Where is society heading?

Growing Majoritarianism

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Political analysts have rightly warned that that the majoritarian State that we are presently heading towards has virtually pushed minorities to different forms of sufferance outside the protection of the rule of law. Such a system has tragically sent a feeling among the ethnic majority to feel vicariously superior to a vulnerable underclass.
The majoritarian crisis resulting in hate speeches and alienating the minorities, specially Muslims motivated Supreme Court lawyers in late December to write to the Chief Justice of India urging him to take suo motu cognisance of such speeches calling for a genocide of Muslims to achieve ethnic cleansing. The letter cited the Dharam Sansad in Haridwar and a meeting in Delhi (between December 17 and 19) and named nine persons against whom action should be taken on the basis of videos of their hate speeches. In the letter, the 76 signatories pointed out that hate speeches “amount to an open call for murder of the entire community” adding that they “pose a grave threat not just to the unity and integrity of our country but also endanger the lives of millions of Muslims citizens”. It called for judicial intervention to prevent such events that seem to have become the order of the day.
The Hindu victimhood argument empowers them to define Hindus as a powerless majority, while the slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ offers them an opportunity to avoid any discussion on specific issues and concerns of numerically inferior and marginalised groups – the minorities such as Muslims. The dominant discourse of politics is deeply embedded in identity-centric imaginations. The political class is shamelessly violating secular principles. Religion and caste are being celebrated in the name of people’s sentiments. No political party is interested in serious public discussion on economic inequalities – the growing division between the rich and the poor.
In India, though the Citizenship Amendment Act may provide amnesty to all migrants but not Muslims, and create a modern inquisition where this community will be called upon to document their claim to India. In a reversal of the foundational principle of Indian law, they will have to prove their citizenship criteria. In one stroke, India’s Muslims will be cast into the same void the Rohingya endured in independent Burma. The road to majoritarianism is a gradual one, which the present government is aiming for. Obviously, this aim is aimed towards electoral gains as the Sangh Parivar wants to prove that they are the saviours of Hinduism.
Today riots and violence have become part of policy, a way of achieving and consolidating power. Minorities, specially Muslims, are harassed and brutal force is used against them. Violence to the body and the body politic is accompanied by a post Orwellian language. In fact, the whole question of citizenship has been the biggest casualty of the regime as the informal worker, migrant, farmer and even academics and dissenters becomes less equal and subjected to harassment in different ways – economic, social and political.
Delving into the problem, it can safely be said that Hindutva and majoritarianism precisely wishes to move beyond the complexity and select rendering of history to an irrational hatred of Muslims. Such hatred may find hegemonic justification for the xenophobic exclusion of religious minorities. Violence would then not depend on organised riots but the break-up of society would lead to utter chaos, conflicts perpetrated naturally and spontaneously.
The growing discourse of growing Islamophobia has demonstrated that hatred against Muslims in the country is rampant and institutionalised. The reality is what we have in India is contextual communalism that is linked to local history and memory of violence between communities in the past and contemporary cultural differences. What the Sangh Parivar does is offer selective tendering of history that can propel the consolidation of a majoritarian Hindu identity. But in the process, individual welfare is being sacrificed and communitarian bonds are not allowed to be developed.
Merely because Muslims have been associated with violence in the course of history, they cannot be blamed now. The Hindutva ecosystem depends on a legitimate entry point and the rendering of the past gives them an excellent opportunity. Instead of taking recourse to Islamophobia, secular democratic forces need to re-focus on the roots of communalism and look for means of burying the memories of violence between religious communities in the past and resist it in the present. The distortion of history by the Sangh Parivar has elicited global outcry and there is need to rectify this.
One may ponder here whether this majoritarianism is an offshoot of autocracy and totalitarianism. On the one hand, there is centralisation of powers at all levels – not just at the Centre but also in the States – and the offshoot of this is the Hindutva project where the government is reportedly glorifying Hindus and projecting Hindu culture. But are they actually doing so?
They are only dividing the community, thereby destroying social cohesion and goodwill. One may mention here that the line of Hinduism, preached and practised by the Sangh Parivar, is radically different from that envisaged by Swami Vivekananda. He talked of unity of all religions and inculcating a communitarian spirit for people to live in peace and happiness. According to him, Hinduism is not strictly a way of life where people from diverse fields of opinion could come and work together for human welfare.
Democracy has to be reinvented because the regime is enforcing a particular variant of authoritarian electoralism and claiming legitimacy. But how does this happen? People have to be educated and made aware of social norms and regulations as also their rights and duties in a democratic society. Moreover, they have to be educated about what religion is and the fact that there is no animosity among religions. The so-called religious protagonists mostly misinterpret religion to show that their religion is superior and protector of mankind. Then only can civil society at the grass-root level stand up against the challenge of centralism and forced decisions from above.
For a healthy society, communitarian bonds and grass-root cooperation are essential tenets for human happiness to flourish. If people cannot mix freely with individuals and neighbours as friends, how can society grow and develop? It needs to be reiterated that first and foremost we are individuals and the religious and/or caste identity comes much later. In modern times where science and technology is the focus of attention, religion and caste comes much later and should not be allowed to pollute society. But do our leaders realise this?
Modern trends in society with a pro-rich, pro-religion outlook do not possibly believe in how the masses can live a happy and contented life. Dividing people may help political parties to achieve electoral gains but cannot help make society stronger and healthier. Is it not a fact that due to this, the fellow-feeling and bondage between people is breaking up? Is it not time that instead of harping on majoritarianism, the political leaders should think of human welfare and try to develop bonds between people right from the grass-root level? — INFA