ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Top Dressing or Deep Roots?

Cultivating Democracy: Politics and Citizenship in Agrarian India by Mukulika Banerjee, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2021; pp 237, `995 (hardbound).

Several recent works have taken on the challenging task of understanding the Indian democracy from the grassroots. Works like India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India by Christophe Jaffrelot (2003), The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Politics, Caste and Religion in India by Lucia Michelutti (2008), The ­Enchantment of Democracy and India by Sudipta Kaviraj (2011), Government as Practice: Democratic Left in a Transforming India by Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya (2016) and Making Sense of Indian Democracy: Theory as Practice by Yogendra Yadav (2020), among others, have helped us understand how the dynamism of the largest democracy in the world is shaped, sustained and reinvigorated
at all levels from the bottom to the top. Most importantly, they provide a granular picture of why ordinary people participate in democratic processes at all. Cultivating Democracy: Politics and Citizenship in Agrarian India by Mukulika Banerjee takes this scholarship further ahead.

The book seeks to capture the mom­ents and processes that guide rural Indians’ decision-making during elections. It achieves this through an ethnographic study of the social life of Indians in two villages of Birbhum district, West Bengal, conducted between 1998 and 2013. The ousting of the left from power in the state legislative assembly election in 2011 forms the background of the book. The results of the National Elections Study conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies provide an apt backdrop against which the author sets her research questions. While this study showed that the poor voted more often than the rich and the marginalised rural woman voted more often than the urban upper-caste male, the study did not explain why she voted. This prompts Banerjee to look at the int­erlude between elections and explore how people form their political opinions by drawing on values cultivated through their engagements in the social and cultural spheres. “Cultivation” is used in a dual sense—to denote the activity of farming that brings together the various castes in the fieldwork villages as well as the cultivation of the virtues of fraternity, cooperation and egalitarian faith. The book argues that the “social imagin­aries” generated during the interactions in the agrarian milieu produce values that are transferred on to the engagement with the Indian democracy.

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Updated On : 20th Mar, 2023
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