Democracy’s Structural Slippages and the Indian Experiment – Prof Harbans Mukhia

Professor Harbans Mukhia, Professor ( Retd.) of Medieval History at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU ; an eminent authority on  Medieval India ; author and editor of many books will be delivering the 22 nd Democracy Dialogues lecture on Sunday, 15 th January 2023 at 6 PM (IST). The focus of his lecture will be Democracy’s Structural Slippages and the Indian Experiment

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Democracy’s Structural Slippages and the Indian Experiment

Conceptualised as the devolution of sovereign power from monarchy or oligarchy to the common people, the devolution was institutionalised through periodic elections with universal adult franchise that would make governments accountable to the electorate, the people. Perfect imaginary for the implementation of the concept, for equality was its basic premise with the individual at its heart. It thus subsumed earlier experiments in equality which had masses of people as the premise. 

However, the imaginary contains several slippages. First, its progress itself through halting stages created massive inequalities in the exercise of power. Second, most important, at its final, universal stage, its equivalence with the electoral process leaves huge spaces for almost universal ‘minority rule’ legitimized through elections and therefore unequal distribution of power. At any rate, the difference between majority and minority is merely mechanical and therefore open to debate. 

In India, on one hand, the Constitution introduced the most modern version of democracy through universal adult franchise and multi-party elections; on the other, it was operationalised through the mobilisation of essentially pre-modern identities of caste, community, region etc. which is now at the prime of the exercise of political power – demolishing the very legitimacy of the concept. 

Can one imagine a more effectively egalitarian ideology? 


Harbans Mukhia, 83, formerly Professor of Medieval History and Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In early years, his interest focused on medieval Indian historiography, leading to Doctoral thesis, later published, Historians and Historiography during the Reign of Akbar , Vikas, New Delhi, 1976.

Teaching a course on Feudalism at JNU in the 70s and 80s led to research on its theoretical and empirical premises in a comparative perspective. ‘Was there Feudalism in Indian History?’ originally Presidential Address, Medieval Section, Indian History Congress, 1979, also published in The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1981, became the centre of an international debate from 1985 to 93, published as the journal’s special issue and then as a book, Feudalism and Non-European Societies , Frank Cass, London, 1985 (co-edited with T J Byres). It was once again revised, edited by him and published as The Feudalism Debate , Manohar,New Delhi, in 2000.

Founder-editor,The Medieval History Journal , published by SAGE from New Delhi, London, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Singapore.  

Other Major Publications :

French Studies in History , Orient Longman, New Delhi ( in two volumes) 1988-90 Co-edited with Maurice Aymard 

Perspectives on Medieval History  Vikas, New Delhi, 1993

Religion, Religiosity and Communalism , co-edited with Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik , Manohar, New Delhi.  1993

The Mughals of India, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, in 2004

Exploring India’s Medieval Centuries: Essays in History, Society, Culture and Technology , Aakar Books, New Delhi, 2010

History of Technology, vol. II,Medieval India, INSA, New Delhi 2012

Understanding India: Indology and Beyond ,co-edited with Jaroslav Vacek, Prague, 2012 

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