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Whose Politics Is It Anyway?

Sunil Khilnani in the TOI:

Now, once again, there are urgent pressures to expand and redefine the political domain. As a result, we are going to see a good many more agitational movements, as the current contestation of the political reaches its full expansive extent. After the surge of electoral participation in the 1990s, we shall see new varieties of extra-constitutional politics sprouting — an all-sorts encompassing the landless, male caste leaders, disaffected urban elites — jostling to insert themselves into the political space.

The way to respond will not be by repression or use of force, nor by prim reminders of constitutional propriety. It will have to involve deft absorption of these energies into the political arena, a disarming conversion of force into dialogue.

To make something political, to bring it into the political domain, is above all to make it amenable to negotiation. Such inductions are never easy — the new entrants necessarily want to make the encounter a clash of wills, to affirm their importance. It will require translating disputes where the protagonists claim the authority of moral certitude or social identity into more malleable political discussion. The perpetual challenge to the modern Indian political imagination has been whether it can turn conflict into conversation, dissent into debate, difference into diversity. We'll need to draw lessons from our own historical experience of expanding the political space — even as we now must invent new ways of doing so.

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