Disunited Republic: Broken Indian Nationalism
India, positioned as the world's largest democracy, is currently grappling with a surge of nationalism that presents both challenges and opportunities to its unity and diversity.
By delving into the multifaceted implications of this nationalism for India's constitutional principles, conducting a comparative analysis with global trends, and considering its resulting global ramifications, we can gain valuable insights. While acknowledging concerns about its negative aspects, it is essential to also examine the potential positive elements of nationalism. Furthermore, it is crucial to touch upon whether nationalism in India should undergo reform or face an impending demise.
In India, the rise of nationalism exhibits discernible features, frequently revolving around the realms of religious and cultural identity. Specific factions within the nation champion an exclusive construal of Indian identity, thereby precipitating tensions, notably within the context of the Hindu majority vis-à-vis religious minority communities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other groups. This milieu has given rise to vigilante organisations, and instances of communal violence have further exacerbated societal schisms and cleavages.
Constitution, Secularism and Minority Rights
India's Constitution stands as a testament to the nation's commitment to nurturing a diverse and inclusive society. The architects of the Constitution envisioned a nation where individuals from diverse faiths, languages, and cultures could live together harmoniously, all the while safeguarding individual rights and liberties. However, the recent surge of nationalism has posed a challenge to this vision. The assertiveness of nationalism sometimes blurs the distinction between majority interests and minority rights. In contemporary India, nationalism often assumes the form of majoritarianism, which prioritises the interests of the majority community over the rights of minorities. This has, on occasion, contradicted the fundamental principle of India as a secular state, where religion should not dictate governance. Furthermore, this upsurge in nationalism has also marginalised dissenting voices, curtailed freedom of expression, and undermined democratic norms.
A Resurgence of Nationalism
Nationalist movements, as observed in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, exhibit common themes of cultural preservation, economic protectionism, and concerns about external threats. However, the nuances of these movements and their implications differ significantly.
In India, the surge of nationalism is closely linked to the promotion of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), which emphasises the preservation of Hindu culture and values. This form of nationalism often gives rise to religious tensions and challenges the secular fabric of the nation. Additionally, India's nationalist fervour is influenced by historical tensions with neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan and China. These intricate geopolitical dynamics contribute to a unique and intense form of nationalism in the Indian context.
In contrast, during Donald Trump's leadership, the United States witnessed a resurgence of nationalism with his "America First" approach. This brand of nationalism focused on prioritising American interests over international alliances and cooperation. While it exposed deep societal divisions, it did not have a strong religious or cultural component as seen in India. Instead, it was driven by concerns about economic decline in certain regions and issues related to immigration, which were used as rallying points for nationalist sentiments.
The United Kingdom's Brexit referendum in 2016 showcased a different facet of nationalism. The "Leave" campaign tapped into nationalist sentiments by promising greater control over immigration and sovereignty. Brexit revealed the complex challenge of reconciling nationalist aspirations with the intricate economic and political realities of a globalised world. It led to a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the European Union and raised questions about the costs and benefits of pursuing nationalist policies in an interconnected world.
Across Europe, nationalist parties advocating for stricter immigration policies and a return to traditional national values have gained traction. These movements raise questions about the viability of the European Union and its commitment to unity and cooperation. However, European nationalism is also influenced by historical factors, such as memories of world wars and the challenges of integrating diverse cultures within a unified framework.
While nationalist trends in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe share some common themes, the specific drivers, manifestations, and consequences of nationalism vary significantly due to the unique historical, cultural, and political contexts in each region.
The global repercussions of India's resurgence in nationalism are far-reaching. India, not only a regional powerhouse but a significant global player, wields influence over international politics and economics. The trajectory of India's nationalism can have an impact on its relationships with neighbouring nations, particularly Pakistan and China, potentially escalating tensions and complicating diplomatic efforts. Furthermore, economic nationalism, characterised by protectionist policies and restrictions on foreign investment, has the potential to impede economic progress, discourage foreign investors, and diminish India's attractiveness as an investment destination.
Global Concerns and Precedents - The erosion of democratic norms and the curtailment of minority rights in India establish a troubling global precedent. This serves as a warning signal that may embolden authoritarian leaders worldwide and weaken international endeavours aimed at promoting democracy and human rights. Additionally, the image of India as a diverse and inclusive society, essential for its global influence, is under threat due to the surge in nationalism.
Inequities Confronting Minority
Under Narendra Modi's leadership, India has faced challenges related to secularism and religious freedom, especially in how it treats minority groups like Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, and Northeastern communities. Criticism has been directed at policies such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) for their perceived bias against minorities.
In parallel, Sikhs in Punjab and Haryana protested against the three farm laws, which were subsequently repealed by the Modi government, marking a significant victory for the Sikh community. However, when viewed alongside the ascent of Hindutva ideology, these policies raise concerns about the potential marginalisation of minority groups, erosion of India's secular principles, and the creation of an atmosphere marked by insecurity.
Whilst these concerns are valid, it's important to acknowledge that nationalism, in moderation, can foster a sense of unity, pride, and cultural identity. However, it can be a driving force for progress and development when balanced with a commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and respect for the rights of all citizens.
In the pursuit of establishing an equitable national trajectory, the burgeoning tide of nationalism in the Indian context introduces a multifaceted dynamic replete with challenges and potential avenues for development concerning the nation's constitutional tenets and its global positioning. Whilst deliberating upon the necessity for potential reconfiguration or the potential erosion of this phenomenon, it becomes indispensable to situate this discourse within the overarching paradigm of democratic values and a steadfast dedication to the preservation of human rights.
Amidst the profound challenges currently confronting India, the nation finds itself at a pivotal juncture in its history. The upsurge of nationalism, accompanied by the ascent of Hindutva ideology, has given rise to considerable concerns pertaining to minority rights, while simultaneously putting to the test the cherished principles of equality, secularism, and religious freedom that India holds in high regard. The decisions India makes in negotiating these intricate issues will not merely determine its own fate but will also carry extensive implications for global politics and the promotion of democratic ideals worldwide.
To delineate a constructive trajectory, India should prioritise a set of crucial strategies. In the initial phase, India must place paramount importance on promoting inclusivity. The nation should actively endorse policies and initiatives that safeguard equal rights for all its citizens, irrespective of their religious or cultural affiliations. Inclusivity not only constitutes a fundamental facet of democracy but also serves as an indispensable method of safeguarding the rich tapestry of diversity that India represents.
Additionally, fostering dialogue and engagement between different communities is crucial. India should seek to nurture open and constructive dialogue, promoting interfaith interactions that can bridge the divides that have emerged in recent years. Building trust and understanding among various religious and cultural groups is essential for fostering social cohesion and unity.
India ought to proactively participate in the international community. Through the exchange of experiences, the dissemination of best practices, and the sharing of strategies for addressing nationalist challenges, India has the potential to make valuable contributions to and derive benefits from global endeavours aimed at safeguarding democratic principles and human rights.
Therefore, India's endeavour to address the intricacies of nationalism while upholding its democratic ideals presents a substantial challenge. Nevertheless, this challenge, when met with deliberate contemplation, self-reflection, and an unflinching dedication to principles of inclusiveness, dialogue, and education, possesses the potential not only to shape India's future but also to offer an exemplar for other countries contending with analogous dilemmas. India's distinctive tapestry can endure, and its democratic system can persistently flourish in an ever more interconnected global landscape.
Prem Singh Gill is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University andThammasat University