Research Journal # 11

Hindu nationalism equals to or not equals to Democracy in India?

            In the paper, for understanding and analyzing the relationship between Hindu Nationalism (HN) and Democracy, I used the example of Gujarat Pogrom, 2002. Based on that, it is high time asked “if HN is compatible to democracy?” Answer: NO! Reasons are several.

  1. As Bhargava (2003) stated HN cannot survive against a real/imagined enemy. Likewise, in the case of Gujarat Pogrom, HN believed Muslim community as its enemy and initiated the ethnic cleansing on the Muslim community. This is nothing but a direct blow to democracy.
  2. In the same event, it is also evident that HN is not willing to incorporate secularistic ideas in it, otherwise it would not be possible for HN to kill more than 2000 man in the name of secularity. If there is secularity, there cannot be any atrocity like this. Though it is true all democracies are not secular, there are some democracies who practice limited secularism etc. but in no democracies a systematic, pre-planned killing against one group is possible.
  3. BJP/VHP was using the religion to serve their political interest. Furthermore, institutions like police and arm force were also used by the state power to commence and maintain the pogrom on Muslim. It was a clear indication that state institutions were used from one group against another group. In a democracy, institutions are part of a process ensuring that everybody will have access to those institutions equally. Academicians often identify democracies as more or less successful on their ability to engage these state institutions more proactively and equally. Opposed to this criteria of democracy, HN in Gujarat Pogrom 2002 abused state institutions against a certain group of people. Hence, HN was not only making direct confrontation with minority, rather engaging state institutions to maintain the confrontation against the minority.
  4. To add with the previous point, state institutions in democracy will be serving to protect the rights of minorities. HN practically influenced state institutions to oppress minorities. This means, HN was responsible for making a “divide” between groups during the pogrom. The impact of the divide can obviously be long lasting, just like it has been observed in the case of post-pogrom Gujarat. Along with the political separation, economical degradation and physical torments, the victims of the pogrom are bearing psychological trauma to date (Ghassem-Fachandi 2012).
  5. It is to be understood that Muslims political representations faced systematic elimination gradually in the political arena of India soon after the British rule started. However, with the passage of time Muslims political representation practically became entirely ineffective in terms of protecting the rights and raising the voices of their people in local-national politics. It was evident, not only for Gujarat incident, but also in other times and places, Muslims in India lack political and cultural entity as opposed to the Hindus. To be more specific, Muslims do not have a strong representation against the HN. Not facing any practical opposition made HN to gain more confidence in terms of the willingness of oppressing the minorities. For instance, no literature provides evidences of an organized protest in Gujarat against the pogrom. Even Muslims all over India did not have at the time of Gujarat pogrom as a single voice/leader/political platform to speak on behalf of the entire community, they still do not have that. This situation has two implications: A) It gives more authority to HN to exercise power over minorities, and B) It makes the democracy in India less democratic as without proper representation there is a limited option for negotiation and renegotiation.

Democracy is an ongoing, evolving process the path of is determined by negotiation and renegotiation. For the sake of proper negotiation, violence is also oftentimes justified, but oppression is never welcome in a functioning democracy. HN is more willing to adopt measures of violence and oppression to sustain on power, spread Hindutva, create a strong hierarchy of power. Every steps with these elements HN takes is pushing it away from a ‘functioning’ democracy which is supposed to be, as per the given definition in the theoretical section, an inclusive one for all of its citizens. Thus, HN is incompatible to democracy to a great extent as in it lacks common characteristics with democracy. Furthermore, HN also creates/try to create an environment which has exactly opposite components of an inclusive democracy. This is exactly what Chandra argues that over influence of rigid nationalism can create obstacles for minorities and make the democracy disfuntional.

HN does pose a threat to democracy. But, what I would argue keeping the evidence of the Gujarat pogrom in mind, it is not the ideology of HN that possess threat against democracy rather the people who are integrating HN into the “democratic” institutions of India are creating the sense of threat against democracy by HN. As democracy is a process which depends on inclusivity, if majority of India support HN, democracy needs to work out with HN in the process of finding out a middle path for everyone. Democracy needs to negotiate and renegotiate with HN to ensure both the interests of majority and minority are served. But if people who will initiate the conversation remain less willing to negotiate and compromise, when necessary, democracy is bound to fail. Hence, with the processes themselves, people play crucial role in making or breaking of democracy.

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