In the Hall of Mirrors: Reflections on Indian Democracy
Peter Ronald deSouza
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
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A single mirror reflects the truth as it is but only from one perspective. A ‘hall of mirrors’, on the other hand, exposes the truth through overlapping reflections, with varying depths and from a wide range of perspectives. In this book, political scientist Peter Ronald deSouza places India at the centre of such a hall of mirrors. He reveals for the reader the layered nature of Indian democracy, one particular depth, one particular perspective at a time.

In the Hall of Mirrors discusses the dynamics of democracy and the nature of the human condition in India through a range of multidisciplinary, analytical and methodological tools. It documents our achievements and failures, follies and humanity, through the fall and rise of competing ideologies. The essays here, written over the course of the past two decades, document the aspirations and anxieties of the Indian people, the accommodations that our plural society has made, and the uncertainties and ambivalences that remain as a result of this grand experiment of and in democracy.

With this eclectic collection of his writings in journals and popular dailies, the author takes us through an array of issues facing us. At every turn and in every corner, he reflects on the resilience of India’s democracy, the world’s largest and most challenging. Students, scholars and the general reader interested in democracy, political science and contemporary India will find this book invaluable.

Peter Ronald deSouza is Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. He was earlier Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla.

List of Abbreviations
Foreword by Shiv Visvanathan
Introduction: Indian Democracy in the Hall of Mirrors

SECTION 1 | Analytical Frames

  1. The Intellectual’s Public Life: Living between Thought and Action
  2. Contemporising the Mahabharata
  3. Re-reading Hind Swaraj
  4. From ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ to ‘Ardhanarishwara’: Can We Recalibrate the Way We Live?
  5. Liberalisation Discourse and ‘Natural’ Inequality
  6. The Idea of the ‘Political’

SECTION 2 | Aspirations of a Young Nation

  1. What would Azad have said to the Angel Now?
  2. Institutional Visions and Sociological Imaginations: The Debate on Panchayati Raj
  3. Why Politics Needs the Ashram
  4. Jawaharlal Nehru University: The Incubator of Critical Minds
  5. India’s Heart is in the Right Place
  6. Let us make Adam Pregnant
  7. Raja Dharma and Buddhi Dharma
  8. The Democratic Virtue of Unreason
  9. The ‘Greatness’ of a ‘Landmark’ Judgment
  10. The Indian Commonsense of Democracy

SECTION 3 | Anxieties of a Plural Democracy

  1. The Afterlife of the Nehruvian Legacy
  2. Too Early for an Audit
  3. Thirteen Days of Civic Education and a Death
  4. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Intolerant of Us All
  5. How Long can a Queue Hold?
  6. A Journey from Nalanda to Patna
  7. Never Say Retire
  8. Loyalty, Voice and Exit
  9. Leadership and the Public Interest
  10. Modi and his Chakravyuha
  11. She Knew which Battles to Fight
  12. The Banality of Evil
  13. Matlabi Democracy
  14. The Incomplete Case of Aruna Shanbaug
  15. Two Tales of Forgiveness
  16. Matters of Faith Need no Proof

SECTION 4 | Accommodations of a Layered Society

  1. Humiliation in a Crematorium
  2. Iconography for a Plural Nation
  3. Setting, Not Vetting and Betting
  4. Sensex and Sensibility
  5. An Alternative Ghar Vapasi Campaign
  6. The BJP and the Changing Party System in India
  7. So We are Brothers of the Books
  8. Through the Lens of a Constitutional Republic: The Case of the Controversial Textbook
  9. The Compelling Compromise
  10. Offensive Expression: Arguing for a Differential Response

SECTION 5 | Ambivalences of a Constitutional Polity

  1. Rahbar, Razhan and the Working of Indian Democracy
  2. The Larger Picture at Hriday Kunj
  3. Being Economical with the Truth
  4. Holidays on Holy Days?
  5. Just a Handshake
  6. The Question of the Sealed Envelope
  7. A Passion for Justice
  8. Hanging Justice: A Play in Two Parts
  9. The Vulnerable Side of Suu Kyi
  10. Satire and Policing the Boundary of Free Expression
  11. Between Being Pragmatic and Being Principled


‘Should we be pragmatic or principled, realistic or idealistic, intellectuals or activists, interpreters or changers of our society? With courage and caution, Peter deSouza ushers us into a realm of “reflections” where we feel an obligation to be both. These reflections are important, but as J. L. Austin reminded us, importance is not important, truth is. They ring true.’ 

Arindam Chakrabarti, Lenney Distinguished Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Hawaii

‘A nuanced rendering of the liberal predicament in post-Independence India, the book turns the spotlight on a society that is seeking to bridge the demands of constituents simultaneously occupying different, sometimes irreconcilable, mental universes. The essays here should force serious introspection, both among political and thought leaders.’

Harsh Sethi, Consulting Editor, Seminar, New Delhi

‘Peter deSouza’s ambitious collection of essays describes and discusses the dynamics of democracy and the social and political transformations taking place in India. This book deserves to be read by all who wish to understand the working of contemporary democratic processes.’

Zoya Hasan, Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University

1. In the Hall of Mirrors: Reflections on Indian Democracy | The Hindu, 22 April 2018
2. One Country, Many worlds | The Hindu.
3. The govt by the people, decoded | The Tribune, New Delhi, 15 April 2018
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