Political Uniformity in India5 min read

India, the largest democracy in the world is battling between its intrinsic ideals and a majoritarian democratic regime. At the heart of the Indian constitution lies Article 370. Article 370 was created for princely states like Jammu and Kashmir to be a part of the Indian constitution during the partition between India and Pakistan. This article exempts Jammu and Kashmir from the constitution except for laws concerning finance, defense, foreign affairs, and communications.[1] However, recently the ruling Indian party, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has abolished Article 370. The prime minister, Narendra Modi and home minister, Amit Shah argue that by this reform Kashmir has been given a status as equal as the rest of India.  However, others have argued that it is impossible to have political uniformity amongst all Indian states.

The author for Asia Times, Vivek Katju says, “an ideological position which is based on a desire for political uniformity in a federal polity is a valid position to take whether one likes it or not. It cannot be conflated with a desire to politically subjugate some federating units or a desire to impose religious, cultural and linguistic uniformity.” Katju also believes in a system of uniformity in electoral democracy without some units effectively exerting power over others. However, I believe that this view is too simplistic and can be deemed unrealistic for a country as culturally and socially diverse as India.[2]

In the 1950s, the Indian constitution was created in a manner which represented the diversity of all Indian states. At the very outset, Indian states were reorganized to allow democracy to be conducted through specific regional languages. Even within states, aspirations of the tribal people were recognized to ensure equality. For example, the constitution was revised to include the cultural identity of the peoples of the Northeastern hills. Furthermore, the federal system in India was created in a hierarchical structure to accommodate even the smallest of union territories like the Andaman and Nicobar islands and local minorities were given Autonomous Councils within states. These distinctions were created keeping in mind the linguistic, cultural and ethnic differences around India. Being an Indian, I believe it is safe to say that within the country itself, the North and South are different enough in their cultures to be considered in different countries.2

Therefore, India is not a politically uniform state. This means that there exists a political group, religion, social sect and sometimes even a dominating language. This may translate into political dominance by a single political party. However, looking at the maximalist definition of a democracy, it may be solved by providing greater representation of the less powerful units. This is what has been happening historically and has resulted in India being a successful democracy according to analysists such as Freedom House for years.

It is thus, concerning that in the name of uniformity and greater social equality, politicians are supporting the abolishment of Article 360 and as such the removal of Jammu and Kashmir as a legitimate state that has put the lives of millions of people at risk. Today, Jammu and Kashmir have been placed under high alert. Phones, internet services, and cable networks have been cut off and leaders have been placed under house arrest. The people have to follow a strict curfew while tensions between India and Pakistan continue to increase.[3]

India has been directed by religion motives in politics since the beginning. The partition between India and Pakistan gave princely states the right to choose between the Hindu nationalist country India or the majority Muslim country Pakistan. The leader of the reigning political party BJP and the current prime minister, backed by his ministers, believes that India is a Hindu country and as such passed the bill that constitutes Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory giving the Hindu-majority region of Jammu a legislative assembly. At the same time, the Buddhist-majority region of Ladakh which constitutes of a large population of Muslims has also been given the status of a union territory without a legislative assembly. This separation has left the region in instability and large threats to its sovereignty.1

India has been defined as a melting pot of cultures and identities for eons. Unity in diversity has been inculcated in its constitution, and as such, the suggestion that a strong nation can only be built around a single language or culture seems ineffective and almost destructive to overall peace and sovereignty. People of the country and around the world view this reform as a direct plea to the Hindu electorate of India. However, the reform has failed to take into consideration the drastic effect this has had on the lives of the people living in Jammu and Kashmir. No state within India is completely Hindu or Muslim, however, there is a trend towards a larger populace of Hindus. In order to continue this uniformity, the current government has placed severe restrictions on its people, ultimately affecting their identity and safety.

I believe that over time, the ratio of Hindus to Muslims has varied along India. Making such drastic changes to the citizenship and lives of Indians in Jammu and Kashmir is unfair and unconstitutional. Disrupting the lives of the general population of a country in order to win the confidence of a small group is a loophole in a successful democracy, one that could ultimately hinder Indian sovereignty and legitimacy.

[1] Al Jazeera. “Kashmir Special Status Explained: What Are Articles 370 and 35A?” India News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 5 Aug. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kashmir-special-status-explained-articles-370-35a-190805054643431.html.

[2] Chatterjee, Partha. “Debate: Why ‘Political Uniformity’ Is Impossible in India.” The Wire, 22 Sept. 2019, thewire.in/politics/debate-why-political-uniformity-is-impossible-in-india.

Chatterjee, Partha. “Kashmir Is the Test Bed for a New Model of Internal Colonialism.” The Wire, 28 Aug. 2019, thewire.in/government/Kashmir-is-the-test-bed-for-a-new-model-of-internal-colonialism.

1 thought on “Political Uniformity in India<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">5</span> min read</span>”

  1. Having little knowledge of of the history of India and the cultural differences between Indian states, I am having difficulty forming an opinion on the abolishment of Article 370. From an American’s perspective, political uniformity seems like a good thing, as all states would receive equal treatment under the law. In America, however, states are not dominated by cultural groups as they are spread out across the country. You could argue that there is some ideological divide between ethnic groups and people coming from different areas of the country, but each group is able content to live under the same law. My understanding of India suggests a much larger divide between cultural groups and different groups historically having their own states and laws. I can see how attempting to unite all Indian states under national law could allow marginalization of minorities protected by state law. I wonder if the abolishment of Article 370 is a genuine effort to unify India politically, or a ploy to remove state laws protecting minority cultures in Kashmir and Jammu and promote a uniform Hindu culture. I am also curious how the governments in Kashmir and Jammu differed from India in general. Although India is a historically Hindu state, the possible effort to enforce cultural uniformity, including providing Hindu majority areas with legislative assemblies and withholding them from Buddhist majority areas, is wrong and divisive.

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