Baby steps into politics and Kothari's discourse


Shishir Tripathi | January 20, 2015 | New Delhi

Coming from the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, political talk has always fascinated me. How caste dynamics shapes voting behaviour and how symbols manifest themselves into power structures was unknown but a terrain I wanted to tread.

With an eagerness of teenaged lover I entered the undergraduate class where the first lecture was on Indian politics. My teacher, with a balding head entered the classroom. He had a book in his hand.

After initial introduction he waved the book in his hand, like he was calling for attention from the class. “I tell you. Read this book from cover to cover and you will get a prism through which you can clearly see and understand Indian politics.”

Inquisitive and integrity still intact, we rushed to the nearby Kamla Nagar market to pick our copy of “Politics in India” by Rajni Kothari. I along with two of my classmates paid Rs 240. It came with a 20 per cent discount at Book Land.

While the smell of the fresh pages was overpowering, it took me around 45 days to finish the book. My friends abandoned the great quest, somewhere between the cover.

11 years have passed and the book from Kamla Nagar market rests on my wooden bookshelf. Recently, I bought the new edition of the book with a vivid and lengthy new introduction.

Nearly 34 years after it was first published and more than a decade after I bought it, I still use it as reference point to understand Indian politics.

My professor of political theory while discussing Plato had said that “all philosophy is footnote to Plato”. I restrain from accepting or rejecting the assertion but feel that whatever I read all these years on Indian politics, seemed to me like revisiting Kothari’s argument in “Politics in India.

Recently reading Zoya Hasan’s edited “Party and party politics in India”, one of the important strands in the “themes in politics” series, I felt a déjà vu moments. It is not to downplay contribution of other scholars of Indian politics but depth and broadness of Kothari’s work make everything I read in last few years look like a remake.

By the time I graduated “Rethinking Democracy” was published. For us it was the newest and the addition to a large body of work created by Kothari. The book reflected his disillusionment with the working of democracy in India. It was so intense that he went on to criticize some of his own optimism with regard to democratic institutions of the country.

Disillusionment, aside, his intellectual integrity was apparent from the fact that he did not shy away from challenging his own formulations which was articulated forcibly in his earlier work.

Going back to the corridors of college, I easily recall Kothari slipping into the conversations.  Such is the influence of Kothari on political discourse.

ALSO READ: Noted scholar Rajni Kothari passes away



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