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Triumph of the citizen

Nov 25 2012, 01:34 IST
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SummaryTo function moderately well, a democracy needs three sectors to pull their weight—the state, private enterprise, and civil society.

In his latest book, Patriots & Partisans, Ramachandra Guha defends the liberal centre against the dogmas of left and right. In this extract, he talks how it is the common man who continues to hold democracy and diversity in high regard

To function moderately well, a democracy needs three sectors to pull their weight—the state, private enterprise, and civil society. In the 1950s and 1960s, when entrepreneurs were timid and risk- averse, and civil society was non-existent, the state performed superbly well. In 2012, it appears to be civil society which is performing best of all. There are hundreds of hard-working and selfless social activists, working in the fields of education, health, environment, women's rights, consumer protection, civil liberties, and more. The private sector, on the other hand, is marked by both visionaries and marauders; whereas ten years ago it was the technologically alert and public-spirited entrepreneurs who defined the trends, now it is the crooks and cronies who appear to enjoy more power and influence.

To restore faith in the idea of India, a more capable, focused and honest political class may be necessary. Meanwhile, we can take succour in the manifest intentions of the citizenry, who, despite the provocations of the extremes, continue to hold democracy and diversity in high regard. Outside of Gujarat, hard-line Hindutva has repeatedly been rejected by the electorate (as demonstrated most recently in Bihar, where keeping Narendra Modi out of their campaign helped the NDA to a spectacular victory in the state elections). The acts of Islamist terror in Mumbai, Delhi and elsewhere have not been followed by religious scapegoating or rioting. Likewise, peasants and adivasis in areas of Maoist influence regularly defy the rebels by participating enthusiastically in state and national elections, thus proving, incidentally, that ours is not a democracy for the bourgeoisie alone.

The decent instincts of the citizenry were also at display when they rejected, quietly and without any fuss, the campaign launched before the 2004 election campaign to portray the leader of the Congress party as a foreigner. By speaking of the dangers of a 'Rome Raj' led by Antonia Maino Gandhi', the xenophobes hoped to catalyse the base instincts of Indians in general and Hindus in particular. Outside the Hindutva faithful, the call found no resonance whatsoever. Voters made it clear that they would judge Mrs Sonia Gandhi by other criteria. Her birth in Italy and her Catholic upbringing were

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