Writer and public intellectual Mukul Kesavan on Saturday drew parallels in other South Asian countries to the assertion of the majority in India and pointed out that the ruling dispensation at the Centre was bent upon providing statutory, institutional support to discrimination against minorities.

Citing the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced by the Union government in 2016, he said in the guise of protecting minorities in India’s neighbourhood, it cleverly discriminated against Muslim migrants.

‘A religious test’

“The argument is untenable, as Shia Muslims, a minority in Pakistan, have always been at the receiving end of violence…. There are signs of the BJP using a reasonable, legitimate concern over illegal immigration to formally introduce a religious test for refuge and citizenship,” he said, referring to the ongoing classification of people in Assam as ‘real citizens and illegal immigrants’. The Union government and the government of Assam should clarify what they would do with those grouped under the ‘illegal immigrants’ category, he said, while delivering the fourth Dr. T.K. Ramachandran Memorial Lecture organised by Friends of T.K. on ‘Majoritarian Challenge: Contending Nationalisms’.

In a well crafted speech, Mr. Kesavan said Indian nationalism, the anti-colonial nationalism of the Congress, differed from European nationalism in its ‘self-conscious’ pluralism and representational politics. Equating it to the Noah’s Ark, “a menagerie, a zoological nationalism”, he said the Congress had chosen to “duck the task of defining the self of the subcontinent” in order to hold it together. There was no linguistic or religious dominance as was the case in European nation states. Efforts at creating a linguistic identity by imposing Hindi across the country had to be shelved following resistance twice, during Nehru’s time and most recently under the present government.

Mr. Kesavan said Partition had sown the seeds of majoritarianism in India. But a new politics of violence, of pogroms, starting with the 1983 massacre of illegal migrants legitimised it. “Every party that led a pogrom tasted electoral victory. Majoritarian violence became a shortcut to political victory,” he said, tracing similar rise of majoritarianism across South Asia.


“In India, pluralism has in the past and can in the present underwrite robust constitutional patriotism worth defending against the malignant chauvinism of the right. The BJP’s Hindtuva project will be won or lost at the ballot box, but not only at the ballot box. Elections are arguments and it is for those opposing Hindutva to present a strong case against it,” he said.

As they look for a homogenised nation-state, the BJP is scavenging to build up a nationalist lineage. But there was pluralism enshrined in the Constitution and it was the people’s responsibility to resist any attempt at subverting it, he said.

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