This year, the Azim Premji University and Lokniti, a research programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, jointly published a report titled, “Politics and Society between Elections,” which seeks to understand the relationship between the citizen and the state after the completion of elections. The report is based on a series of surveys conducted among 16,680 respondents across eight states—Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra—between November and December 2017.
The study focused on a wide section of minorities and social groups and addressed questions concerning a range of issues, such as the delivery of public services and public order, discrimination and violence, the citizens’ perception of state institutions, and economic process and governance. The following extract from the report studies the perception of different groups towards symbols of a majoritarian national or cultural identity. It pertains to four specific questions: whether individuals who do not stand for the national anthem, who do not say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” who eat cow meat, and who engage in religious conversion, should be punished for the same. As the report notes, the results indicate that many respondents tend to support state punishments for actions “that contravene majoritarian interests.”
In a predominantly Hindu population, there is no gainsaying that majoritarianism will share an affinity with nationalism. Therefore, it is to be expected perhaps that such nationalism will acquire a cultural-religious complexion. What is however not expected is when majoritarianism becomes dangerously illiberal in that it almost disabuses from public memory nationalism’s syncretic form upon which the nation state was built. Such illiberal populism is not just exceptional to India, but symptomatic of many democracies around the world today.
Our aim is to understand how pervasive is public opinion that is supportive (not) of such instances and what are its correlates in terms of subnational regimes, social cleavages and in rural and urban areas? How polarised is the public on matters of cultural nationalism? How closely intersected are adherents of Hindu culture with loyalists of majoritarian nationalism?
We ask four questions to ascertain the strength of support for state censure as sanctions against what could be construed as anti-national actions.
I. Punish those who do not stand for national anthem
Nationally, around 68 percent of the respondents either fully agree or somewhat agree with the statement and interestingly 38 percent either somewhat agree/disagree with the statement, thereby quite starkly reflecting that respondents from these states are not only polarized but also share a stronger majoritarian sentiment. For instance, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Bihar have more than 75 percent believing that the government should punish those who do not stand for the national anthem, with more than 50 percent of the total respondents being polarised in Maharashtra and Rajasthan as they strongly agree with the statement. Of particular concern is that more than a quarter of the respondents in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have chosen to not voice their opinion (or have shared an inconclusive opinion), and interestingly an equal number seem to disagree with the statement, thereby not toeing the nationalist line relative to the other states.
Almost every four out of five Hindus affirm that the state should punish those who don’t stand up for the national anthem. Particularly interesting in this context, is that the Adivasis tend to share the same perspective as the upper-caste Hindus. Both Sikhs and Muslims seem to be divided on the issue with a little more than 40 percent from both groups disagreeing with the statement, with a little less than a third from both groups disagreeing with the statement. Christians seem to hold the most moderate views relative to other groups with almost 50 percent either somewhat agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. Dalits, upper and lower-backward castes mirror the views of the Hindu dominant castes in the states under consideration.
In terms of a rural urban distinction, clearly a majority of more than 70 percent agree with the statement. Urban respondents seem to have a slightly higher proportion at around 82 percent.
II. Punish those who do not say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”
When people are asked to respond to a nationalist symbol with an added cultural inflexion (“Bharat Mata Ki Jai”), expectedly, patterns similar to those reflected with the national pattern emerge: Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have more than three fourths of the respondents affirming the statement, Jharkhand remaining the least polarised, and the Telugu speaking states seemingly relatively more disengaged or disaffected than other states.
Despite an added cultural inflexion, all caste and religious groups, interestingly, have responded in exactly the same fashion as they did with the national anthem question. That is, the cultural inflexion unexpectedly, had little effect upon the social groups – most Hindu groups tended to agree with the statement; Muslims tended to be divided with at least a quarter fully disagreeing with the statement. Interestingly, Sikhs tend to moderate their position, adopting a more centrist position, compared to their position vis-à-vis the national anthem, with 71.41 percent either somewhat agreeing or disagreeing with state punishment for those who don’t respect “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”
Rural-urban distinctions mirror those found among respondents’ views on the national anthem as well, with most respondents agreeing with the statement and the urban citizen agreeing slightly more strongly than the rural citizen. There is almost no difference between rural and urban citizens in terms of how they view state censure against those who don’t follow the mores associated with the national anthem or “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”
III. Punish those who eat cow meat
Again, Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan seem to have a large majority of respondents who believe that eating beef, or or cow meat should be punished by the State. Rajasthan is overwhelmingly affirmative with almost 90 percent of the respondents agreeing with the statement. Yet again, Bihar and Jharkhand seem to hold quite distinct positions despite being neighbouring states, unlike Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the distributions are quite similar.
Muslims are the only group that are clearly against the ban and in fact seem quite strongly opposed to it with around 45 percent fully disagreeing with the statement. And expectedly again, upper castes are those diametrically opposed to the Muslim point of view with the largest majority supportive of such a ban. Dalits and other intermediate castes are also supportive of the ban with more than half their numbers fully agreeing with the statement. Adivasis though, intriguingly, are as supportive of the ban as the upper castes. What is obvious is the clear Hindu majoritarian point of view, with a little more than three fourths of the Hindus across the states being either fully or somewhat in agreement with the idea that the state should punish those who eat beef or cow meat.
Again, 80 percent of the urban population is in agreement with the idea of state prohibition against beef or cow meat, while a significantly lower number is supportive of such a ban in the rural areas. Urban populations in agreement with the statement together constitute around 80 percent of the total respondents while rural populations in agreement constitute only 69 percent; a clear 10 percent difference between the two groups. What is interesting to note here is also that around one fifth of the respondents from the rural areas are clearly against the statement. Hence it seem that the rural populations are relatively more polarised on the issue compared to urban populations.
IV. Punish those who engage in religious conversion
Among the questions asked within this section, clearly this particular question has had the most interesting results, with opinions less polarised and more moderate in support of Hindu majoritarianism. What is striking first is that most states have at least a third of their respondents either not in agreement or being ambivalent (“don’t know”) with some states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana having more than 60 percent belonging to these categories, and other states in the forties. The only exception to this trend is Bihar, with not just 41 percent fully supportive of such punishment but 74.18 percent in agreement with such a measure. Overall though, what is clear is that opinion across the states are more divided on this issue than they are on other issues of a majoritarian nature.
All groups seem uniformly supportive of state punishment against religious conversion, with a combined national average of around 69 percent of those respondents who fully or somewhat agree with the statement. Muslims and Christians, predictably, have not only the lower share of respondents that are supportive (58 percent and 60 percent respectively) but also have the relatively higher share of respondents that fully disagree with the statement (26 percent and 27 percent respectively). In sum, though, it is clear that there are no starkly surprising trends. Intriguingly, the population that is usually subject to conversion, the Adivasis, tend to share perspectives that are not different from the upper-caste Hindus, whereas one would have expected a more polarized response.
Both rural and urban populations do not seem divergent and instead seem supportive of state punishment. What is interesting though is that in both populations, the number of respondents that fully disagree with the statement is nearly twice that of those who somewhat disagree. One could infer, perhaps that there is a group of respondents who have quite strong [sentiments] against the statement.
In conclusion, one can quite clearly infer that many respondents tend to support state punishments [for actions] that contravene majoritarian interests. Cultural inflexions do not make much of a difference to the overall patterns and seem to reflect in similar fashion across both public and private domains. These results also serve as preliminary evidence for a broader set of claims on majoritarian nationalism that we believe can be made. These however require further systematic empirical scrutiny.
This is an extract from the report, “Politics and Society between Elections” published by the Azim Premji University and CSDS-Lokniti in 2018. It has been edited and condensed.