Why minority politics in India?

It promotes gist and spirit of our constitution, not the parochial interests of a religious entity

India is a rainbow nation. The convergence of diversities is the very essence of this kaleidoscopic nation with continental dimensions. India is microcosm of the world. The Brokpa tribe, inhabited in the northernmost territory of India, Ladakh, is considered to be the decedents of Alexander the Great and as such pure Aryans. Whereas the Jarawa tribe inhabited in the southernmost territory of India, Andaman Islands, is Negroid. Thus India has Europe and Africa within it.

This socio-cultural diversity resulted in a fabulous cultural osmosis and the crystallisation of a composite culture. Take the example of a musical instrument, Rudra Veena. As Rudra is a name for the Hindu god Shiva, Rudra Veena literally means "the veena dear to Shiva". Shiva is also said to have created the Rudra Veena, inspired by his wife, Parvati. In the 20th century, it was Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, a Muslim musician, who modified and redesigned the Rudra Veena. Besides Dagar, all the major exponents of this instrument were Musilms – Asad Ali Khan, Bande Ali Khan, Bahauddin Dagar, Naubat Khan, Wazir Khan and Ali Zaki Haider. This is only one of the umpteen examples of India’s cultural syncretism.

The Surf Excel Advertisement promoting communal harmony did not go well with the right-wing Hindutva brigade

Preserving this rich heritage of our composite culture and promoting harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities, is Fundamental Duty of every Indian under Art.51A(e) and (f) of our Constitution. Here lies the significance of pluralism in our social sphere and polyarchy in political structure. Pluralism and polyarchy are the integral elements of our constitutional matrix. This duo – Pluralism and Polyarchy – should be basis of minority politics too. Here the Constitution and minority politics converge.

The concept of Polyarchy was developed by American political analyst Robert Dahl in his book, Democracy and Its Critics (1989). Robert Dahl calls politically advanced democracies "polyarchies". Polyarchies have elected officials, free and fair elections, inclusive suffrage, and rights to run for office, freedom of expression, alternative information and associational autonomy. Multiple centres of political power are the essential feature of polyarchy.

The political system that our constitution envisages is akin to Dahlian Polyarchy. In such a political ecology, the minority segments can effectively participate in power structure and decision making. Pluralism has a wider orbit as it includes both political and social aspects. It is a socio-political ambience in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization. The concept of polyarchy and pluralism are the basic ideological premises of the minority politics in Indian context. Fortunately polyarchy and pluralism is the basic note of our constitutional symphony too.

When the founding fathers of America framed the first modern constitution in the world, they wove pluralistic character as the warp and weft of their constitution. James Madison, the father of American Constitution, rightly observed “the very definition of tyranny is when all powers are gathered under one place”. So the founding fathers envisaged the even distribution of power. They devised three institutional principles for this purpose: Separation of powers and checks & balances, Federalism and Bicameralism. The Madisonian Democratic principles are imbibed by our founding fathers too. This was to ensure an even distribution of powers and to avoid a tyrannical turn of the republic.

Affirmative Action and Consociationalism are other two widely employed methods for actualising political pluralism. Affirmative Action is made operational in our constitutional scheme with reservation system. Art.16 (1) provides for equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. Art. 16(4) provides for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, according of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the Sate.

Reservation system is not an exemption to the principle of the equality of opportunity in the public services; instead it is an expansion of the principle. Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Communities are provided with reservation in public service under this Article of the Constitution.

Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections and protecting them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation, is an injunction of the Constitution to the State under the Directive Principles of State Policy (Art. 46). Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are given reservation in the Parliament, State Legislatures, Local Self- Government Institutions and Cooperatives Societies under the Constitution.

The Anglo-Indian community is assured representation in the Parliament and State Legislatures (Articles. 331 and 333). All these constitutional provisions are examples of Affirmative Action and Inclusive ethos. But, unfortunately, the Muslim community and other minorities are not given any reservation in the public services and legislatures. The Muslims in India can ensure their participation in power and decision making only through political mobilisation and social action.

Consociationalism is a form of democracy which seeks to regulate the sharing of power in a state that comprises diverse societies (distinct ethnic, religious, political, national or linguistic groups), by allocating these groups collective rights. The executive-power sharing is mainly characterized by proportional representation, veto rights and segmental autonomy for minority groups. Lebanon is the best example of consociational democracy.

As the majoritarian politics gathers unprecedented momentum in current Indian political landscape, some sort of consociationalism should be demanded to ensure the participation of the minorities in power and decision making. 

A fair treatment of minorities is a sine qua non for prosperity, development and stability of any nation. The Sri Lankan experience vindicates this point. The ill-treatment of the Tamil minority by the Sinhalese majority led the country into a bloody civil war and hampered the development of a nation having great developmental potential. The non-accommodation of political aspiration of Madhesi people in Nepal has been a great roadblock in their endeavour to document a stable constitution. The well-treatment and accommodation meted by the Canadian State towards French speaking Quebec region, which ensured prosperity and tranquillity in Canada, is a paragon for other nations.

Pluralistic and polyarchic ethos are the basic matrix of our Constitutional architecture. If our constitution is compared to a majestic temple, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principle of State Policy are its twin towers, the Preamble is the sanctum sanctorum and the ideal of Justice is the deity. Justice – social, economic and political – is the final destination of our constitutional odyssey.

The ideal of justice is soul of our constitutional jurisprudence. Robert Ingersoll, American thinker, rightly observed about the salience of justice: “sand shrouded Egypt, every crumbling stone of once mighty Rome and marble wilderness of Athens – all cry out that no nation founded upon injustice can permanently stand”. We cannot ignore this valuable lesson from history. Justice is the solid foundation of a nation. Once this foundation is shaken, the whole edifice of nation will crumble.

The term Justice in the Preamble of our constitution is suffixed with its three aspects – social, economic and political. Socialism emphasised on economic justice and liberalism on political justice. But our founding fathers deliberately placed social before economic and political and thus prioritised social justice over economic and political justice.

Communities based on religion, ethnicity and language have a vital role in our socio-political life. So a just distribution of power amongst these communities is the gist of social justice. The ideal of secularism, another cardinal principle of our republic, also denotes equality among various religious communities as interpreted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ismail Faruqui v/s Union of India judgement (1995).

Equality, fair play and justice envisaged by the Constitution can be achieved through pluralistic and inclusive politics, polyarchical power structure, a revamped Affirmative Action and Consociationalism of, at least, minimal scale. The input or catalyst for the realisation of these aspirations is the political mobilisation of minorities, especially Muslims in India.

In final analysis, the political mobilisation of minorities especially Muslims in India, to achieve a pluralistic society, a polyarchiacal state and to realise ideals of justice, equality and fair play, would promote not the parochial interests of minorities; but the gist and spirit of our constitution. Mahatma Gandhi, the patron-saint of our republic, expressed his dream on India thus: “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice…an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.” Accordingly, the ultimate purpose of minority politics and political mobilisation of minorities in India is, or should be, the realisation of this dream of the father of our nation.

The author is leader of Indian Union Muslim League, and a member of its High Power Committee.

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