What is the status of the Social Sciences in India?
Why we have forgotten to teach the Political Science?
Is it not the king of the social sciences?
Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi legacy we talk about!
But we don’t analyse and articulate their legacies or their political ideologies!
Some peculiar Indian legacy!
In Bangalore, the other day, there was this celebration at the Institute of Economic and Social Change on the occasion of the V.K.R.V.Rao centenary. A galaxy of speakers, all venerable names in social sciences research, spoke. None, I noticed, mentioned the lacuena in our social sciences teaching and research agenda. Namely, the need for teaching and research in the king of political sciences. Political Science! Why? Is it fear or any other thing? Isn’t cowardice not to mention this science and also trace the reasons for the fall in standards in social sciences research for the simple reason, our rulers don’t realise that we have first lost sight of the need to elevate our political culture to what it should be?
We do much economic research but none dares to touch political sciences!
Our economists had had a ride almost! They had changed sides in the political spectrum, from leftwing to rightwing to all middle grounds!
See the Prime Minister, the economist’s own political credibilities! The political belief systems and our ideologies expose us to sheer opportunism. That is not good for the long-term health of the polity.
We need a completely revamped agenda for the social sciences!
Social sciences are taken to be economics and followed by sociology, anthropology and other areas like history and even geography.
But social sciences had grown from a curious combination of historical factors, the coming of the French Revolution and much before from the physiocrats who originated economics to philosophers like Rene Descartes who originated modern Western philosophy and then came Rosseau and Voltaire who led to the French Revolution. The slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity saw a turn of events and thinking from Hegel. To Kant to later Karl Marx.
So August Comte’s study of society led to the coining of the word, sociology.
So, we can say in a way that it is the French Enlightenment that gave rise to the emergence of modern social sciences in all their diversity. The early 20th century Vienna Circle of philosophers and scientists also contributed to the modern rigorous formulations of the philosophies, philosophies of the natural sciences and later the philosophies of the social sciences.
The Indian scenario was much influenced by the British connections. We learnt from British universities, in particular from the Oxbridge traditions. At Oxford philosophy had a long tradition and so too economics and politics but not sociology that is, I suspect, even now is not recognised or taken seriously. As a serious social science discipline.
In my time, that is in the later Fifties and early Sixties even political philosophy was not taught and what was taught was what Sir Isiah Berlin taught us, a combination of what he called the history of ideas, it was neither political science as it was made famous by the great teacher, Harold Laski nor even by his arch rival and conservative philosopher, Michael Oakshott or even as it was taught in the 19th and early 20th century by men like J.S.Mill and others. Political science or political philosophy in my Oxford years came to be suspect to have no philosophical foundations, as seen by the Oxford philosophers and thus it was almost suspended. So, what was left out of the social sciences categories, it was compensated by the other obscure and undefined areas like the history of ideas as did by Berlin or constitutional history or parliamentary history( I took a paper on this very topic) and the whole popular idea of politics being a debate over the rival political ideologies like Communism vs. non-Communisms like social democracy to conservatism proper or even some sort of equity-driven variations of democratic socialism as an alternative of one-party dictatorships as there were in my time in Europe.
My own College Warden( Head),Sir William Good enough Hayter, who was an Amabassador to Soviet Russia had discussed with me lots of things about Krushchev and his activities and even Stalinism but never for once I heard the various academic experts on a wide variety of social issues, history, history of India, Ireland and Europe etc but never once raised the issues of the future of Communism and the alternatives like Parliamentary democracy, as was being practised in India, among other countries.
If I can compress these random thoughts into some order for the brevity sake, it would be like this:
The British didn’t pursue the social sciences as they should have. They had their own priorities and their own prejudices arising out of their past history of building empires.
They taught students their own great thinkers and philosophers like Locke, Hume and the great philosophers nearer our times like Bertrand Russell and the later philosophers. So, I studied more philosophy than other subjects. Yes, of course, economics was also well-developed and so we studied economics very seriously and that is one reason why India has had so many economists.
Nehru took them so seriously and that is also how they came to be identified in the popular mind with much of our five-year plans and even now we take Dr.Manmohan Singh so seriously as an economic expert.
One spinoff from this popular perception(or misperception as I would term it) is that Manmohan Singh would manage not only the economy but also the country. And we see the current many crises, in unprecedented price rise, inflation a fuel prices, are not being managed by Singh in the way we all expected.
He is in fact proving the opposite! An economist cant manage a country like India, a large democracy and he should not have been made the Prime Minister and to manage a democracy you need to elect your Prime Minister through legitimate political institutions.
In fact, we would now better appreciate that in the social sciences, it is political philosophy(ideology)and political science(democracy and the various institutions of democracy like the political parties ,Parliament, the Opposition all need to be managed by a seasoned politician if he or she wants to be a successful Prime Minister.
Also, to be a theoretical economist like many others like including Amartya Sen is easy and to be a successful economic manager needs other skills as well.
In this respect men like P.C.Mahalanobis(the statistician)and even V.K.R.V.Rao who played many roles as teacher, institution builder and minister etc and men like Dr.Singh proved not so effective.
In fact, I started this piece to pay my tribute to V.K.R.V.Rao whose birth centenary is being celebrated and also much media reporting of the state of social sciences research is being discussed now.
The social sciences teaching in India, as I see from the outside is poor.
We don’t teach the king or the queen of the social sciences, namely, political science. That is one major reason, in my opinion, for the very much deterioration in our polity.
There are serious shortcomings as our Parliamentary democracy is functioning. This has been pointed out, time and again, by many experts and observers. The latest is, for instance, in a recent issue of Seminar,(June 2008).See the detailed analysis of the shortcomings of the delimitation process by Yogendra Yadav of the Centre for the study of developing societies ,New Delhi. Parliament, in the opinions of many experts is under-represented, under-enfranchised(East Delhi Parliamentary Constituency has 30 lakh voters!) and also our MPs don’t represent their voters, nor their own selves, they represent the gullible party supremos who send these men and women as dummies to raise their hands as it pleases these supremos, right?
Also, the Lok Sabha is restricted not to have a rational number of representatives. Why stick to a fixed number of 524?for what valid or ideological reasons? How this fixed number serves the democratic ideals?
As for the Rajya Sabha, the Supreme Court’s many verdicts(the last one in 2006 over Kuldip Nayar’s 2004 petition) had almost rented the upper house as a ‘foreign’ body, it represents neither the states nor the individuals. This is a setback to democracy’s maturing process. Instead, this verdict had set the clock back! The individuals are dummies here again!
So, unless we teach politics as a serious social science, as a serious academic discipline in our universities and colleges, there wont be any chance of getting any awakening or even the chance to reverse the political degeneration that has made our democracy almost a mere outward ritual while otherwise, we are practising all the ills we note in other societies and nations: an oligarchy that had sabotaged democratic values, where money and muscle power is all to politics. Other democratic ideals and values, individual freedoms, human rights, equality before law all mere illusions for the large majority of the citizens.
So, social sciences mandarins, yes, we have only social sciences as mandated by the many institutions under the Indian Council for Social Sciences Research and also journals like EPW that still stick to do subtle authoritarian, Leftist, pro-CPI(M)line for all that is in the social sciences!