By Asghar Ali
08 November, 2004
Centre for Study of Society and
of the countries of the world are now becoming multi-religious thanks
to faster means of transportation and employment opportunities in western
countries and oil rich Middle Eastern countries. The western countries
were mostly mono-religious until early twentieth century. It was in
the post-colonial society that migration from former colonies began
towards metropolitan countries that these countries became multi-religious.
Most of the European countries were Christian (Catholic or Protestant)
in medieval ages. Only languages were different.
Later on the nation
states came into existence on the basis of languages and most of the
countries with few exceptions became monolingual as well in Europe.
Thus the European nation states were quite homogenous. The USA was mainly
populated by the Europeans and had common religion i.e. Christianity.
But they were speakers of the different languages. However, Anglo-Saxon
group was dominant and English became the national language and other
linguistic groups from Europe adopted English and America became linguistically
also homogenous. Thus the problems of religious and linguistic identities
did not arise in most of the western countries.
However, Asia in
general and South Asia in particular was always multi-religious and
multi-lingual. As the politics in the medieval ages was based on feudal
system and feudal system depends on monarchical and dynastic power and
hence non-competitive, no problems arose. All religious and linguistic
groups were loyal to one or the other dynasty. The politics in colonial
South Asia with consolidation of the British rule became competitive.
Different religious and linguistic groups, and particularly religious
groups began to compete with each other for share in political power
and government jobs.
Thus religion became
a source of identity for political mobilisation and hence became a source
of conflict. The power elites of Hindus and Muslims began to assert
religious identities of their followers so that they may bargain for
power on the basis of their respective numerical strength. Many groups
among Hindus and Muslims had no clear religious identities being halfway
between Hindus and Muslims. Hence purificatory movements like Shuddhi
and Tablighi movements were launched to establish 'proper identities'.
The electoral system
introduced by the colonial powers proved more divisive. Political leaders
began to generate religious identities to bargain for share in power.
The South Asians stressed caste and regional identities before such
as Bengali, Rajput, Pathan and so on. But the electoral politics in
colonial India changed all this and Indians began to assert their religious
identities such as Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh.
On one hand, our
freedom fighters were trying to forge a sense of common nationhood and
unite various religious and linguistic groups for common struggle against
colonial powers and on the other, the power elite from these religious
groups were trying to divide on the basis of religious identities. Thus
the efforts to form a common nationhood in a multi-religious society
was quite challenging. The British rulers, on the other hand, were creating
more fissures between Hindus and Muslims so as to consolidate their
colonial rule. The British rulers and the Indian political elites thus
reinforced each other in widening the gap between the two communities.
Thus it will be
seen that communal politics was borne not on account of religion per
se but by use of religion for political ends. Both Hindu and Muslim
political elites invoked religious sentiments to further their own political
interests. As the Hindus were in majority the Hindu communal leaders
began to exploit majoritarian sentiments for creating Hindu Rashtra
and a section of the Muslim leaders began to invoke minoritism and that
led to two-nation theory.
Thus religious identities
became powerful force in democratic politics and religious identities
are posing a great challenge even today in all the South Asian nations.
Our sub-continent was divided into three countries thanks to politics
played by the power elites on the basis of religion and language. All
the three countries have religious majorities and religious minorities
and despite the division the problem continues.
In fact religion
and democracy are not incompatible with each other if both function
in their well -defined spheres. Religion is a spiritual force and democracy
a political one. But serious problems arise when religion transgresses
its limits to interfere with politics and democracy transgresses its
limits to use religion for political ends. Religion should be used for
spiritual growth and for inner needs of the soul.
address the problems of the people and solve their worldly issues in
a participative spirit. Both can benefit from each other in a positive
sense. Democracy can infuse into itself the moral values provided by
religion and religion can imbibe democratic spirit as religious leaders
also tend to be quite authoritative. However, our experience shows that
when religion is used only for identity politics and democracy only
for power politics. It results in confrontation between the religious
In the modern globalised
world one cannot have mono-religious societies and one has to live with
multi-religious and multi-lingual nations. Thus religion as a basis
of nationhood will never create a peaceful society. It would lead to
confrontation between different religious communities real people's
problems will always be sidelines. It should also be noted that majoritarianism
is very negation of democratic spirit.
A true democratic
country would ensure equal rights to all irrespective of religion, caste
and creed. Religion, ethnicity or linguistic origin should not come
in the way of fundamental rights. The rightist forces in all countries
try to create religious chauvinism and equate majoritarianism with democracy.
Majoritarianism, as pointed out above, is very negation of democracy.
Not only that democracy has no place for majoritarianism but, on the
contrary, a true democracy ensures additional rights to religious and
linguistic minorities to protect their religious and cultural traditions.
The Indian Constitution, for example, ensures these rights to minorities
through articles from 25 to 30.
However, the communal
and majoritarian forces call enactment of such provisions in the constitutions
as 'appeasement' of minorities and try to incite religious feelings
of the majority community. The BJP in India is wedded to the concept
of Hindu Rashtra and through its chauvinistic propaganda creates basis
for removing these articles from the Constitution. And makes minorities
feel quite insecure. It is as a result of such aggressive majoritarian
politics that Gujarat like situations arise. Gujarat carnage is a great
shame for a liberal democracy like that of India.
India was the first
liberal democracy in whole of Asia and it produced a model constitution
ensuring rights to all sections of society despite well-entrenched social
hierarchies and age -old horizontal differentiations. But the Jansangh
now renamed as the BJP closely wedded to the RSS ideology is bent upon
destroying the very spirit of liberal democracy. Religion, in a liberal
democracy, cannot become the basis of governance. In fact majoritarianism
does not benefit entire majority community; far from it. It benefits
only a section of the community.
also leads to minority communalism and then both feed each other. Aggressive
majoritarianism strengthens religion-based identity and mobilisation
among the minority communities as well and both together seriously weaken
foundations of liberal democracy. Religion becomes a powerful source
of political mobilisation among majority as well as minority communities.
Since late eighties
Ramjanambhoomi, a religious symbol, became a powerful tool for mobilising
the Hindu masses in the hands of the Sangh Parivar and it exploited
it to the hilt to come to power. The Sangh Parivar politics has also
weakened traditional toleration found in Indian society. Modern democracies
cannot work effectively without tolerance. One can say that tolerance
is the very foundation of modern liberal democracy. The Sangh Parivar,
using religious issues like the Ramjanambhoomi has systematically cultivated
intolerance towards minority communities in India.
in a multi-religious society is not possible if Hindu Rashtra or Islamic
or Khalistani states are made the basis of politics. In a democracy,
religion should never become the basis of politics. If religion becomes
the basis of politics it would lead to worst of both the worlds. Religion
will become more and more sectarian than spiritual and democracy will
tend to be vehicle of majoritarian rule. The common people will be the
ultimate losers in this game of political power.
Those who have real
regard for the sanctity of religion would never allow it to be politicised
or ideologised. Religion then ceases to be a morally and spiritually
guiding force but becomes a powerful tool of power politics. As a result
of this power politics Hinduism becomes Hindutva and Islam becomes a
source of jihadi violence. Both Islam and Hinduism are sources of peace
Thus we should not
allow religion to be politicised at any cost and democracy should remain
a source of people's participation in decision making and for welfare
of common masses. One must understand the difference between religion
as a faith and religion as a political ideology.