ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Varieties of Democracy

Democracy requires a set of in stitutions through which its ideals and aspirations can be expressed and made to bear fruit. The institutions themselves are many and diverse and they do not remain fi xed for ever but evolve over time. The course of their evolution can not be the same for all nations be cause each nation has its own distinctive social order. Democracy changes that social order to some extent but it is also changed by it. The institutions of de mocracy cannot be the same for all na tions because the social institutions with which they become intertwined vary enormously from one nation to another.

The Peculiar Tenacity of Caste

It was not until the 1950s that academics in India began to acknowledge the role of caste in Indian life. Within two decades caste had come to stay in public discourse. The Emergency of 1975-77 and its aftermath were turning points in the public acknowledgement of the continuing significance of caste. It began to be argued that far from being antithetical to democracy, caste had an essential part to play in the advancement of democracy in India. In course of time the media took up the argument for the salience of caste in Indian society and this has now become almost a part of the conventional wisdom. However, there is evidence to show that caste is in fact losing its strength in India, though not uniformly or dramatically. With the media giving a sensational turn to caste in its daily coverage, the long-term changes in caste are being ignored.

The Institutions of Democracy

This essay describes and compares Parliament and the Supreme Court and examines the relationship between them. Parliament may still be a great institution, but its members are no longer great men. How long can a great institution remain great in the hands of small men? The SC has held its place in the public esteem rather better than the Lok Sabha, despite the occasional allegation of financial impropriety. Parliament, the SC and the party system have all begun to reveal hitherto concealed deficiencies which should be brought to light and criticised, but constructively and not destructively.

Constitutional Morality

The strength or weakness of constitutional morality in contemporary India has to be understood in the light of a cycle of escalating demands from the people and the callous response of successive governments to those demands. In a parliamentary democracy, the obligations of constitutional morality are expected to be equally binding on the government and the opposition. In India, the same political party treats these obligations very differently when it is in office and when it is out of it. This has contributed greatly to the popular perception of our political system as being amoral.

Access to Education

Indian universities face a difficult and uncertain future. They must expand and multiply, and they must be socially inclusive. But if they are to retain credibility as centres of science and scholarship, they must also be selective in appointments and admissions and in the award of degrees.

Not Correct

In the text of my article ‘Classes and Communities’ (March 17, 2007), I had written, “Raymond Aron (1964:43) pointed out that in Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany, Marx enumerated a set of eight distinct classes; in Class Struggles in France he also listed eight classes, but it was a s

Classes and Communities

In the Indian context, classes and communities do not form interchangeable categories. Caste, a defining feature of the community in India, has been a vital socio-economic institution since historical times. But it is Indian politics, especially since post-independence, that has been shaped by competing communities and the ascendancy "acquired" by certain communities over the other. However, as this article suggests, the two categories are not wholly disparate; rather it is the middle class that has been largely responsible for spearheading the interests of their respective communities. A potent tool in this ascendancy has been the issue of "reservations".

Universities as Public Institutions

The democratisation of the Indian university, enabling more social classes to gain access to higher learning, has not always been a smooth process and its consequences, at least in the short run, have not always been beneficial. But as seen in the instance of the European universities between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, when institutes of learning become socially more inclusive, they also gain academically in the long run. Much depends, however, on the process of becoming socially inclusive and the forces that drive this process. For such an undertaking to be successful, the tensions between demands of social inclusion and those of academic discrimination need to be tackled convincingly.

Poverty and Inequality

The relationship between poverty and inequality is neither clear nor direct. Poverty and inequality are analytically distinct concepts. They vary independently of each other, and it is misleading beyond a point to treat the one as a marker of the other. The study of both poverty and inequality has been closely associated with an interest in economic and social change. But poverty and inequality do not change at the same pace, and they may even change in opposite directions. It is difficult to make any meaningful statement about the relationship between the two without specifying which conception of poverty and which aspect of inequality one has in mind.

Equality and Individual Achievement

Equality and Individual Achievement Meritocracy and Economic Inequality edited by Kenneth Arrow, Samuel Bowles and Steven Durlauf; Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2001;


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