VI National Seminar, The Enigma of Democracy, 26th – 28th February, 2015, University of Mumbai

While Abraham Lincoln said that democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people; George Bernard Shaw said democracy is a government of the fools, for the fools and by the fools. One was a statesman and another was a poet. Whether democracy is the best form of government is a debatable question and whether it is of, for and by the people/fools is also debatable. One may say democracy is a puzzle, an ‘enigma’ which cannot be solved so easily.


Inaugural address


For sixth in its series on ‘enigma’, Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences chose democracy as the theme and organized a national seminar on it in collaboration from 26th to 28th February, 2015 at the Department of Applied Psychology, University of Mumbai. Since for every seminar in ‘enigma’ series a seminal text was used as a springboard for discussion, for the seminar on The Enigma of Democracy, Jacques Ranciere’s text Hatred of Democracy was used for similar purpose.


A Plenary session

In his introductory address, Prof. P.C. Kar talked about previous seminars organized by Balvant Parekh Centre on the various themes of enigma and why was it the right time to organize a seminar on the theme, The Enigma of Democracy. In his inaugural address, Prof. Suresh Jondhale, Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Mumbai, talked about value systems attached with democratic institutions. With reference to India he said that to understand the enigma of democracy, one will have to resolve tensions and structural flaws in the economic and political scenario since economic liberalism, which India adopted as not only a market system but also as an ideology affecting socio-religious cultures. Prof. Stathis Gourgouris, Director, The Institute of Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University, New York, in his keynote address titled “Democracy’s Anarchy” mentioned that the cornerstone of democracy is not consensus but dissent and that democracy is the only paradigm where everything can be questioned including democracy. In his address, he also emphasized on being ruled. That, in order to know how to rule, one must also know how to be ruled and it is the quintessential element of our time, but according to Prof. Gourgouris to know what it is to be ruled is not supposed to be merely experiential. One has to understand the kind of objectification suffered by those who are always ruled.


                                                                                                    A session in progress                                                                                                                      Lunch-time discussions


In his paper on “The ‘Love-Hate’ World of Democracy in India: A Preliminary Exploration,” Prof. Bishnu Mohapatra talked about the Gandhian notion of politics and morality. And looking at democracy from a vantage point and how the concept of democracy has to go through and evolve through a series of maladies. He also talked about the idea of substitute politics in the context of Aam Aadmi Party’s emergence in active politics and how the very idea of substitute and mainstream politics have defined the democratic psyche of a nation supposedly practising democracy.

Mrudul Nile in his paper on “Emerging Democratic Model and the Use of NOTA” talked about his ongoing project on the use of None Of The Above (NOTA) option in election by voters. His paper showed how issues during elections positively affect the use of NOTA and how NOTA positively affects representation forcing political parties to field clean candidates in the election contest. He also emphasized the role of media on NOTA and how it only talks about numbers of NOTA votes but does not analyze its use.

Liyaqat Ayub Khan in his paper titled, “Secularism and Indian Democracy: A Critical Assessment” looked at the relation between secularism and democracy in Indian realm. His paper highlighted that in Indian realm, secularism and democracy are inseparable and this relation has further strengthened democratic Indian state.


Keynote address


Bini B.S. started her paper by illustrating the paradox that democracy as a form of governance is often incompatible with democracy as a way of life. Presenting an overview of the works of Ranciere, she explained the constructive-subversive potential of dissensus and the ‘distribution of the sensible’. She also mapped the liminal domains of aesthetics and politics that one finds throughout the works of Ranciere and reflected how such spaces offer alternative possibilities for ‘doing’ democracy and challenging oligarchy.

Prof. P.C. Kar in his paper titled, “Why Emma Bovary Had to be Killed?” talked on the essay with the same title written by Jacques Ranciere. He discussed the implications of euphoria and enchantment in connection with romanticism and democracy. He also observed how important it is to discuss the ‘uncanny’ connection between history and political events of the time and tried to illustrate the same. His paper also talked about the use of words by Ranciere which are simple in face value and yet difficult in nuances, like the word “Excitement,” in particular, which is synonymous to democracy.

Prof. Satish Kumar, head of the collaborating department in his paper on “The Enigma of Organization Democracy: A Psychological Perspective,” tried to analyze the paradoxes of democracy as idea and praxis. He raised questions on the absence of behavioural cognizance and democracy and talked about problems which emerge because of these in organizations across sectors. Professor Gautam Gawali, the convener of the Seminar and the Director of ICSSR, Western Region explored the psychological and political interfaces of democracy in the light of class-caste-gender divisions and distribution of the population.

In the last session on 27th February, Prof. Stathis Gourgouris and Prof. Bishnu Mohapatra read out their poems written in Greek and Odiya respectively along with their translations. An engaging discussion followed. 


Poetry with Stathis Gourgouris, P.C. Kar and Bishnu Mohapatra


On the last day, Lajwanti Chatani in her paper, “Taming the Prospects of Democracy: Uncovering the Possibilities of the Political Self” tried to examine the conception of self underlining the theory of democracy to suggest that enigma of democracy is in the open/closed conception of the democratic self.

Jay Pachchigar in his paper titled, “Democracy in India: A Puzzle, a Question and the Way Ahead” attempted to question the current status and procedures of democratic politics in India and suggested various measures to emphasize the substantiveness of democracy.

The seminar ended with a valedictory session.

Jay Pachchigar, Department of Political Science, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.