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 continued…