One of the promises of modern and secular politics is to do justice in society. For settling any vexed question of politics in a society, first, it is imperative to deal with the procedural part of the question then its substantive part will automatically come into the scene. Here procedural part means, framing some principle or procedures through which justice could be delivered through liberal institutions. Michael Sandel argues ‘To ask whether a society is just is to ask how it distributes the things we prize—income and wealth, duties and rights, powers and opportunities, offices and honors’. Precisely, Justice is about giving everyone their due!
There is no dispute in the fact that Dalits, women, minorities, LGBTQ communities are always subdued, their voices are always crushed in a caste, patriarchal, and Hindu society like India. These sections of the society were never treated with universal moral values like justice, equality, and self-respect. It was only when dialogue was forced on the tradition in the form of colonialism (Gopal Guru), Indian society began to deal with this question in order to save its pride or let’s say arrogance to show the world that we also believe in the universal language of justice, equality etc. One could argue along the lines that out of all the exploitation and discrimination that colonial state unleashed, nevertheless it happened to be a blessing in disguise in some aspects.
Now, coming to the ongoing Dalit vs Dalit debate that has ensued after the projection of Ram Nath Kovind and Meira Kumar by the ruling and opposition partners. In a country where Dalits are still under-represented in almost every vital public services (e.g. in academics, administrative posts, etc.), projection of two Dalit presidential candidates can be conceived as the recognition that we in our history did practice caste system and we do practice it in contemporary time also in a very sophisticated manner. we should not ashamed to acknowledge our history as it is full of prejudices, hatred, disgust, and humiliation. Let’s not pretend to be civilized and modern when our hangover of traditional golden age has not yet weeded out from our mind. Recently held protest in Jantar Mantar under the banner “not in my name” is the glaring empirical evidence to substantiate the above argument. Our prime minister in his recently U.S.visit argues that here we are building new India but the bitter truth is that Dalits, minorities are killed in the name of the cow. There is enough evidence to locate the complicity of these forces and their link with the ruling dispensation.
We all are aware of the politics behind the projection of two Dalit presidential candidates. Let’s forget about the politics for some while and ponder why we are giving so much attention and wasting our energy in debating the identity question of the individuals. It is simply because we Indians are still prejudiced related to these identities in some or the other way. If in U.S.A, a 200-year-old democracy, racism still exists (recent U.S presidential election is the case in point), how it is possible for us to get rid of these caste based prejudices in a span of 70 years, which is nearly a 2000-year-old practice. No doubt the fight was ON when Indian republic adopted Indian Constitution but the lapses and immoral attitude of Indian society are well documented in various studies. If we want to win this historical battle we need to fight together in a concerted way. Unfortunately, no such rosy picture is in nearby sight.
One of the greatest philosophers of justice, John Rawls in his work ‘A Theory of Justice’ (1971) argues for principles of justice which are ‘fair’ and ‘reciprocal’. He goes on to develop his main theoretical component of his work “difference principle”, which states that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that it is beneficial for the least well off (in India it is the women, Dalits, minorities, LGBTQ community who fall under the category of least well off). For Rawls efficiency is not the only criteria for a just society. History is an example that in the name of efficiency it is only the oppressed community who are to let suffer and relegated to the background. The foremost criteria of justice according to Rawls is the equal distribution of all social values like liberty and opportunity, income and wealth and the bases of self-respect (for Rawls these are primary goods). While our Indian constitution does provide these goods to the deserved but again it is the Indian civil society which acts as a shock absorber and restricts the spirit and force of Indian constitution to bring transformation in the ground. I am afraid that the above mentioned deprived sections of society don’t possess these primary goods in order to participate in a race. Hence it is absolutely right to give presidential election a color of Dalit politics. So that we can make ourselves aware of the fact that the discourse of new India is as hollow as our prime minister pre-election claim that he will bring all black money in our country and deposit 15 lakh rupees in our accounts.
Efficiency can wait for the time being. It should wait till all the sections of our society live a life of dignity and are in a position to equally take advantage of the system. Till then arguments for efficiency should not bypass the arguments of justice. In due course, if we want to satisfy ourselves about efficiency, we can easily make a choice between Ramnath Kovind and Meira Kumar. Where the former was a lawyer, M.P (Rajya Sabha) and then became governor of Bihar and the latter was also a lawyer, five-time M.P (Lok Sabha), a former diplomat and most importantly the first women speaker of the lower house during 2009-2004. After all, there cannot be any new India without adequate justice meted out to the hitherto deprived sections of the society, where equality, justice, freedom, inclusiveness will be cherished values among its citizens.
Shiveshwar Kundu is interested in political philosophy, Indian politics; he’s pursuing M.A from the Centre for Political Studies, JNU.