The book explores the agony of ordinary men and women in the making of democratic social change in India. The study is specific to India but the issues examined are of general interest. In contrast to the majority of post-colonial states, India has achieved both democracy and social change.
The book focuses on the political skills of India’s voters and the leaders instead of the essence of Indian culture to explain this remarkable phenomenon, drawing upon public opinion derived from three national surveys of the Indian electorate held in 1971, 1996 and 2004.
India has achieved a social revolution within a span of six decades following Independence. During this period the country has witnessed tumultuous changes in social hierarchy, literacy, relation of genders and power, urbanisation and most importantly, in political participation of marginal social groups. The Indian story, affecting one-fifth of mankind, is a major contribution to the history of democracy and social change of the 20th century.
The authors explore the agency of ordinary men and women in the making of democratic and orderly social change in India. While the agency, reflecting the democratic spirit of our times, is a much-discussed theme in contemporary social sciences, connecting the rationality of ordinary men and women to the explaining of the electoral participation and rapid structural change in the life of a country of continental proportions is specific to this study.
Comparing the 20th century India with 8th century Europe, the authors say that Europe was caught in the throes of industrialisation, rapid and forced migration, food riots, machine breaking and violent skirmishes suppressed under brute force. The fortunate few who survived these battles eventually went on to become stakeholders in society, equipped with the right to vote, prosperity, representation and eventually a share in political power. The authors say that even in Western post-industrial societies with long established traditions of collective bargaining, democratic ardour dampened the enthusiasm for change.
In India, however, democratic institutions and practices have occasionally wilted but not withered under pressure of structural change. Judging by urbanisation, industrialisation, literacy, women’s empowerment and economic growth, “social change in India has registered important gains,” claim the authors. Far from remaining merely passive and a decorative backdrop to India’s massive General Elections, former untouchables, backward classes and minorities from peripheral geographic regions have moved into the mainstream of Indian politics as wielders of power.
The objective of the book is to show that mass perception of institutions, policies and processes is the only window to the inner dynamics of democracy and social change. Social attitudes, embodying a vast data base of political information, choices, opinions, attitudes, values regarding social power, aspirations and conscientious “play a critical role in the neo-institutional model of democracy and social change.” Thus India’s social elite – ‘the stakeholders’— play a crucial role in making orderly and democratic social change both possible and necessary.
This book will be of interest to political analysts, sociologists, journalists and administrators.
(Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, B1/1-1, Mohan Cooperative Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110 044.)