Democracy and Its Indian Pasts

Sunil Khilnani

in Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya Sen, Volume 2

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780199239979
Published online May 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191716874 | DOI:
Democracy and Its Indian Pasts

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Amartya Sen has argued powerfully against narrow conceptions of democracy, that restrict its meanings to elections and state forms, and see it as a unique acquisition of the West. He has urged a more historical conception, which sees democracy as rooted in everyday capacities associated with voice and familiar to most societies: discussion, debate, public deliberation. In this perspective, India's remarkable contemporary democracy can be seen as rooted in long historical traditions of argument and pluralism. While noting this important expansion in our points of view, this chapter seeks to raise some specific questions about: i) Sen's account of Indian traditions of public deliberation and reasoning and their relation to current Indian democracy; ii) the notions of tradition and argument which Sen deploys; and iii) the relationship between democracy and public reasoning. This relationship is more tenuous that Sen perhaps allows: because democracy installs politics as sovereign, Sen's attempt to establish ‘the sovereignty of reasoning’ may have real limits.

Keywords: democracy; India; politics; history; argument; reasoning; heterodoxy; traditions

Chapter.  7249 words. 

Subjects: Economic Development and Growth

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