By Agam Dhingra:
Over the years, democracy has both strengthened and widened in its scope as people have come to accept this form of governance in its contribution in establishing a moral, just, equal and liberal society.
In India, the democratic system of governance has evolved over the years and continues to be influenced by its rich cultural, social and regional diversities. Class, gender, etc., are some factors that allow people to identify themselves and relate to each other. While it is often believed that political expression of such social differences, divisions or inequalities is detrimental for the society and leads to conflicts among people of different communities, religion, class, etc.; it is not true always. In a democracy, political expression of such divisions is normal and can prove to be healthy. It allows various social groups or communities to express themselves and get the government to resolve their grievances.
Another important factor that has influenced democratic process is religious composition of India. Various political parties have been formed to promote and safeguard the interests of various communities formed on religious lines. Though such communal politics is not dangerous for the country and ideas, ideals and values drawn from different religions can and perhaps should play a role in politics. The problem becomes acute when religion is expressed in exclusive and partisan terms in politics or when one religion and its followers are pitted against each other as witnessed during the communal rights between Muslims and Hindus at the time of partition.
The idea of religion as the principal basis of a community is hollow and non-inclusive. The Bhartiya Janta Party for instance, has been unable to form a government at the Centre post the Babri masjid demolition and the Godhra riots, largely due to its Hindutva politics. On the other hand, BJP’s model of governance has been successful in states like Gujarat among others primarily because of the support of a large Hindu vote base.
The promotion of communal identities and beliefs is constructive and not bad unless and until it does not encroach upon the religious beliefs or demands of another community for their own vested interests. An Indian must be able to exhibit his respect for various communities and different religions. Also, the belief in communalism is fundamentally flawed. Aspirations and interests of people of one religion are not the same in every context. Each and every person has their own identities, positions and different positions of responsibilities. Various opinions inside a community give a collective voice to the community and all these voices have a right to be heard. Therefore, any attempt to bring all followers of one religion together in context other than religion would lead to the suppression of voices within that community. This is perhaps why political parties based on religion are finding it extremely difficult to garner enough votes to form government by their own and thus have to enter into coalition with other political parties. Also, with more and more Indians migrating to towns and cities and adopting modern lifestyles, people have slowly started shedding their prejudices against different communities and religions. However, this attitudinal change is restricted to only a small fraction of the population and the majority of the population is still involved in bickering about religious and lifestyle differences of different communities.
Communalism should not been seen as a threat to some people in India but it threatens the very idea of India. That is why communalism needs to be combatted. People should be able to express in politics their needs, demands and interests as a member of a religious community. Those in authority should sometimes be able to regulate the practise of religion so as to prevent discrimination and oppression. These political acts are not wrong as long as they treat every religion and community equally. Communal prejudices and propaganda need to be countered in everyday life and religion-based mobilisation needs to be countered in the arena of politics.