Diversify this

The question of representation should not be reduced to one religious minority.

Written by Surinder S Jodhka | Updated: June 2, 2014 9:31 am
Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla. Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla.

Ever since the swearing-in of the NDA government on May 26, the media has been highlighting the under-representation of Muslims in the new cabinet. Muslims make for around 14 per cent of India’s population. However, of the 45 ministers in Modi’s cabinet, Najma Heptulla is the lone Muslim face. Among others representing religious minorities is a Sikh woman, daughter-in-law of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. This is a sharp contrast to the outgoing UPA government, which not only had a much larger representation of Muslims and Christians but was also led by a Sikh. Even though the BJP is known to be a Hindutva party, it did not go into elections with a majoritarian agenda. On the contrary, it approached all sections of Indian society with promises of good governance, development and a stable government.

In India, diversity does not just mean a descriptive account of the country’s demographics. It has also come to be a core value of popular politics. There is something different and critical about the value of diversity in the ways in which democratic politics has come to be institutionalised in India. The idea of a modern constitutional democracy was invented in the West. The nationalist leadership that led the fight for India’s independence, in the name of freedom and democracy, had acquired these values from Western political cultures. Large parts of the Indian Constitution, too, were adapted from the constitutions and practices of democratic countries of the West. However, over the last six decades, India and its political cultures have evolved locally. They offer something different and much more advanced than what we see in the West today. In academic circles, Indian democracy has come to be viewed as a distinct model, which could perhaps offer important lessons to other democratic countries of the emerging world today, including the Western world.

Democracy and the bourgeois economy are believed to be open systems, founded on the ideas of freedom, liberty and equality. However, the modern democratic politics of western Europe appeared along with the emergence of nation states. It is within the framework of nation states that most of its practices were institutionalised. Within their territorial boundaries, democratic regimes promised equal citizenship, but nation states were by definition “closed” and exclusionary.
Each nation state in the European context was founded on the notion of a homogenous ethnic and linguistic region. The diversities of dialect and dress, if any, were to be overcome by rapid expansion of a common education system, market economy and effective reach of the state. Over time, national identity emerged stronger, more important than identities of local culture, kinship and community.

The rise of democratic politics and the nation state has followed a very different trajectory in other parts of the world. Of these, India is a very special case. Notwithstanding its weaknesses and failures, it has, by and large, been able to work with democratic institutions over the past six decades. India’s achievements are laudable because democracy is generally believed to survive only in regions with some degree of economic prosperity. A majority of Indians continue to be poor. Despite vast inequalities, the faith that the poor and those on the margins have in India’s political process is quite high.

What is even more surprising and unique about India’s democracy is its diversities: social, cultural and ecological. No other democratic country in the world has been able to engage with such diversities with such success. Unlike countries of the West, the Indian attitude towards diversity has mostly been open. There have always been some who argue for cultural homogenisation, but their influence has only been in the realm of wishful thinking. Even those who coined the slogan “unity in diversity” aspired for unity while recognising diversities. On the ground, regional identities have not only survived but, many would argue, also flourished. This has not come in the way of a simultaneous strengthening and spreading of national identity, of the idea of being Indian. This is not to deny the occasional strong ethnic movement that has contested such an idea.

How has this been possible? Evidently, through an openness and acknowledgement of diversities, their institutionalisation in the state system. As we know, India has had two kinds of diversities, vertical and horizontal. Interestingly, it has been easier to accept and institutionalise vertical diversities, the diversities of caste and other forms of historically inherited deprivations. The accommodation and institutionalisation of horizontal diversities, those of language, region and community, have been more challenging. But here too, India’s achievements have been commendable. Even in the absence of a clear perspective, India’s democratic processes enabled it to deal with the complicated realities of such diversities. The accommodation of diversities has only strengthened the Indian nation state. These accommodations have given those who represent such diversities a stake in India’s progress.

But accommodations have to be both symbolic and substantive. Representation in the political system is one aspect of this. But it is unfortunate that the question of such representation is reduced to a single religious minority. This not only communalises the discourse of diversity but also reifies the enormously diverse population of Muslims in India.

The writer is professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

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  1. J
    Jun 2, 2014 at 5:35 am
    1. A
      Jun 2, 2014 at 6:43 pm
      I believe religion cannot be the basis of our democracy. The idea of vote banks is not a good one
      1. A
        Jun 1, 2014 at 8:45 pm
        im a sikh-the idea that conflict is only territorial is false-look at tibetan buddhist.like palestinians they are also cuted but u dont see tibetan monks wearing suicide vests and killing innocent chinese-tibetans have been suffering longer than palestinians but they dont commit so much violance like muslims.if 150million muslims dont like India or accept hindu culture of nonviolance towards all creatrures then ask your arab ummah who have diamond studded cars and phones to please allow immigration from bangladesh,India.why dont muslims drowning in oil wealth help their muslims in india lead better lifes in rich gulf countriesstead muslims from india have to wait for years to get visa for hajj and your ummah asks $5000 to come which even the hindu pays for.when u land they push u into tents and kick out the ummah in 10 daysdian democracy is there because of pluralistic nature of hinduis–look at any christian country-USA muslim pop is .6% but they spy on all muslims and mosque(seenypd report).the republicans unahamedly declare that they will never have muslim in their cabinet(herman cain) and thousands protest against mosque near wtc.so muslims please wake up and dont bite the hindu hand that feeds u.
        1. A
          A S
          Jun 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm
          Majority in India are Hindus who are naturally tolerant. Feelings of diversity are in their DNA. Politicians are able to play religious and caste card because we are a very tolerant community. Improved prosperity increases demand for more opportunities. And recent elections have shown reduced loyalties to caste and religion.
          1. J
            Jun 2, 2014 at 7:42 am
            We have to close this discourse now ,welfare of any community/society can be done with or without their so called representation ,only intention and will power is required .I hope this government having slogan "SABKA SAATH ,SABKA VIKAAS" will prove it.
            1. S
              Sid Gautam
              Jun 3, 2014 at 2:11 am
              I agree with the Professor. Diversity defined mainly by Hindu vs. Muslim is counterproductive to the national communal harmony. Why not linguistic diversity? Why not North, South, East, West regional diversity? Why not economic diversity?
              1. S
                Jun 2, 2014 at 9:37 am
                This ministry itself should be abolished. When we are 125 Indians, how should be any one minority here ?.
                1. A
                  Ajith Kumar
                  Jun 2, 2014 at 8:47 am
                  Is it not time to think of the special considerations given for certain communities delinkedwith their religious back ground and link the financial status also taken in to considerationrather than giving a blanket protection to every one including the rich among them.Everysections have their higher-lower persons in terms of wealth and income.The highlycontroversial decision to keep the level of consideration at Rs.8,00,000 (CREAMY LAYER)to define the poverty -thereby eligibility for Reservation- should be sped anda realistic approach is made without delay.
                  1. K
                    Jun 2, 2014 at 11:13 pm
                    I do not believe that India has any majority community. India should respect each community equally and laws should reflect equality of all communities. To achieve this, India needs to repeal reservation, quota, person laws based on religion etc to make everyone equal As a matter fact, religion is persona choice and government should stay out altogether..
                    1. K
                      Jun 3, 2014 at 8:04 am
                      it is quite incredible that such diverse people identified themselves as one nation for thousands of years..We called ourselves Bharath Varsha..When every other cultures on the planet even used sword to have homogeneity we welcomed variety and still continue to do so.. In this difference there is something that binds us...That is everyone is seeking liberation...The goal is same. That is what unites us...But here nobody says his is the only way...The more the ways the better..So here every kind of spiritual processes blossomed..That is the cornerstone of our culture..The spiritual longing of this land..VIvekananda said this long back that it is the strong spiritual ethos which unites us ..and it is the only thing which will held this great Nation together.
                      1. L
                        Jun 2, 2014 at 4:34 pm
                        For how long are we going to be cagey about admitting the truth glaring right in front of our eyes? Lets face it, India is consistent (rather, almost even synonymous) with the idea of modern liberal democracy is because of the pacifist and universal nature of the diffused ways of life and philosophies that arose in that part of the world in its historiography. History shows Indians are more or less a live-and-let-live people contrast, the vast monotheistic societies which came up in the other parts of the world, lumped all of that into one term: Hinduism (because the fundamentally bigoted monotheistic mind cannot easily comprehend the lack of labeling of people, same way as Columbus and Co had to lump all the disparate tribes of N and S America under one term: Indians/In-juns). Also note another amongst many possible examples, Europe *had* to Reconquista Southern Spain; unlike people of India, they could not live together with the very same new intruding religion.Imagine, the United States, supposedly the big beacon of modern democracy, could not deal with just two or three ethnicities (they had to wipe out one and enslave and severely cute the other), more than one language (eg the current hue and cry over Spanish as second language), and more than one religion (you have to proclaim you are Christian in order to get elected, both parties, and also note that the Govs of Louisiana and S Carolina had to convert to the majority religion before they could get elected).The fact is, any monotheistic organized religion invariably results in a worldview of us-vs-them (because, by definition it rejects and/or dehumanizes the "other" i.e. the not-yet-converted). Such societies are usually backward in their spiritual evolution. As in the past, we can certainly play roles in the further spiritual evolution of our universe and our collective consciousness, in this 21st century of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.
                        1. R
                          Jun 2, 2014 at 5:10 am
                          The professor admits that the accommodation and insutionalisation of diversities of language and region besides that of community have been challenging . This reality of the Indian situation would have been insurmountable without the reification of the "enormously diverse Muslim potion of India" and its 'demonization' and 'othering' in order to strengthening the otherwise rather fragile thread of religious unity among the majority of non-Muslims throughout the length and breadth of India.
                          1. S
                            Jun 2, 2014 at 7:07 am
                            Don't worry you have no compeion from Muslims of India. According to RSS Sikhs, Jains, Parsis etc. all are Hindus except Muslims & Christians. So in the new government you will be considered majority and fully supported as was done recently in Hyderabad.
                            1. S
                              Jun 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm
                              Agreed 100%
                              1. S
                                Jun 3, 2014 at 4:05 am
                                Rubbish, We want good governance and not a show pony but ineffective govt. prime example sardar MMS was ineffective and impotent while SG was the person wearing the pants and omnipresent.
                                1. T
                                  Thomas George
                                  Jun 2, 2014 at 9:38 am
                                  The minorities are represented in politics adequately. The problem this time is that they did not win. Please do not advocate reservation in representation as a solution. We must first get rid of caste and gender reservations in representation. Regarding caste: Until the government stops asking caste, it cannot be rooted out.
                                  1. C
                                    Jun 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm
                                    Like the minister of minority affairs said the other day, minority denotes only one community and also the madras which do not teach maths or science. Only priests are to be produced by these insutions. Recently, I met a large number of muslim educated youth who are unemplo since the governments mean nothing to them." Why only government jobs" is the common refrain. Private sector jobs are a plenty and do need people of all communities. Let us increase colleges for all communities, educate the poor and provide financial istance and make them prosperous. Yes, some clerics would lose their importance since they are illiterates by modern standards but others would prosper.
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