Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Majoritarianism and the Fascist threat to Democracy

Let us begin by thanking heaven for the miraculous growth of various groups in opposition to the corruption and autocracy that marks the Indian Republic in Goa at this point in our history. They push through the debris of our society, just as the mushrooms will soon push through the deadwood, providing flavourful nutrition to our meals. One such group was stuck on the name that it should adopt. A faction within the group suggested one name, while another proposed another divergent name. A member of the minority group indicated that she had firm ideological reservations with regard to one of the names and would find it difficult to participate in the operation of such a group. She pointed out that a name is not merely a name; it is also a statement of our politics and priorities. There was an uproar; pleas were made to her that we should all be united in our opposition to the challenge that Goa is facing. And yet she stood firm in her opposition. Regardless of her sentiments the issue was put to vote and the first name won the vote. It was now held that since the majority had won the ballot she should, in the democratic spirit acquiesce to the winning name, her reservations notwithstanding.

It is on this issue that I would like to intervene. Does the voice of the majority in fact constitute the democratic option? Or is there another more meaningful way in which we could contemplate democracy, especially in the context where via our ‘Revolution’ we are attempting to create a democratic Goa.

On the 27th of May, the newly created Nehru Centre Goa, hosted a lecture by Mridula Mukherjee, Director of the Nehru Library in Delhi, and an acclaimed scholar. In the course of her lecture on Nehruvian Universalism, Mukherjee made a crucial observation. Never forget, she said, that Hitler was voted into power in the course of electoral politics. Fascism she pointed out rides on the energies of the people, it gains power from the collective voice of the majority people. And yet, not for one moment can we assume that fascist politics is democratic. If therefore, majoritarianism is not democracy in action, what is? And what role does the minority play in it?

Democratic politics is ideally not about the establishment of a final line, but about opening up the space for socio-political dialogue. It provides a dialogical basis for decision making. In the case above then, in the event of a majority, and the existence of a principled opposition to a point, is this majority capable of engaging in dialogue with the minority? If need be, is the majority capable of accommodating the minority position, if it does not violate any fundamental principles of the association? This would be an ideal democratic position. Unfortunately however, the Indian democracy has rejected taking to such a notion of democracy. Such a position as I argue for, has for a long time now, been called ‘minority appeasement’. This appeasement is deemed against the spirit of democracy, and it is this spirit that has shaped the Indian democracy into a simple game of majority politics.

Rather than the engagement in dialogue, the Indian democracy, has become the exercise of achieving goals. Those who stand in the way of those goals, by dissenting, even if for good reason, from the majoritarian position, are seen as threats to our unity and ultimately the nation. And so it is that we blame the Muslim who wishes to retain his beard, the tribal who refuses to give up her livelihood for the good of the nation, the ‘slum’ dweller who refuses to move out so that a high-rise can be built over her home. These dissenters are now seen as the problem, when in fact all they ask for is space to be different. These are dangerous trends in a democracy, especially when both in the electoral sphere, and the social, the majority is seen as having the right to determine the final position (solution) to issues that vex us. This position is a lot closer to fascism that we would like to admit. And yet, tragically, not a few of us are willing to acknowledge that the Indian democracy is in fact a society tethering on the brink of fascism

In our illustration for this discussion, the lady with the objection was asked to agree to the majoritarian position. We must be united, the majority argued, in the face of the opposition we face. And similarly are various minorities silenced into accepting the majoritarian position. These majorities, we should realise are produced, not by invoking unity, but enforcing uniformity.

This discussion on democracy, fascism, majorities and minorities is not without relevance to our Goan ‘revolution’. Those of us who are participants in this revolution realise that we are faced with decision-making at every step. In the course of this decision-making however, are we producing consensus by pushing some issues to the margins? Are we manufacturing consensus by creating priorities of threats? For example, as we unite Goa on the basis of the threat of real-estate scams, destruction of our environment and mega-housing projects, are we turning a blind eye to the communalization and the silent destruction of our society? In many cases in the attempt to create this ‘unity’ we are promoting people whose position on religious and other minorities are frankly fascist. When attempting to rally people to our cause, are we taking the easy way out and projecting the enemy as the outsider (the migrant) rather than exposing the class and caste divisions within our society that are creating the ground for the destruction of land in Goa?

The unity that is being created to pass Gram Sabha and other resolutions is tainted because it leaves the interests of Muslims, who are hounded in Salcette, it excludes the rights of tribals to land in Goa, and blames the migrant for the mess we have created for ourselves.

Democracy is about dialogue. If the upheaval in Goa is to lay the foundation for a Democratic Goa, it is imperative that we be open to dialogue, and constantly wrestle with the complex problems presently posed before us at. We ought not to simply squash it in the name of unity. There would be no space in our republic for an enforced uniformity in the guise of unity. Unity should mean the maintenance of space for difference and even conflicting opinions, and keeping open the space for dialogue. Uniformity on the other, asks that a particular point of view be silenced so as to create the image of unity in the likeness of the majority. This uniform agenda of the majority cannot be the basis for democracy it can only usher in a fascist polity.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 2 July 2008)

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