By scrapping Article 370, Modi is going for a failed European model of nation building

 07 Aug 2019

Eight years ago, I co-authored a book, Crafting State-Nations, with two great scholars of comparative politics, professors Alfred Stepan and Juan Linz. The book argued that the world needed to learn from the Indian model of democratic engagement with deep diversities. The new Kashmir doctrine announced by the Narendra Modi government Monday effectively puts paid to that model.

The ‘New India’ is saying goodbye to its own unique model of nation-building in favour of an outdated and disastrous European model.

The old nation-state model

Let me summarise the argument. All over the world, we face a difficult question: how can democracies accommodate deep socio-cultural diversity within one state? This issue is faced not just by countries like India that have inherited deep religious, linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversities. The small and hitherto homogenous countries in Europe and North America also face this challenge today, thanks to large-scale immigration.

We have inherited an old wisdom on how to handle diversities. First evolved in Europe, this wisdom tells us every state must contain within itself one and not more than one culturally homogenous nation, that every state should be a nation, and that every nation should be a state. This understanding informed the rise of modern nation-states in Europe. So, the ‘nation-state’ model is a political-institutional approach that tries to make the political boundaries of the state and the presumed cultural boundaries of the nation match. How do you do that? Nation-states solved this problem of diversity by privileging one sociocultural identity with the help of soft assimilation, coercion or violence. This is what happened in Italy, in France and most infamously in Germany. This is why nationalism gets such a bad name in Europe.

But this is not the only model. There are many successful democratic states in the world today that do not conform to this nation-state model. The list would include Canada, Spain and Belgium, though India is a prime example of this new model of nation-building.

A new state-nation model

This new model involves a political-institutional approach that respects and protects multiple socio-cultural identities. Instead of stream-rolling difference, this approach recognises the legitimate public and even political expression of regional, linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversities. This model focuses on mechanisms to accommodate competing or conflicting claims of different groups, while fostering a ‘we-feeling’ for the country as a whole. In our book, we called this new model ‘state-nation’.

India was a classic state-nation model. Instead of trying to copy European nations, our freedom struggle recognised and celebrated our diversities. Our nationalist leaders insisted that India did not need one language or one culture to be a nation. This gave birth to the cliché of “unity in diversity”.

The Indian Constitution duly reflected this understanding of nationhood. Multiplicity of religious practices was recognised and protected by incorporating minority rights in the chapter on Fundamental Rights.

Linguistic diversity was acknowledged by adopting several official languages rather than one national language. Regional and cultural diversity was secured by adopting ‘asymmetrical’ federalism, i.e., a federal arrangement that recognises special situation of different states and makes unique arrangements to accommodate their specific needs.

One of these provisions of a very special arrangement for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 is well known. But we forget that Article 371 makes similar extra-ordinary arrangements for Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim, besides special provision for disadvantaged communities or regions in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Allowing for different kinds of differences lay at the heart of the state-nation called India.

A Union’s territory

All this changed Monday. Or rather, the Kashmir doctrine unveiled Monday put an official seal on what was coming in bits and pieces for long. The Modi government has made no secret of its desire for simultaneous elections to Parliament and state assemblies under ‘One Nation One Election’.

We have had a proposal to extend the National Register of Citizens, a special solution to a peculiar problem in Assam, to the rest of the country. This might be called ‘One Nation, One Citizenship’. Reforms in agricultural markets are called ‘One Nation, One Market’. So, it is not a coincidence that the new Kashmir policy is framed as ‘One Nation, One Constitution’. Let there be no confusion about it: what we have witnessed Monday is not just a radical shift in the Kashmir policy, we are witnessing a fundamental reorientation of the way we handle diversities. The entire country is now the Union’s territory.

This is the heart of what is wrong with what the Modi government seeks to do in Kashmir. The problem is not just that it violates the letter of the Constitution. As many lawyers have pointed out, Article 370(3) clearly mandates that the President can modify Article 370 only on recommendation by the constituent assembly of J&K (which ceased to exist in 1956).

Article 3 says that the boundaries of a state can be changed only after referring the matter to the state assembly. In this instance, the Central government has acted on its own recommendation. In doing so, it has also violated the basic spirit of the Constitution. The underlying idea is that you do not determine the fate of the people without their representatives getting a chance to discuss it.

Unity in singularity

In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, this was a sacred covenant: the special status of the state will not be changed without the express consent of their elected representatives. Doing so at a moment when the state assembly stands dissolved, when the political leaders are in detention and when the entire state is under information blackout, is a betrayal of Constitutionalism.

Above all, it amounts to abandoning the state-nation model of living with deep diversities.

Religious diversity is a problem; minorities need to be put in their place. Any assertion of regional diversity is potentially secessionist; it needs to be crushed. Ideological dissent is a no-no; it needs to be shut up. We have turned our back to at least one century of audacity to think that India need not replicate European templates.

Just when India has acquired the economic clout to command a seat at the global centre stage, its leaders meekly surrender to a failed European model of how to build a nation. The good old ‘Unity in Diversity’ is replaced by ‘Unity in Singularity’. The ‘new India’ looks like a faded copy of a very old Europe. The trouble, of course, is that by the time we have managed to copy the sahebs, they have moved on. And that, as Ashis Nandy would remind you, is the ultimate tragedy of the colonised mind.