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

  • Narendra Subramanian (a1)


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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1 See Lijphart, Arend, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); and Horowitz, Donald, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

2 See, for instance, the discussion of official language policies in Laitin, David, Language Repertoires and State Construction in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); and of conflict management strategy in Brass, Paul, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison (New Delhi: Sage, 1991).

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], 258259).

4 Horowitz, Donald, A Democratic South Africa? Constitutional Engineering in a Divided Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); and Lijphart, Arend, Power-Sharing in South Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

5 Horowitz provides a sophisticated account along these lines (Ethnic Groups in Conflict).

6 Kohli, Atul, “Can Democracies Accommodate Ethnic Nationalism? The Rise and Decline of Self-Determination Movements,” The Journal of Asian Studies 56 (1997), 325344; Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism; and Weiner, Myron, The Indian Paradox: Essays in Indian Politics (Delhi: Sage, 1991), 2137, 77–95.

7 Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism, 111–237; Singh, Gurharpal, “Punjab since 1984: Disorder, Order, and Legitimacy,” Asian Survey 36 (1996), 410421; Singh, Gurharpal, “The Punjab Crisis since 1984: A Reassessment,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 18 (1995), 476493; Bose, Sumantra, The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace (Delhi: Sage, 1997); and Ganguly, Sumit, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

8 Weiner, Myron, Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967). The Congress party in Gujarat and the communists in Kerala were among the exceptions.

9 Madan, T. N., “Secularism in Its Place,” The Journal of Asian Studies 46 (1987), 747759; Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed, 1986), 85166; and Chatterjee, Partha, “Secularism and Toleration,” Economic and Political Weekly 29 (1994), 17681777.

10 Dandekar, V. M. and Rath, N., “Poverty in India: Dimensions and Trends,” Economic and Political Weekly of India 6 (1971), 2548, 106–46; and Srinivasan, T. N. and Bardhan, Pranab, eds., Rural Poverty in South Asia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

11 See Jaffrelot, Christophe, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) on Hindu revivalism; Oberoi, Harjot, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994) 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, 1999) 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, 1993).

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.

18 Hansen, Thomas Blom and Jaffrelot, Christophe, eds., The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998).

19 Subramanian, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization, 130–310; and Barnett, Marguerite R., The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976).

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.

22 A different view, which provides no suggestions for promoting pluralism in regions where it is weak, is advanced by Putnam, Robert (Making Democracies Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993]).

23 Definition drawn from Shils, Edward, The Intellectuals and the Powers and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 404407; Laclau, Ernesto, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (London: New Left Books, 1977), 165167, 172–76; and Lyrintzis, Christos, “The Power of Populism: The Greek Case,” European Journal of Political Research 15 (1987), 669671.

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

25 Lyrintzis, , “The Power of Populism,” 670–72; Ionescu, Ghita and Gellner, Ernest, eds., Populism: Its Meaning and National Characteristics (London: Macmillan, 1969); Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism, 20–21, 62–63; Fishman, Joshua A., “Nationality-Nationalism and Nation-Nationalism,” in Fishman, Joshua and Dasgupta, Jyotirindra, eds., Language Problems of Developing Nations (New York: John Wiley, 1968), 3951; and Meinecke, Friedrich, Cosmopolitanism and the National State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 922.

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, 1998); 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), 371387. 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), 109 (note 1). This typology was introduced in Subramanian, Narendra, “Ethnicity, Populism and Pluralist Democracy: Mobilization and Representation in South India” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, MIT, 1993) 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, 1987).

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

29 Bell, J. D., Peasants in Power: Alexander Stamboliiski and the Bulgarian National Union, 1899–1928 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); Mouzelis, Nicos, Politics in the Semi-Periphery: Early Parliamentarism and Late Industrialization in Latin America and the Balkans (London: Macmillan, 1986), 3538; and Tambiah, Stanley J., Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

30 Coniff, Michael, ed., Latin American Populism in Comparative Perspective (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982).

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), 340372; Pandian, M. S. S., The Image Trap: M. G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics (Delhi: Sage, 1992); 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, 1986).

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.

* Field research for this project was funded by the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Social Science Research Council. The author thanks Minakshi Menon, Philip Oxhorn, Crawford Young and the Journal's referees for their useful suggestions.


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