India is everywhere, not least in the Nordic region. She is in the news, at the table in many boardrooms, a regular guest in ministry discussions. India’s history, society and political culture are taught at universities. In a progressively multipolar world, no one can miss that India is a force not to forget. A force that we need to know. This international volume is an indirect result of the urge for knowledge about India in Scandinavia. But it’s a delayed result, as this volume should already have been published in India. As such, the book tells an increasingly familiar story of India. And the story goes like this:
We had a signed contract, typeset files and an attractive jacket cover. We hoped the volume would engage debates about Indian experiences with democracy because these are both enchanting and captivating, and India is important to a more general debate about what democracy is and how it works. With this volume we looked forward to continue our numerous and rewarding dialogues with Indian colleagues and students, intellectuals and activists, South Asian scholars and the engaged public, friends and foes.
But the prevailing political climate in India made our publisher jumpy. There were formulations in the text that could be construed as critical of the current government. To quote from what he wrote us:
There is no academic freedom in India today. And that’s why Amartya Sen has decided to pack his bag and quit the VCship of Nalanda University. If a Nobel Laureate cannot withstand the pressures being brought on him by the BJP-RSS combine, do you think I have chance? Look what they have done to the judiciary in Gujarat. Practically every Police Officer who was implicated in 2002 riot cases or in cases involving Amit Shah and Modi has been granted bail by the Gujarat High Court and is strutting on the streets of Gujarat as though he was a free man. […] Look what they did to Wendy Doniger and her Indian publishers. And what they have done only recently with the author Murugan. I am not one bit in favour of censorship, nor do I want to impose it. But prudence advises us to be cautious and keep a low profile so long as Modi is in power.
In the end, our publisher would not risk publishing the book. The completion of our story, to publish it as an Open Access book, is our way of showing respect to academic publishers in today’s India.
India is the foremost expression of democracy in the post-colonial world and an academic encounter with it carries the possibility of deepening our general understanding of what democracy is and can and should be. At a basic level, democracy is, of course, a form of government based on elections. At a more advanced level it is about respect for variety, certain kinds of freedom, the rule of law, freedom of speech and other such ideals. In practice, democracy finds its form in constant negotiations and innovative adaptations to a range of political forces in more or less conservative or more or less radical societies, more or less divided or conflict-ridden or united societies. And in practice, democratic practice is also influenced by sets of vague and undefined ideals about what democracy should be – about just society, for instance, or equality. It is entangled in all these ideals and practices and tensions that democracy evolves. India is one of the great laboratories of this creative process – a laboratory that we, the contributors of this volume, involuntarily became part of.
In the last two decades, the image of India in the West has changed. India has a decent growth rate, geopolitical ambitions, and plans to export cars to Europe. Governmental and commercial sectors in developed economies have increased their efforts to enter Indian markets and to collaborate with government institutions, private enterprises and NGOs on topics ranging from business collaboration and global climate change to UN peacekeeping operations.
At the same time, India hits the news abroad as a country of religious chauvinism, violent gang rapes and increasingly limited freedom of expression, for youths on social media, academics, artists, and writers.
As our small Nordic countries started to engage officially and commercially with Indian counterparts, there was a need for better understanding of the Subcontinent’s history and political life. Not only did this result in a greater number of students with a South Asia interest, there is also a market for academic books on India written in the Nordic language. One such book was Demokrati på indisk (‘Democracy, Indian flavour’), written in Norwegian and published in Oslo in 2010. The volume brought together a number of scholars with an interest in India’s political culture and her democracy. The present book, India’s Democracies, evolved from this endeavour although the contributions are new or substantially rewritten with an international and Indian academic audience in mind.
We do not suggest that there is a given Nordic perspective that unites the various contributions in this volume. Neither is there any attempt to make a comparison between the Nordic countries and India.
This volume is about India’s deep and complex relationship with its chosen form of government. It is an interdisciplinary book with approaches drawn from history, anthropology, sociology, political science and social geography. We believe this volume provides new perspectives on how to approach and analyse the complexity of India’s democracy. The book’s unfortunate publishing history also tells a tale of India.
While democracy is highly valued by most people, whether in the West or in India, there is no consensual understanding of what democracy can and should be. This becomes particularly acute in the light of the increased multicultural nature of societies in the West, for instance, and in some places increased conflict over the basic aspects of democracy.
The multivocality, fluidity and heterogeneity found within the frames of Indian democracy provide the world with a diversity that contains the potential to help societies elsewhere – in the developed world, in emerging economies, or in poor countries – to remain vital and growth-oriented. At the same time, Indian politics at large ensures that we do not forget that democracy and its most common attributes such as rule of law and freedom of speech never can be taken for granted.
This volume would not have been possible without the existence of an engaged and energetic, but small Nordic community of South Asia scholars, who are still large enough to produce a volume like this, and the intellectually stimulating environment created as a joint effort is duly acknowledged with gratitude. As editors we would also like to express our particular thanks to Professor Harihar Bhattacharyya, to our former Indian publisher, and to Per Robstad at Universitetsforlaget. This book would not have materialized without their generous intervention and support. We would also like to thank the University of Oslo for generous financial support in the final stages of preparing this volume for publication as Open Access.