MAJORITARIANISM AND, POLITICAL POLARIZATION IN INDIA

By – Saptadip Nandi Chowdhury

It is hard to argue for the benefits of sectarianism or majoritarianism politics, although the “democratically elected mandate of the people” provides an impregnable defence. In India, there has been a clear movement towards majoritarianism and sectarianism since the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. Hindus constitute 80% of India’s population. As a result, the party’s philosophy has primarily been to regard India as inherently Hindu and, to view its culture in terms of Hindu concepts and, aspirations.[1] It also expects every citizen of the country, regardless of their religious identity, to adhere to the Hindu ethos. Since the BJP has come to power, partisan attacks on India’s independent political institutions have escalated; opposition parties have been more apprehensive of supporting pluralism and, secularism, and, there has been an increase in animosity and, violence directed against minority communities. Divisive political leadership has progressively brought polarization to a boil, owing to India’s economic development, changes in the media environment, and, the advent of competitive caste politics.

POLITICAL POLARIZATION IN INDIA

In India, the trend of political division has existed since the country’s inception. The roots of this difference may be traced back to the colonial era and, the two conflicting conceptions of India that evolved at the time. One school of thought saw India as a secular nation where membership was determined by one’s birthplace rather than one’s religion. The most prominent protagonist of this school was none other than the father of the nation and, the founder of the Indian National Congress Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi Ji saw India as a mixture of people following various religions, living in harmony with each other. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were also supporters of this school.

Hindu nationalists, on the other hand, maintained that Hindu society established Indian identity and, that minorities must adopt and, follow the strictures of the majority culture. Pro-Hindutva political activists developed Savarkar’s suggestion of challenging the secular vision of Indian nationhood into a mass movement in 1925 by creating the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary volunteer organization dedicated to advancing Hindu nationalism. The RSS, which became the epicenter of the Hindu nationalist movement, was backed by a network of sister groups known as the Sangh Parivar. The tension between these opposing ideas of Indian nationhood has continued to drive divisiveness in postcolonial India. The Congress Party, on the other hand, practiced pseudo-secularism by utilizing religion to benefit the party and, seeing religious minorities as vote banks rather than real entities.[2] Such double standards can be said to have formed the base for the growth of toxic Hindu nationalism by extremist groups considering themselves as the sole savior of the religion.

WHAT INFLUENCES MAJORITARIANISM?

India’s economic changes during the last three decades have been one of the primary factors influencing divisiveness. Beginning in 1991, a Congress-led government, under PM P.V. Narasimha Rao, launched an economic liberalization agenda that changed the Indian economy, accelerated urbanization, and, created a significant middle class. The BJP benefited from the income imbalance triggered by pursuing a development-oriented agenda to tap into this demography. Shifts in the media landscape, particularly in the last decade, have exacerbated polarization. In the realm of corporate media, biased or partisan-leaning networks have dominated, to the cost of unbiased reporting. The speed with which disinformation and, falsehoods are spread has been enhanced even further by social media.

The rising relevance of caste-based parties has been another crucial element fueling division and, the rise of majoritarianism. As OBC parties began to acquire a larger percentage of the vote in the 1980s and, 1990s, the BJP pushed down on religious divisiveness. The BJP has used this strategy to differentiate Hindu Dalits, the Indian population at the bottom of the Hindu caste structure, and, lower OBCs within caste-based organizations from dominating OBC classes. As a result, the BJP was able to win over Hindus who would usually vote along caste lines. The overview of the 2014 and, 2019 Lok Sabha polls proves that the party’s skillful use of Hindu nationalism played a crucial role in bridging caste divides and, winning landslides.[3]

WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF MAJORITARIANISM?

India’s poisonous political discourse, in which politicians often denigrate their critics and, minority populations, has fueled an alarming rise in hatred and, violence, which is frequently supported by political leaders across party lines. Immigrants, minorities, and, human rights activists have all been targeted by militia and, majoritarian organizations in recent years, often with impunity. Also, quite frighteningly, sectarian violence has erupted in the national capital when senior BJP leaders labeled Anti-CAA and, Anti-Farm Laws protests as traitors and, Pakistani and, Khalistani operatives. The electoral success of outspoken Hindu nationalism has led opposition parties to adopt a policy of soft Hindutva, bringing them closer to the majority view on identity issues and, leaving few proponents of pluralism.

The Pulwama terrorist assault in Kashmir fueled fierce partisan polarization ahead of the 2019 elections. In this heated political attrition, India’s independent institutions have also suffered greatly. The polarization has also revealed the frailties of Indian bodies entrusted with ensuring openness. The administration has forgotten its commitment to fight corruption, thereby undermining the efforts of central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and, the Central Information Commission (CIC). Similarly, the judiciary and, the Election Commission have been scrutinized extensively.

CONCLUSION

India’s international image as the world’s greatest liberal democracy, with constitutional ideals of secularism, liberty, pluralism, and, tolerance, is being questioned, and, India’s soft power may be eroding. India’s embrace of secularism was not intended to eradicate Hinduism, but majoritarianism and, accommodate the country’s varied minority groups. The constant rhetoric that national concerns are an “internal matter of affairs,” on the other hand, does nothing to help the situation. The battle against sectarianism must focus on preventing political discourse from becoming divisive. To begin, both state and, non-state actors must have control over social media to resolve the role it plays in spreading misinformation and, instigating violence, although the issue remains difficult under the democratic setting.

Tech companies have already reacted to the new rules by blocking and, filtering material on their websites, including deactivating bulk messaging to prevent the spread of false or inflammatory information. Furthermore, many members of Indian civil society, including intellectuals, activists, singers, and, journalists, have utilized public rallies to raise awareness of rising extremism.


[1] CENSUS 2011, https://www.census2011.co.in/religion.php, (Last Visited 18th January 2022)

[2] KNOW LAW, https://knowlaw.in/index.php/2020/12/06/political-religious-nexus-india/, (Last Visited 18th January 2022)

[3] THE HINDU, https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/the-verdict-is-a-manifestation-of-the-deepening-religious-divide-in-india/article27297239.ece, (Last Visited 18th January 2022).

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