Secularism and majority nationalism

Our standing as the world’s largest democracy will be in peril if we do not treat all our citizens equally

By Author JR Janumpalli   |   Published: 15th Sep 2020   12:05 am Updated: 14th Sep 2020   10:12 pm

Caught in between secularism and majority nationalism, the nation seems to be losing its way. We must note that the allegation that secularism was implanted in the Constitution later did not take away much from the democracy India wanted to be in the original. In fact, it enhanced it. But the concept of majority nationalism and implementation of its precepts in the last six years seem to be taking away a great deal from the credit of India being the largest democracy in the world.

We are one of about 180 countries in the world. There are competent NGOs in the world who evaluate the functioning of countries on a regular basis. Economist Intelligence Unit, Feedom House, World Press Freedom Index, etc, are some such institutions. Their reports every year or so indicate the level of performance of the countries in their respective indicators. India, like other countries, is subject to evaluation by these organisations. Governments need to take cognisance of their reports.

Democratic Credentials

India chose to be a full-fledged democracy after attaining its independence in 1947. While the countries around it became hybrid or authoritarian regimes, India has managed to maintain its democratic credentials, despite its vastness in territory, large population, disparity in incomes and great diversity. It was able to remain in the second quartile of democracy index like the countries as the US because of its regular and competent conduct of elections with universal franchise providing the positive scope for the change of governments. For that, it has rightly earned the sobriquet of the largest democracy in the world.

Conduct of elections only will not determine the extent and quality of democracy. “Free and fair elections and civil liberties are necessary conditions for democracy, but they are unlikely to be sufficient for a full and consolidated democracy if unaccompanied by transparent and at least minimally efficient government, sufficient political participation and a supportive democratic political culture. It is not easy to build a sturdy democracy. Even in long-established ones, democracy can corrode if not nurtured and protected,” states the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The democracy index of India reached its best in 2014 with an overall score of 7.92, a rank of 27 and we were placed at a striking distance of scoring 8.0 to become a full-fledged democracy. But just in the last 5 years, we dropped to 6.9 to rank 51. The primary cause of this democratic regression is the erosion of civil liberties.

Majority Problem

Though it was sudden, it was not all that subtle. The BJP win in 2014 portended it. For, the party’s main agenda was Hindutva, which does not countenance secularism. This has brought into focus the concept of majority nationalism. A thinking was encouraged to develop that secularism has made some minorities more important than the majority Hindus. And the Congress, which ruled the country for more time before 2014, was blamed for pampering the minority population, which created problems.

The BJP canvassed that this was the reason for the many maladies that are plaguing the nation. The BJP wanted to correct it through its Hindutva majority nationalism agenda. The party succeeded in getting more seats in the 2019 election. This was construed as the endorsement of majority nationalism.

During its first essay, the BJP also tried many of its supposedly ‘out-of-the-box’ reforms, without much understanding of the fundamentals of the economy and the ability of its administration to deliver the schemes.

In the euphoria of landslide victory, the BJP government started to implement some of the ideas of its ideology of before 1947 vintage in a hurry, without taking stock of its earlier schemes and without regard to the decelerating economy. The economy was taken for granted.

But the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the already ailing economy and the ineffectual administration. Yet, the BJP government does not seem to have realised the mistakes. It is not reneging from its earlier outlook and continues to indulge in the same archaic ideological paradigm of majority nationalism.

Religion and Politics

Secularism is the belief that religion should not be involved with the political activities of a country. Even if it is true that the Congress practice of secularism was a bit inordinate, it is not prudent to curtail it and replace it with Hindutva. Democracy without secularism cannot be called a real democracy.

Majority nationalism which impinges on the equal rights of some people cannot be compatible with democracy. It may be possible to have such a system in a small country with a homogeneous ethnic and religious population. But not in a large country like India, with a great diversity of multi-ethnic, religious and cultural population of more than one billion.

It is also to be noted that India, with about 200 million, has the largest Muslim minority population in the world. In such a scenario to dilute the democracy, which the country had been enjoying for the last 73 years is not prudent. It invites unwarranted unrest in the country, which is already evident. There can be certain inequities in the practice of Indian democracy. They can be addressed by building consensus.

Worldwide, it is the endeavour of the people to graduate to democracy from hybrid or authoritarian regimes. Our founding fathers have chosen for us the best form of government. We lived it for 73 years, with some dignity and competence and earned the distinction of being the largest democracy in the world. But now with our conceited pre-independence ideologies, we cannot tamper with it and go down the scale to become a hybrid regime.

The Democracy Index of 2019 shows that we have fallen 10 points from 41 in 2018 to 51 in 2019. We are just 0.9 points away to join the hybrid regimes like Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Freedom House ranks India now at 71/100 position (77 in 2017). It is said to be the worst decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies this year. Incidentally, India is placed at 138th rank of the 180 nations in the World Freedom of Press Index. It is time India pondered deeply on it and halted the fall.

(The author is a freelance journalist)

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