Constitutional Design, Democratic Vote Counting, and India's Fortuitous Multiculturalism

  • Subrata K. Mitra (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Following independence, the Indian state, with fresh memories of the communal violence that marked the partition of the subcontinent, committed itself to an unprecedented experiment of actualising the ideal of multiculturalism as a cornerstone of the nation and the most important basis of its legitimacy. The legitimacy of the state structure was based on the twin principle of individual rights and protection of minorities. This entailed a constitutional design committed to denying hegemony to any religion. Subsequently, as the message of democracy spread, this gave rise to many new problematic issues. Ethnic and national minorities challenged the state and its capacity to accommodate conflicting identities by demanding neutrality as well as genuine recognition and active support for their culture and religion. The essay examines this contested character of India's constitutionally guaranteed multiculturalism on the basis of the history of state formation, the freedom movement, the uncertainty of the ultimate nature of divinity in Hinduism, and thereby, illustrates how post-colonial India was able to devise a series of concrete institutions and policies in order to work her way towards new conceptions of the rights and status of minorities. Thus, the specific case of India’s theoretically fuzzy multiculturalism and the abstract issue of accommodation are juxtaposed to some existing measures of the Constitution of India as well as some survey data of about ten thousand men and women shortly after the parliamentary elections of 1996. Drawing on aspects of India's political culture and the debate on Hindu theology, the essay suggests that contrary to the spectre of the rise of Hindu 'fundamentalism', India presents a relatively successful case of the growth of a multicultural nation, ensconced within of a post-colonial, democratic state.


India, Political Science, Multiculturalism, Democracy, Postcolonial State