The Double Life of Dissent: Art, Politics and the Predicaments of Democracy in India

Published date01 December 2021
DOI10.1177/23210230211043019
Date01 December 2021
The Double Life of Dissent: Art,
Politics and the Predicaments of
Democracy in India
Malvika Maheshwari1
Abstract
The article focuses on two moments in India’s political history, in which out-rightly expressed dissent
underlines analytical shifts in the nature and course of the country’s democracy. It asks two questions:
First, what does a self-proclaimed, democratic state do with peaceful dissenting artists? The second
question follows from this. If indeed the state stigmatizes and suppresses that dissent, what does the
artist do? By foregrounding the relationship between the dissent and offence-taking, the article shows
the increasingly complex changes in the nature of the democratic state, role of the art market therein,
the dynamic patterns of dissent itself, which underline the cyclic outbursts of violence against artists.
Keywords
Democracy, dissent, market, art, violence, India
Introduction
In this article, I ask two questions by juxtaposing two moments in India’s political history, in which out-
rightly expressed dissent underlines analytical shifts in the nature and course of the country’s democracy.
The first question is: What does a self-proclaimed, democratic state do with peaceful dissenting artists?
The answer to this is that the state generally responds in one of two ways: either it tolerates and listens,
and at its best, gives the impression of correcting its course. Or it ignores, and at its worst, finds ways to
repress that dissent, increasingly by criminalizing it. My second question follows from this. If indeed the
state stigmatizes and suppresses that dissent, what does the artist do? The answer to this is less
straightforward. The artist may find still more creative ways to express dissent, reaping its benefits or
suffering the consequences of repression, or may look for avenues and allies other than the state, which
might be equally, if not more powerful, the market, for instance. When dissent is sold and made profitable,
it keeps the artist, the artwork and dissent alive. But this nevertheless brings out the increasingly complex
nature of the democratic state, the role of the market therein and the dynamic patterns of dissent itself.
Article
1 Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana, India.
Corresponding author:
Malvika Maheshwari, Ashoka University, Plot No. 2, Rajiv Gandhi Education City, National Capital Region P.O. Rai,
Sonepat Haryana 131029, India.
E-mail: malvika.maheshwari@ashoka.edu.in
Studies in Indian Politics
9(2) 165–178, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
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DOI: 10.1177/23210230211043019
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