It was the emergence and grandness of mass movements that Dr. Aditya Nigam highlighted in a lecture organized by the Department of Political Science, titled “Democracy and Mass Politics: Thinking about Contemporary India” on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2011.
Dr. Nigam is the Joint Director at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for the Programme in Social and Political Theory. His area of interest in particular is cultural politics. He was a Visiting Scholar at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford in 1998 and a Visiting Fellow in 2009 at the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster. His works include, “The Insurrection of Little Selves: Crisis of Secular-nationalism in India” and “After Utopia: Modernity and Socialism in the Postcolony”. He has also co-authored “Power and Contestation: India Since 1989” with Nivedita Menon.
“Roughly around 2006,” Dr. Nigam began by saying, “the political domain had undergone an implosion.” Focusing on the significant and powerful momentum of “struggles against mass displacement” in the recent years, he said that “the land acquisition issue leading to the death of 12 tribals in Kalinga Nagar in Orissa has brought the issue of mass displacement and mass movement on the center stage.”
He also briefed upon the instances of land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram. “The might of the state is used to fetch land for the TATAs,” he declared.
Dr. Nigam stated further examples of intense and powerful mass struggles; for example, lawyers movement in Pakistan during the presidency of Parvez Musharraf, and the struggle for democracy in Burma.
In the Indian context, he said, “In the 90s, there was a democratic upsurge, which was celebrated by political scientists. There was rise of neo-liberalism.” The onset of neo-liberalism, he said, gave way to economic development. “Precisely, the period saw a rise of lower caste and democratization of politics. And there were no questions of inequality, poverty … at the most, there was a question of reservation. But overall, everything was going in the way of neo-liberals.”
“All this impoverished our understanding of politics,” he said. “There was a complete collapse of the political domain.”
Moving on to critique the media-staged big fights he said, “In media terms, the battle was a 20-day coverage in Tahrir Square but the real battle is going on now after Mubarak is gone.”
However, while concluding his lecture, Dr. Nigam gave credit to new media in enabling mass movements.
“One common theory that has emerged is that politics is taking other channels of expressions,” he stated. Expressions in the media, he said, create an understanding of different values and institutions, and reduces any misconceptions. “Today the world can view Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to be compatible with democracy and not as a contradiction to it. Media forums are the reason behind this,” he reasoned.