Over the summer, I finished reading a book titled Democracy and Diversity: India and the American Experience by a group of experts including the acclaimed Arend Lijphart. The book had some positive and lots of sobering points (esp. about the internal dynamics of the parties) about democracy in India. One of the papers, titled ‘Nation State’ or ‘State Nation’ (Linz, Stepan and Yadav), was a very interesting analysis of the concept of nation in India relative to the other nations such as France, US and Switzerland. Their conclusions are generally positive, which I will also discuss, elaborate and sometimes contest.
The authors start of by discussing France, which up until the nineteenth century, was a diverse polity with many different dialects of French spoken and a German minority, but
After the French Revolution …. many policies were devoted to creating a unitary nation state in France in which all French citizens had only one cultural and political identity … a package of incentives and disincentives to ensure that French increasingly became the only acceptable language in the state …. Throughout France, state schools at any given hour were famously teaching the same curriculum with identical syallabi by teachers who had been trained and certified by the same Ministry
The authors claim that had such a policy been adopted in India, it would have led to a destruction of both Indian democracy and ultimately the Indian nation. It is debatable however, whether such polices are not surreptitiously followed by the Union Government. Although many policies and symbols (including the national anthem) of the Indian state are pluralistic, there is a definite push to Hindi. Hindi (along with English) is the official language of the Union (not the national language). Even though, the de facto langauge used in Delhi is English, Hindi is definitely the first among equals as far as GoI is concerned. Add to this, the fact that students in CBSE and state boards in North India learn Sanskrit instead of a third Indian language , and the multicultural credentials of the Indian state start looking a bit shaky.
One of the key points emphasized in the paper is how diversity is handled politically in India. The linguistic states (an example of assymetrical federalism) are the first example of this. So much has been said about this, that I wont say more, except that the authors (and I) feel that it was a very good idea. The authors further point out that in India,
diversities are of course a product of developments over a long historical period, but they appear as ‘givens’ to political actors. …. what appear as essential divisions in any given society are no more than social cleavages that happen to be politically activated and mobilized at that moment.
This is actually not the only reason for the rise of multi-party coalitions in India. In fact, these ‘divisions’ were always present even before India became a nation. It took 45 – 50 years for them to take centre-stage, because of three reasons
1) the local parties took time to develop their support base (which they were also able to eventually serve better),
2) the sporadic but not easily forgotten authoritarian actions of the Union Government (example Kerala, Punjab, Kashmir, Mizoram) and
3) sometimes continous neglect (Bihar, UP) of the Union Government. These drove people away from the Congress (and correspondingly the GoI) in the affected states. Another reason is the hierarchical, dynastic nature of Indian political parties but that is a matter for a different post.
The authors list 4 important patterns, they say are necessary for a ‘diverse polity to become a state nation’, I will list each one and then discuss how they (and I) think India fares.
1) Despite cultural identities among citizens of the polity there will be at the same time a high degree of positive identification with the state, and pride in being citizens of that state.
India generally fares very well in this area, except in Nagaland and the Kashmir valley. They quote the findings the results from a survey conducted by the CSDS in all Indian states, which indicated that 92 % of Tamil Nadu’ites, 89 % of Muslim , 92 % of Punjabis, 74 % of Mizos were ‘proud’ of being Indian. I wonder how the perceptions of a Mizo would change after an actual visit to our national capital . In Nagaland, only 43 % of the respondents identified as Indian and Naga, whereas 57 % of the respondents identified as Naga only. No survey could be conducted in the Kashmir valley, but a survey not based on a probabilistic sample indicated that about 80 % of the valley wants independence. A proper survey in Jammu and Ladakh indicated virtually no support for independence.
2) Citizens of the state will have multiple but complementary political identities and loyalties.
One evidence for this holding true, is the results of state and national elections in various states. Often, different parties are victorious in those, even if they are held close together. There are other evidences and counter claims that can be made, but I will not delve too much into them here.
3) There will be a high degree of trust in the most important constitutional, legal and administrative components of the state.
This was the real shocker, the surveys indicated a high degree of trust in India’s legal system (67 %), Parliament (53 %) and civil services (53 %) :-> , and relatively lower trust in political parties (39 %), central government (48 %) and police (36 %). This sounds almost unbelievable to me, personally the only institutions that I have 70 % faith in are the Supreme Court and some High Courts. I can say that I trust the state government of Maharashtra about 40 % but even thats stretching it. I trust Mumbai police a little bit but thats it. Why so many people would trust our civil services when the papers daily ring out news of the corruption thats so pervasive in each one of our instis is currently beyond me.
4) By world democratic standards, there will be a comparatively high degree of positive support for democracy, among all the diverse groups of citizens in the country
India fares very well in this area too, with 70 % of Indians (esp. Muslims and SCs and STs) indicating a support of democracy. Support for democracy runs very high across rural India and with high participation in campaigns and elections. I think this is only selectively true for urban India, whose residents start trumpeting Indian democracy or demonizing it without much thought depending on the situation. Setting aside the question as to whether reservations are good or not, why dharnas and candle-light vigils for anti-reservations only ? Why not some for how NEs are abused each and every day in the nation’s capital, I know there have been some but is it enough ? Where are these Rang De Basanti kids when the police gun down farmers ? Where are they when the Parliament okays legislation that will probably destroy the environment ? Why are they not out there demanding a more professional and better equipped police after the recent blasts ?
The paper really raised more questions than gave answers, a quick drive through India’s cities, a quick glance at its newspapers and a good look at its human development stats will raise doubts as to whether just being a state-nation is enough.