By the majority, for the majority

In theory, democracy may mean "government of the people, by the people, for the people". But from the history of democracies, it is evident that in multi-cultural, multi-racial or multi-ethnic societies, to start with, democracies are, at best, "government of the majority, by the majority, for the majority". At times, they even degenerate into mobocracy, under the watch of a partisan state. Democracies self-check, evolve and mature only to the extent they show fidelity to the inviolable universal principles of human rights, civil liberties, constitutional governance.

Indian democracy is no exception. At its best, majoritarianism remains the rule, irrespective of the party in power. For proof, read the report of the high-powered Sachar Committee for abundant evidence of institutionalised discrimination against the country's Muslims. At its worst, there is state-complicit, even state-sponsored, mob terror unleashed on India's religious minorities. The most gruesome examples of these are the targeting of Muslims (Nellie, 1983; Bhagalpur, 1989; Bombay, 1992-93; Gujarat, 1992 and 2002), Sikhs (Delhi, 1984), Kashmiri Pandits (J&K, 1989), Christians (Kandhamal, 2008).

Any honest appraisal of Ashutosh Varshney's articles in these pages ('Modi needs a Vajpayee', December 25, 2012 and 'Why India must allow hyphens', February 13, 2013) must factor in this grim reality of India's nascent democracy. Far from doing so, intervening in the "great debate" triggered by Varshney, first Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri ('One versus group', February 13, 2013) and then the BJP's official spokesperson, Nirmala Sitharaman ('The tyranny of hyphens', February 20, 2013), misread or misinterpret others' arguments and shoot off at tangents in their eagerness to promote the BJP's prime ministerial aspirant-in-chief, Narendra Modi. Sitharaman even makes the fanciful claim that Varshney's arguments violate the Constitution.

If Varshney's ideal democracy is a "salad bowl" — where carrots and cucumbers, tomatoes and turnips retain their distinctive identity but together make for a wholesome treat — the ideal for Gupta, Mantri and Sitharaman is the "melting pot". In the vocabulary of political science, the former is called integration that celebrates diversity, the latter assimilation of the minority within the majority. Varshney points to American democracy as a good example of the former, France as that of the latter. Nowhere does Varshney portray the US as heaven on earth. This does not stop Sitharaman from enumerating Uncle Sam's imperfections to trash Varshney's preference for colourful social salad over monochrome soup. But she is silent on whether her Sangh Parivar would like the French model replicated in India: no gods and goddesses, no puja paath, no trace of religion in schools, police stations, train stations, banks, government offices.

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