Many transitions to democracies in the Third World have been pro-tracted—evolving over the course of several elections. Although all elections have not been free and fair, however,the repetition of the electoral process even if flawed or manipulated can result in democratization. Citizens endowed with rights—one person, one vote; the right to choose betweencandidates and parties; the freedom of expression and association—build expectations and can develop stakes in the system. When Rebels Become Stakeholders explores the agencyof ordinary men and women in the making of democratic and orderly social change in India. India has achieved social revolution within the span of the six decades following Independence. During this relatively short period, the country has witnessed tumultuous changes in social hierarchy, literacy, relation of gender and power, urbanization and most importantly, in political participation of marginal social groups. This comes across as a puzzle when one surveys the experience of democratic social change in transitional societies.
In contrast to the majority of postcolonial states, India has achieved both democracy and social change. And in comparison to the liberal democratic states of Europe where social change had preceded democratization, India has experienced democracy and social change concurrently.
In India, the authors argue, democratic institutions and practices have occasionally wilted but not withered away under the pressure of structural change. India has made significant strides in urbanization, industrialization, literacy, women’s empowerment, economic growth and social change.Former untouchables, backward classes, women, religious and ethnic minorities and people from peripheral geographical regions have moved into the mainstream of Indian politics as wielders of power. Democratic institutions such as elections, parties, legislatures, the judiciary and the politically accountable but professionally recruited bureaucracy have acted as active agents of change.
The volume draws on public opinion de-rived from three national surveys of the Indian electorate held in 1971, 1996 and 2004 to explain this complex phenomenon. It ex-plores the causal connection between democracy and social transformation on the basis of the opinions and attitudes of the Indianvoters. The authors argue that mass perception of institutions, policies and processes is a way of looking into the inner dynamics of democracy and social change. Drawing on the rich empirical base of the national surveys, the volume provides the missing links in terms of the causal link that ‘transforms rebels into stakeholders’
The authors define the stakeholders as India’s new social elites who combine a sense of their own efficacy with a sense of legitimacy of the system and play a crucial role in making orderly and democratic social change possible.They are people who consider themselves personally efficacious and who consider the institutional arrangement to be legitimate. Opposed to them are the ‘rebels’—a term that can be misleading as they depart from a conventional understanding of ‘rebels’ as anti-systemic. They consider them as people with political influence but who do not accept the legitimacy of the political system.These rebels could be political loose cannons—free-wheeling between electoral democracy and its opposite—depending upon the local and regional opportunity structure and the power of the ideology that colours their perception of the system.
The positive outcome of the survey is that in a twenty-five year period, the percentage of stakeholders in the system has grown from 29.7 in 1971 to 53.4 in 2004 giving an indication of the deepening of democratic social change. In contrast, the proportion of rebels has fallen from 9.1 to 6.1 percent over the same period. The social profile of the stakeholders reveals further evidence of the broadening and deepening of the democratic social change. Besides the sheer growth in numbers, the gap in their social origins has increasingly narrowed. Thus, whereas in 1971 the stakeholders tended to be predominantly male, urban, relatively young, literate, upper caste and affluent, however over a period oftime one notices stakeholders in almost all social categories. An interesting fact about the stakeholders among different religions shows that the percentage of Hindus and Muslims was almost similar in all the three surveys.
India’s daunting diversity, economic inequality, regional imbalances, mass poverty and illiteracy could have been hurdles to theworking of democratic institutions. But belying these analyses, India has succeeded in bringing a large swathe of its population into the democratic processes and the electorate.Electoral democracy and a competitive party system were instrumental in this. The Indian experience shows how the pace of social change has been accelerated through social reform legislation, recruitment of new social elites into the political arena and political mobilization through electoral participation.Elections have been held regularly.Major policy initiatives have been taken by the governments and parties have alternated in power as a result of elections. The level of electoral participation has gone up and hasbeen widely spread across all social strata and in urban areas as well as villages. The level of electoral participation of women, former untouchables and tribals is alsoclose tothe national average.
What keeps the party system reasonably stable and socially anchored is because, according to the findings, people perceive political parties as efficient instruments for the articulation of their interests. A majority of people feel that their vote has an effect on the political state of affairs in the country. The percentage of such people has gone upfrom 48.5 in 1971 to 67.5 per cent in 2004. The feeling of efficacy of votes even amongst the Scheduled castes and Muslims as a group is not far behind the national average. The positive evaluation of the political system based on political parties and elections reinforces a better picture of the steady empowerment of the electorate through participation in electoral politics.The sense of efficacy of votes can be considered as an important factor in the legitimacy of the system.
The issue of regionalism unravels interesting insights. The nation and region are not in fundamental contradiction but there is a growth of an inclusive character of identity wher loyalties to the nation and region are not seen as conflicting but rather are converging categories. The assertion of local and regional identities is more due to the regionalist’s use of theiridentification with the region as a tool of transactional politics rather than as exclusive territorial categories. A ‘confident Indian nation’ has learned to live with regional dissidence. The survey data suggests that the regionalists are more likely to be found in certain parts of India, but it is not necessarily exclusive and there may not be a conflict of loyalties. The regionalists are to be found in a significant section of the Indian electorate which has had the benefit of greater education, is upwardly mobile and is confident of making advances in the new economy. They make use of available regional parties to promote regional interests which is more likely to be in consonance with their personal interests. Control of the regional governments helps in influencing state-administered development policies. And increasingly they are reaching out to create alliances with similar forces to construct a kind of nationthat would be in tune with their aspirations. The authors conclude that, ‘Far from being its antithesis, region has actually emerged as the nursery of the nation.’
Whether people feel as part of India’s economic growth constitutes an important parameter in being stakeholders in a society. This is addressed through a popular evaluation of the issues of social justice and opportunity on the basis of the perception of India’s new economic policy. The levels of satisfaction reported by different sub-groups are invariably within a few percentage points of the sample average. There is optimism about the future. The findings suggest that there has been redistribution along with growth. The benefits ofthe economy have trickled down to the bottom of the social pyramid. This has sobered radical politics and added a measure of legitimacy to the political system.
Can a survey method provide a comprehensive explanation of a dynamic reality? However, the authors argue that the use of survey data is the only reliable method to investigate the linkage of democracy and social change. The volume has many interesting insights. Despite two decades of liberalization, it is not a popular policy even among the stakeholders. Between 1996 and 2004, the number of those opposed to privatization has only grown. While reposing faith in elections and political parties, most do not have trust in their politicians!
Arguably, India’s peaceful democratic change is remarkable. Development theorists in the sixties acclaimed authoritarian regimes as agents of modernization in the developing world.Democracy was considered detrimental to both political stability and economic growth. India can take pride in the fact that it has done both, even while planting the roots ofdemocracy. The authors conclude that, ‘When the political process succeeds in transforming subjects into citizens who participate in politics, feel that they matter and hold the system to be legitimate, the result is a functioning democracy. When the course of social change transforms the indifferent into the involved, and rebels into stakeholders, . . . the case for a stable basis to democratic social change is made.’ Despite many lacunas in the system, when one looks around the Third World, especially the neighbourhood, one has to acknowledge the positive contributions of India’s political leaders and its people in laying the foundations of institutions that foster democracy as well as peaceful social change.