London School of Economics and Political Science: Values of republicanism essential for successful democratic practice in India: New Book

Cultivating Democracy, a new book exploring life in India, reveals how rural life creates values of citizenship and active engagement that are essential for the cultivation of democracy.

Written by Dr Mukulika Banerjee, a leading academic from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), this ethnographic study of Indian democracy is the first of its kind.

Drawing on engagements between formal political institutions and everyday citizenship, the study focuses on the social lives of residents in two rural villages in West Bengal from 1998 to 2013. This 15-year period spans nine different elections, numerous harvests and various social and religious rituals.

The book presents four events – a scandal, a paddy harvest, a religious festival and an election – to show how these episodes in agrarian village society produce the values required for democratic culture and institutions to thrive.

For example, Dr Banerjee explores a scandal caused by the intervention of a village Comrade in an affair between two young people. She highlights how the village residents came together to resolve the scandal by drawing on ties of friendship, kinship, party loyalty, and marriage to counter the Comrade’s sinister intervention.

This process of resolution taught the villagers something of the art of politics in putting aside differences and learning to accommodate a diversity of opinion in order to create new solidarities. This unprecedented unity sowed the seeds for the emergence of a rival political party in the village, the fruits of which were harvested only a decade later.

By zooming in on life in single paddy-growing setting, Dr Banerjee is able to examine how the various social institutions of kinship, economy, and religion are critical for the civic cultivation of cooperation, vigilance, redistribution, inviolate commitment, and hope—values that are essential for democracy.

Commenting on the book’s release, author Dr Mukulika Banerjee said: “At a time when democracies the world over, including in the UK, are in danger of being hollowed out of meaning, it is valuable to think about our role as ordinary citizens in stopping this degeneration.

“We need to enact our citizenship responsibilities more actively, hold our politicians to account and inculcate values of civic solidarity and recognition of the common good in ourselves. The villagers in this book may lead very different lives to us, but their experiences hold valuable lessons for us all.”

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