Social Scientist. v 18, no. 207-08 (Aug-Sept 1990) p. 27.

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Changing Orientation of the State and the Emergence of Majoritarianism in the 1980s

The last few years have witnessed an escalation of communalism and a consolidation of sentiments around symbols of religious identities and perceptions of threats to these identities. Communal ideologies have gained much wider social acceptance forcing a retreat from even the liberal rhetoric of secularism. But what is particularly striking about the present phase is the role of the state in communalising the political process in overt and covert ways. The reassertion of communalism is not only promoted by communal forces but also by the institutional regime and the state itself and by its indifference and neglect of communalism.

There were deep ideological schisms between communalists and champions of secular and composite culture in the realm of civil society in the 1950s. Yet, there is hardly any doubt that the Indian state was conceived in a secular and non-communal mould. There was acceptance of the agenda of secularism and a broadly secular ideology as the basis of integration. Nehru had emphatically declared: The government of a country like India. . . can never function satisfactorily in the modern age except on a secular basis'. The sense of complementarity and coexistence of diverse communities, an imprimatur of the social compact, has given place to deepening confrontations at the political and social level too.

This is something new. Crucial to understanding this new phase of communalism are two aspects. First is the shift in the idiom and discourse of politics. Second is the perceptible shift in the orientation of the state. The question is whether the state had fallen prey to forces beyond its control or was it a situation in which institutions and structures in the state apparatus tend to reinforce communalism in the sphere of civil society.

The expansion of fundamentalism and revivalism is not specific to India alone. In South Asia, a number of developments in Pakistan and Bangladesh have led to an assertion of Islamic codes of conduct and behaviour. In India the Muslim Women, Protection or Rights on Divorce

* Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 8-9, August-September 1990

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