Marxism and beyond in Indian political thought : J.P. Narayan and M.N. Roy's concepts of radical democracy
This project aims at a re-interpretation of the work of two Indian political thinkers and activists - M. N. Roy (1887-1954) and J. P. Narayan (1902-1979). In light of their early affiliation with and later rejection of communism, Marxism and nationalism, they have often been reduced to representing an idealistic anti-Marxist strand of the Indian left of the immediate pre-independence and post-independence era. However, their case for radical democracy can and should be revised. Not only does their work run parallel to some important trends within the history of the European left and thus contributes to the history of left thinking in the early to mid 20th century, it may also have a lasting impact. In particular, the ideas they developed present a viable alternative to the descent of the Indian left into a one-sided politics of caste and provide a timely argument for a left-liberal discourse politics. The terms of their arguments have both transcended the confines of the nationalist cause of Indian intellectuals and anticipated the calls for grass roots activism that is now all too familiar to us. The first part of the thesis deals with the backdrop to their ideas of radical democracy, discussing liberty and freedom as the focal points in their arguments against orthodox Marxism. In the second part, two key aspects of their thinking on radical democracy are examined. One is the idea of radicalism as "going back to the roots" of politics in spatial terms, i.e. Roy and Narayan's preoccupation with local democracy and its role in empowering citizens. The other is the relationship between a radical democratic politics and the transformation of human nature. Despite some important differences between the Gandhian Narayan and the radical humanist Roy, the similarities found in both their mode of reasoning and their political thought on the centrality and functions of radical democracy require a reinterpretation of their ideas for rethinking freedom and democracy in India as elsewhere in an age of diversity. Vacillating between conventional Marxist positions and indications of their transcendence, the concept of radical democracy exemplifies an inherent intellectual pluralism that is capable of bringing about a pragmatic consensus on the practical question of the best form of government.