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  • Writer's pictureMutant: The Democracy Podcast


Updated: May 18

In April 2019, to mark the publication of the Indian edition of his 2015 book Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the Risk of Democracy, Aishwary Kumar and I, Payal Puri, first began a conversation about democracy — on a public stage in Hyderabad, India — that has, in some sense, never really ended.

It was almost immediately clear to us that this is not just another moment in the long and often violent history of democracy. Rather, in large parts of the world, democracy and democratic practice have today mutated into something entirely unrecognizable. We are today, as Aishwary puts it, in the heart of the most classical autoimmune disorders within democracy. It is as if the most stable democracies were at war with themselves, to which their constitutions have no moral response and their majorities have nothing but collective indifference to offer.

What is up with democracy? This was the question we posed, and it led us to undertake the most original, ambitious and rigorous archaeology of the words and concepts that constitute democracy in our time.

We call this archaeology, Mutant.

Payal: Aishwary, a year ago, on January 30, 2022, in a lecture on Cruelty, Dignity and Resentment — to mark this date on which Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by the Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse in 1948 — you drew one of the most philosophically and conceptually vital distinctions between words we use casually, even interchangeably, in civic and political life: anger and resentment. I want to begin, as we assume this responsibility of returning to ourselves a vocabulary with which to understand this moment of democratic degeneration, by asking, how do you read Godse?

Aishwary: Perhaps the greatest ever act of Indian resentment is Nathuram Godse’s shooting of Mahatma Gandhi at point blank range on January 30, 1948. Godse read the same text, the Gita, that Gandhi did. He believed in the same sets of ascetic principles, including celibacy, as Gandhi. And the question here is not as sometimes said whether Gandhi’s politics bred a certain mode of Hindutva… I do not think there is a direct line of descent between Gandhi and his assassins. But I do think that there is something about resentment that speaks in a language of utter silence.

Consider the main distinction between anger and resentment. Anger is visible. Anger is

palpable. Anger has a language. And so anger is also easily identifiable. Anger, in fact, goes on to define entire identities, and sub-identities within identities. Look, here is an angry black man. An angry Dalit. An angry woman. Anger is easily identified, easily attributed and easily disparaged, because anger embraces a certain form of speech-making. It remakes the world in a language of its own, uncorrupted by power. Which is why anger belongs only to the province of the wronged. Anger is always and only, the language of the oppressed.

As opposed to that anger is resentment. The silent. The seething. The almost monastically disciplined, the rigorously ascetic that commits its crime in absolute broad daylight. Resentment doesn’t have its own language. It simply takes on the dominant mode of speaking, insinuating itself into a certain kind of normative language that we have come to assume is politically neutral. Resentment is difficult for us to grasp precisely for this reason, because rather than taking on its own philosophical or even physical language, resentment is calm, it’s steady, it simmers. If anger is a sort of moral intensity, resentment is a moral concentration. Of what, you might ask? And this is where no-one thinks more closely of this than Gandhi himself. A moral concentration of self. And with that, we finally come to see resentment for what it actually is: the concentration of the self to that extreme limit where only the injury to me matters anymore. 

This is where resentment also cannot be separated from those moral and political principles, values and practices in which silence plays a major part. We know that in Indian ascetic traditions the withdrawal from language itself is central. The withdrawal from chatter, from gossip, from opinion. Everything that the moral philosopher and thinker B R Ambedkar associates with the creative disagreements of a democratic life, including its anger, are overtaken in a caste society by a seething resentment. In Annihilation of Caste in 1936, it is this insinuation of resentment as norm that Ambedkar calls India’s armed neutrality. We are armed, we just don’t see it. We are willing to kill, we just don’t accept it. We are ready for combat, we will never concede it...

Full conversation at Institute for New Global Politics


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