
democratic regime.
What constitutes the central thesis of the book is this: Normative democracy is deeply embedded in
exclusionary practices to the extent that violence is legitimated against those who do not abide and con-
form to its rules. Violence, in short, is intrinsic to the working of democracy. The corollary assertion
being that the people excluded by the process of democracy make their claim for inclusion through col-
lective violence. That democracy and violence are constitutive of one another is established and dis-
cussed across eight chapters composed of an intricate blend of conceptual engagement, historical/archi-
val accounts and empirical/case studies.
It is noteworthy that the book seeks to puncture the foundations which sustain and give vent to the
celebratory narrative of Indian democracy as guarantor of rights and entitlements, rule of law and inclu-
sive participation/practices. The adoption of liberal constitutional democracy by the postcolonial Indian
state does not dispense with the elaborate coercive mechanism of the colonial state. Does it then follow
that the violence of the contemporary Indian state be ‘absolved’ by putting the blame on colonial legacy?
The chapter by Partha Shil makes the argument that it is rather simplistic to explain the phenomenon

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