A couple of weeks ago, my erstwhile colleague Professor Prabhat Patnaik, who recently retired from the Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, wrote a thoughtful piece in The Hindu. One chord that the essay struck in my mind was on the nature of democratic functioning…
There is something in what he says for us to think about, especially since we (at UoH), are members of a publicly funded enterprise that is patently engaged in a social activity which, arguably, is for the greater common good. Much of Prof. Patnaik’s essay is the contrast between democratic functioning and messianism which may not be entirely germane outside the context in which it was written, but there is a basic issue that needs consideration.
Democracy essentially means a subject role for the people in shaping the affairs of the society. They not only elect representatives periodically to the legislature, but intervene actively through protests, strikes, meetings, and demonstrations to convey their mood to the elected representatives. There being no single mood, freedom of expression ensures that different moods have a chance to be expressed, provided, the manner of doing so takes the debate forward instead of foreclosing it.
For all this to happen, people have to be properly informed. The role of public meetings where leaders explain issues, and of media reports, articles, and discussions, is to ensure that they are well aware. The whole exercise is meant to promote the subject role of the people, instead of being merely ‘masses’ and the leaders as true facilitators. Even charismatic leaders do not substitute themselves for the people, they are charismatic because the people, in acquiring information to play their subject role, trust what they say.
Alter legislature to Academic Council or Executive Council, substitute faculty meetings for public meetings, substitute leaders by Dean, Chair, Head or even Student Union president… the parallels are there. And I believe we need to reflect on the democratic versus the non-democratic at the UoH.
Democratic functioning is crucial to our growth. We need to have informed debates on all issues that concern us, devoid of acrimony. And with passion, but also with respect for contrasting points of view. One of the most important adjectives in the above paragraph, in my opinion, is informed. We have enthusiastically celebrated the Right to Information Act, but withholding information is still, regrettably, all too common at all levels. This makes it all the more difficult to have an informed debate, when so much information is simply not there in the public domain. It also does not help that the RTI is used by some as a weapon and as an instrument of mischief. They do not help the cause.
In any case, where and how is this information to be shared? Where is it to be discussed and debated? Given our commitment to scholarship, this is a question that should not need to be asked. This blog is, of course patently meant for the sharing of ideas and concerns and also for sharing information. But this can only be very limited- in part because it would get tiresome otherwise, and in part because there are more issues that need our concern than can be covered in a blog.
I believe that everyone who is in a position of some authority can take a number of steps to bring about the democratic process, by inviting discussion and encouraging debate, and by helping to form positions and evolve opinions.This needs to be done proactively. And in a manner that encourages participation, is inclusive, and allows for dissent. Not that this is entirely missing in our campus- it just needs to become more common…