Many people say things like “we are the first political party that has made it possible for a person from the underprivileged socioeconomic classes to be elected to the highest position in the nation” in reference to the elections conducted to determine India’s 15th president. What follows, at least for some, from such an expression is as follows:
Because this claim would obliquely suggest that a politically correct party or coalition of parties occupy a special and perhaps superior moral position to give meaning to inclusive democracy by supporting, in this case, an Adivasi who has been historically excluded from occupying the highest public office
Some of the politics of symbolic presence is likely to argue that producing the election outcome in favour of an Adivasi or a Dalit would be a victory for minority voters and thus a victory for Because of this, some people who study politics would argue that these people have what it takes to turn the chakra, or wheel of justice, to ensure that the most disadvantaged people are elected to high office.
The implication of such a remark is also worth noting, as it implies the other parties that did put forth an opposition candidate had the forethought to include someone whose public appearance was not deemed worthy of attention, especially by the opposition. The editorial in this week’s EPW does a good job of highlighting the double-edged nature of the concept of political presence. To explain their candidate’s selection from the marginalised social group, one would not expect parties that boast their virtue of social charity to utilise any other more complete factor than social background. Because there are likely to be several on the list of the most ignored, selecting a candidate from the most neglected portions just demonstrates the limitations of such an equitable option.
One would not expect such parties to support their claim by choosing the candidate from the fringes on the basis that elevation via election is the restitution, for example, for tribal displacement induced by processes of “progress”. That, or it’s a reparation for the shame they’ve endured. Without such forthrightness and impartiality, their professed dedication to justice comes out as flimsy at best and disingenuous at worst. The “top-down” claim of justice to the margins has greater symbolic importance than substantive relevance in light of the correction of the ever deteriorating status of the marginals, the Adivasis and the Dalits.
In this light, it is instructive, if not fascinating, to note that the self-proclaimed well-wishers of the Dalits, the Adivasis, and the Bahujans have seen the elevation of the marginal via election or nomination as potent. As a result, the enthusiasm for equality is unabated by positive applause, which has been given credence merely on its face.
It may be argued that when a person from a disadvantaged background holds a high public office like that of the President, it lends legitimacy to egalitarian values. Yet the true nature of equality rests in an incumbent’s (in this case, the President-elect) ability to transform a merely symbolic stance into a substantive one. For this exchange of worth to take place, one must be motivated to advocate on behalf of people whose social capital serves as the foundation of their public success.
In its appreciation and social assessment of the marginalized’s elevation, however, they project such an elevation only symbolically as an event or a spectacle that necessarily entertains the idea of symbolic redressal of historical forms of discrimination and deprivation of the excluded social groups, and thus contains only a zeal for the subsidised satisfaction that is unconditional. To this extent, the liberal egalitarian ideal does not go far enough in answering the fundamental concerns that have an impact on social life with respect for a threatened human race.
This is not to downplay the significance of holding a public office just because it is thought to have little actual administrative power or because its authority rests mostly on ceremonial constitutional observance rather than in actual law. This interpretation of the President’s authority fails to hold water because of the many prominent people who have held the office and done justice to the constitutional expectations of the position. Therefore, it is the individual’s ability for autonomy that determines whether or not a given chance becomes an asset—an asset not only for the Dalits, the Adivasis, or women, but for the whole nation.