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Ethnicity and Pluralism: An Exploration with Reference to Indian Cases*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2009

Narendra Subramanian
McGill University


When might high ethnic mobilization co-exist with social pluralism? The article addresses this question by comparing four of India's major ethnic movements/parties. “Organizational pluralism” denotes flexibility and autonomy in party-society and intra-party transactions. Pluralism within influential political organizations aids social pluralism. High levels of organizational pluralism led Dravidianism to aid social pluralism; comparatively low levels led Hindu revivalist and Sikh organizations to ignore incentives to adopt more inclusive strategies. States willing and able to foster tolerance will emerge amidst high ethnic mobilization only if activists promote pluralism within major ethnic organizations.


Un haut niveau de mobilisation ethnique peut-il co-exister avec le pluralisme social, et dans quelles conditions? Cet article répond à cette question par la comparaison de quatre des principaux mouvements/partis ethniques de I'lnde. Le « pluralisme organisationnel » dénote l'existence d'un certain degré de flexibilité et d'autonomie dans les relations internes des partis et dans les rapports qu'ils entretiennent avec la société. Le pluralisme des organisations politiques influentes est un facteur de promotion du pluralisme social. Ainsi, un haut niveau de pluralisme organisationnel a permis au dravidianisme de contribuer au pluralisme social; à l'inverse, un niveau relativement bas de pluralisme organisationnel a conduit les organisations sikh et celles du « renouveau hindou » à ignorer les incitations à l'adoption de stratégies politiques plus conciliantes. L'émergence d'États capables et désireux de promouvoir la tolérance ne sera possible, dans un contexte de mobilisation ethnique élevée, que si les militants promouvoient le pluralisme au sein des principals organisations ethniques.

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Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association 1999

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3 Lijphart lists an extensive list of countries where he claims ethnic power-sharing worked (Lijphart, Arend, “The Puzzle of Indian Democracy: A Consociational Interpretation,” American Political Science Review 90 [1996], 258259CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

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11 See Jaffrelot, Christophe, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996Google Scholar) on Hindu revivalism; Oberoi, Harjot, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994Google Scholar) and Singh, “The Punjab Crisis since 1984” and “Punjab since 1984” about Sikh revivalism; and Subramanian, Narendra, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization: Political Parties, Citizens and Democracy in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999Google Scholar) regarding Dravidianism.

12 Support for the Muslim Conference, which alone favoured amalgamation with Pakistan, was concentrated in Azad Kashmir (the portion occupied by Pakistan) after 1948.

13 Bose, The Challenge in Kashmir, 32–36, 173–74.

14 Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries; Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism, 167–87; and Singh, “Punjab since 1984.”

15 Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism, 174–76, 182–83.

16 Jaffrelot, Hindu Nationalist Movement; and Basu, Tapan, Datta, P. K., Sarkar, Sumit, Sarkar, Tanika and Sen, Sambuddha, Khakhi Shorts and Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right (Delhi: Orient Longman, 1993Google Scholar).

17 The banning of some Hindu revivalist organizations after the assassination of Gandhi and after the destruction of the Babri Masjid was not backed by systematic crackdowns.

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20 Subramanian, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization, 98–121, 153–54.

21 Ibid., 192–97; and Dasgupta, Jyotirindra, Language Conflict and National Development: Group Politics and National Language Policy in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 159196.Google Scholar

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24 Gleaned from Annadurai, C. N., Aariya Maayai [Aryan Mystification] (Tiruchi: Dravida Pannai, 1985Google Scholar); Annadurai, , Thee Paravattum [Let the Fire Spread] (Madras: Bharathi, 1986Google Scholar); Annadurai, , Zamin-Inam Ozhippu [The Abolition of Zamins and Inams] (Madras: Paari, 1986Google Scholar); Annadurai, , Thambikku Annavin Kadithangal [Anna's Letters to His Younger Brother] (Madras: Paari, 1986Google Scholar); Annadurai, , Panaththottam [Garden of Money] (Madras: Paari, 1985Google Scholar); and extensive interviews with activists.

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26 Subramanian, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization, 136–44; Barnett, Politics of Cultural Nationalism, 239–310; Ramaswamy, Sumathi, Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998Google Scholar); and Annadurai, Panaththottam.

27 For other typologies of populism, see Ionescu and Gellner, Populism, and Allcock, J. B., “Populism: A Brief Biography,” Sociology 5 (1971), 371387CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Arun Swamy misleadingly claims to have initially conceptualized the kind of typology I adopt. See Swamy, Arun R., “Parties, Political Identities and the Absence of Mass Political Violence in South India,” in Kohli, Atul and Basu, Amrita, eds., The State and Community Conflicts in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), 109Google Scholar (note 1). This typology was introduced in Subramanian, Narendra, “Ethnicity, Populism and Pluralist Democracy: Mobilization and Representation in South India” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, MIT, 1993Google Scholar) and prefigured by discussion of the “moral economy” and “sons of the soil” outlooks in Subramanian, Narendra, “Towards an Understanding of the Dravidian Movement” (unpublished Masters thesis, MIT, 1987Google Scholar).

28 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 108115Google Scholar; Marty, Martin and Appleby, Scott, eds., Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991Google Scholar); Juergensmeyer, Mark, The New Cold War: Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993Google Scholar); Jones, Kenneth, Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989Google Scholar); and Levine, Daniel, ed., Religion and Political Conflict in Latin America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986Google Scholar).

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31 The conclusions regarding voter alignments and variations in local mobilization are based on the ecological analysis of election results and case studies of mobilization and competition in five representative state legislative assembly constituencies.

32 Dickey, Sara, “The Politics of Adulation: Cinema and the Production of Politicians in South India,” Journal of Asian Studies 52 (1993), 340372CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pandian, M. S. S., The Image Trap: M. G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics (Delhi: Sage, 1992Google Scholar); and Harriss, Barbara, Meals and Noon Meals in South India: Food and Nutrition Policy in the Rural Food Economy of Tamil Nadu State (Madras: Madras Institute of Development Studies, 1986Google Scholar).

33 MGR was a non-Brahmin Malayaii and thus within the scope of the broader definition of the Dravidian as a non-Brahmin South Indian, but this construction of ethnicity did not find broad acceptance.

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