Is India Shifting Towards Majoritarianism?

The recent statement of Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah has sparked controversies and evoked strong reactions from all over the country, especially in the South and North-East India. Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English. Further, he also added that the “time has come to make the Official Language an important part of the unity of the country. When people from states which speak other languages communicate with each other, it should be in the language of India,” implicitly asking for the imposition of Hindi in India which has led many to reckon if India is shifting towards a majoritarian government.

Majoritarianism and democracy

Majoritarianism, as opposed to democracy, is the belief that the majority community should be able to rule a country unchallenged. In essence, while democracy pushes for the welfare of all its citizens despite numbers, majoritarian is where the welfare of the minority is altogether denied while the majority enjoys a certain degree of primacy.

Simply put, majoritarianism is the supremacy of numbers alone which can be with or without core values and principles, while democracy does not simply rest in the majority but with a profound pledge to ensure the fundamental moral rights of every citizen. Majoritarianism is thus a threat in its very nature and has the least correspondence to democracy.

Shifting towards a majoritarian state

Unfortunately, despite the imminent threat that majoritarianism poses, many fear that there is a visible shift in our country toward a majoritarian government, especially since the BJP came to power in 2014. It is ostensible that the recent controversy of Hindi imposition is not the first of its kind and it is true that India has gone through a series of attempts by right-wing nationalists to establish a majoritarian state, especially led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political wing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In fact, many policies as the revocation of Article 370, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) etc. could be seen as an attestation of a majoritarian attempt. Further, the strong advocacy of ‘One Nation, One Religion or One Nation, One Law’, by top BJP leaders could also be viewed in the same light as a shift away from actual democracy.

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Moreover, the rising religious, cultural, and ideological intolerance are also critical causes of concern against the nature of democracy. The idea of secularism as a constitutional principle calls for tolerance and peaceful co-existence; the different rights and privileges enshrined in the constitution of India prohibit discrimination and oppression of people based on their gender, language or ethnicity; and the liberty of conscience and the freedom of speech opens a path for ideological differences.

However, in one way or another, these ideals remain largely distorted and the rights and privileges are somehow infringed upon, implicitly steering us towards majoritarianism, the philosophy of the majority is the law and the minority the oppressed. Regrettably, India has long since venerated the idea of sectarianism -the idea of Hindu supremacy against India’s constitutional values and principles. What we see today is a gross violation of rights and denial of privileges, and a nonsensical leaning toward the promotion and advocacy of majoritarian ethos.

Majoritarianism and unity in diversity

Kanimozhi, Lok Sabha MP from Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, said, the one language idea will not unite India but it will split the nation. Besides, the Union Home Minister is reminded by many that Uniformity is not Unity and that he should not commit the same mistakes. In this regard furthermore, the statement of M.K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who strongly calls the imposition as an attack on India’s unity is particularly remarkable.

India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Sadly enough, a country whose founding fathers had once taken pride in its Unity in Diversity is now drowning in a state of intolerance and parochialism. For instance, many critics have condemned the movie The Kashmir Files, a film about the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus as propaganda to instigate hatred against the Muslims in India.

Likewise, the abuse of Christian missionaries by RSS volunteers from time to time and the pillaging of churches is to discourage diversity and promote majoritarianism. Majoritarianism thus is evident that it will destroy the very essence of India as a Union of States as it strives to establish a majority rule and play havoc with the essence of Unity in Diversity, the idea of India.

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The way forward

There are 22 official languages in India, and to aggrandise Hindi at the expense of the rest of the official languages is insensible and demeaning. Moreover, Hindi imposition will only endanger languages and dialects that are already on the verge of extinction. The more important is the idea of freedom, and people should have the liberty to learn whatever language they wish to learn, and correspondingly, the laws that must govern them must be a law that best serves them, uninfluenced by the majority but stemming from fundamental moral and ethical values.

Nevertheless, there is no harm in learning a language, the problem with it is simply the nature of imposition. From a psychological perspective, it is natural that humans respond better to reason and rationality rather than force and intimidation.

Similarly, from a humanistic perspective, every person should be entitled to the liberty of conscience -the freedom of choice and expression. That being the case, one must always remember that there is no pride to hold in the suppression and oppression but all concerned must collectively fight to uphold constitutional values and principles against oppressive policies as the idea of majoritarianism which must be condemned at all costs.

Janghaolun Haokip is a freelancer and theologian based in Kanggui.

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