India needs to redefine democratic pluralism

India celebrates its 59th republic day on 26th January 2009. However, even after such a long time, India is unable to define a correct roadmap of nation building. Societal brakes are pulling down the rapid scientific advancement and communal tension is kept alive.

As a nation India harps on secularism but in practice this word remains sandwiched between intrusiveness, neutrality and indifference to religion. As a result, neither the majority nor the minorities feel comfortable in this country.

At the time of Independence, there were five routes to nation building. The Muslim league model wanted Hindus and Muslims to be mobilized as separate groups and then wielded into a national unity on the basis of distinctiveness but equality.

Second, was the Nehruvian model, where state got to have no truck with any religion, but the minorities’ rights has to be protected through constitutional guarantee.

Third was the Gandhian model that visualized religion and politics to be enmeshed with each other and the state should pay equal respect to all religion: “Sab Dharam Sambav”.

Fourth the “Hindutva”, model that equates nationalism with Hindu culture and calls for merge all diversity under the umbrella of Hindutva.

Fifth, is the “melting-pot culture” of the US, where different identities are homogenized under a pan national identity?

Given the complexity of the Indian politics none of the above models of nation building fits as an ideal format of national integration.

The Muslim league model of treating minorities as fixed entity could not be held valid because in democracy there are no permanent majority or minority, they keep on shifting and the ruling coalitions is formed of several minority groups.

The Nehruvian model too can not fit into Indian societal map where religion dominates on every walk of life and it is very difficult to separate religion from politics. This model which is inspired by communism has not worked out even in those states.

The Gandhian model of paying equal respect to all religion is too flawed. It tries to pay lip service to different religion for the sake of equal treatment but nothing concrete come out of it other than pandering to majority religious symbolism.

The Hindutva model of homogenizing Indian society under cultural nationalism of Hinduism is the diabolic design to extinguish the vast cultural specificities that makes the Indian mosaic. In such case the local and self grown traditions among Hinduism is on verge of annihilation by the adherents of the Hindutva ideology.

The melting pot culture of the US also can not be imitated in India for the fear of secessionism. This model instead of uniting the country may lead to vivisection by all kinds of group in the country.

So what should be the roadmap for nation building? If we go by the statistics India houses some 4, 599 separate communities. How this vast majority of diversity could be integrated into the Indian polity and society. Is there a need to redefine democratic pluralism in India?

Democratic pluralism in India could only be deliverable only by adhering to the principle of secularism. Secularism should be based on citizenship and national boundaries as the organizing principle provided by the Indian constitution.

There is some confusion regarding interpretation of secularism and in the process certain core principles such as equal protection for all religions is ignored. The state should not in any way support or oppose any particular religion but at the same time it should protect the religious and cultural rights all the religions particularly religious minorities.

Secularism should be prompted with courage and conviction and every one has stakes in restraining those who adopt confrontationist approach using religion as their shield.

The other approach should pan Indian identity should based on multiple layers the people have, such as state, family, city, profession and organization. Forging such identity would foster amity and harmony among all the citizens of the country.

The next approach should to build secularism on citizenship rights that’s based on equality and provides a strong foundation to keep the country together.

On the eve of Republic day, the challenge before every Indian is how to imbibe spirit of secularism as a way of life, how to get rid of its imperfections, how to set into motion a process that could be easily grasped and followed.

All this requires a redefinition of democratic pluralism and a new revolution.  As an Indian if we all like to enjoy the fruits of rapid development there are little choices for the road ahead. 


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@