Majoritarianism is a political pandemic: Mukul Kesavan

Vakkom Moulavi Memorial Lecture 2021 delivered

Terming majoritarianism a ‘political pandemic’, writer-historian Mukul Kesavan has said such tendencies have become an existential threat to pluralist societies and polities across the world.

He was delivering the Vakkom Moulavi Memorial Lecture 2021 organised by Vakkom Moulavi Memorial and Research Centre (VMMRC) on the theme ‘A comparative understanding of modern majoritarianism’ at Vakkom on Monday.

Mr. Kesavan, an associate professor of History and Culture at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, pointed out majoritarianism that referred to a notion that a nation’s political destiny should be determined by ethnic or religious majority had affected many countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, in the first decade of their independence.

While India had resisted such tendencies till the early 1980s, the massacre in Assam in 1983 was a landmark, followed by the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi in 1984 and the subsequent riots in Mumbai, Gujarat and other parts.

Explicit

Opining the modern-day majoritarianism was explicit and “sets out to make an example of the minority”, Mr. Kesavan explained how the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas was publicly defended both by Myanmar’s junta and its erstwhile ruling party, the National League for Democracy.

He also drew parallels between France and China in their alleged suspicion of Muslim ‘extraterritoriality’. Political parties and voters across the political spectrum have targeted French Muslims as a dangerously unassimilated minority.

Calling India’s tryst with majoritarianism a paradigmatic case, Mr. Kesavan felt the country would never be able to attempt a large-scale ethnic cleansing as done by China and Myanmar, even if its rulers wanted to. This was because the country was home to two hundred million Muslims with the population being both dispersed and massive.

“India’s experience and practice of managing difference–economic, cultural, religious and linguistic–in a pluralist way represented a living political experiment,” Mr. Kesavan concluded.

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