Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mukul Kesavan - False citizens: What does a nation do with a minority that it cannot purge?

What does a nation do with minorities that it doesn’t regard as real citizens? Hitler’s answer was genocide but modern nations have experimented with other solutions, expanding the menu of discriminatory options available to the majoritarian State. These are worth examining. The Holocaust was, in scale and intent, so evil that pundits hesitate to compare the industrial murder of Jews to the persecution of minorities elsewhere. This is a useful check on rhetorical excess but it stops us from seeing something true: all majoritarianism isn’t fascism, but fascism is always majoritarianism unbound.

Majoritarianism is a clumsy but necessary word for a scapegoating nationalism. Not every example of the gravitational pull of a cultural, linguistic or religious majority qualifies. So the surname-less hero called Raj who used to be the hero in every other Hindi film not so long ago, was the film industry’s gesture at normalcy, a lazy (if loaded) take on an Indian Everyman, not a symptom of majoritarianism.

Political majoritarianism is a supremacist project. It is the ideological claim that the natural owners of the nation state are the members of its ethnic/religious majority. It denies the legitimacy of political majorities forged with the aid of minority support or votes; see Modi’s suggestion that Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad, a Muslim majority constituency, represented a flight from the national mainstream. Demanding obedience, deference and public abasement from minorities is the majoritarian’s stock-in-trade; see, for example, Maneka Gandhi’s hectoring speech to her Muslim constituents, threatening to withhold patronage if they didn’t vote for her.

A majoritarian State will put minorities on notice by selectively allowing vigilantes to target them. This achieves two things: it lets minorities know that they live on sufferance outside the protection of the rule of law and it allows members of the ethnic majority to feel vicariously superior to a vulnerable underclass. The first priority of this ideology is to consolidate the majority as a vote bank by uniting it in the subordination of a ‘dangerous’ minority. The second, which follows from the first, is to make minorities marginal, even irrelevant, to the political life of the nation… read more: