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Concept Note

Pluralism, Identity-based Conflicts and Democracy in India

The maxim of ‘unity in diversity’ has been the guiding principle of the nation-building process in India, ever since independence. It has strengthened both the federal character of the state and also made pluralism, diversity and democracy as the basic traits of Indian nationhood. They are the very spirit of our multi-ethnic nation-state.


Although India is a highly complex and colorful mosaic, characterised by a vast cultural unity and heterogeneity, yet this mosaic is not at all a chaotic one. It has a discernible pattern, wherein the socio-cultural diversity draws its strength and sustenance from it’s composite culture and civilizational thrust.


Any diversity and heterogeneity is not conflict-producing per se, although it may carry in it a potential for conflicts. India too has sometimes witnessed unfortunate ethnic conflicts in the process of its historical evolution. The leadership of independent India was conscious of the reality that though India presents a picture of "unity in diversity," yet the possibility of conflicts between "unity” and “diversity" could not be ruled out.


Independent India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said: Although, we the people of India are bound together by strong bonds of culture, common objectives, friendship and affection, yet there are inherent in India, separatist and disruptive tendencies, which have made India suffer in the past in preserving its unity. India need to fight communalism, provincialism, separatism, statism and casteism.


Within the given framework, there is a need to understand and analyse the capacity and flexibility of the Indian nation-state to accommodate the diverse cultural, religious and linguistic identities. The point of enquiry is as to how the identity-based Indian democratic process has successfully integrated the diverse socio-cultural, linguistic, and religious groups and communities into the Indian nationhood, while thwarting fissiparous tendencies.


To make the discussion tractable, let us first raise the key questions regarding relationship between identity, politics and democratisation. What we need to do is to draw a distinction between identity and identity politics, and also enquire into national, sub-national and group identities. How is India's national identity defined? What kinds of group identities, such as religious, lingual, tribal and caste-related, have been prominent in the national politics and how have they influenced the working of democracy in India. Let’s examine the challenges and prospects.

Prof. M M Verma