news Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 05:30
  The BJP is no stranger to majoritarianism. It is, most would agree, a majoritarian party. It is the harbinger of Hindutva, a philosophy which it argues is not based on religion or theocracy, but a way of living. The way the majority lives, of course. Majoritarian statements by BJP leaders are no surprise. So when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan, we were not surprised. We were mildly elated to see headlines scream that Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju asked in response to Naqvi’s barb, “I eat beef, can somebody stop me?” If you read what he said after that, and you sink back into disappointment. “If Maharashtra is Hindu majority, or if Gujarat is Hindu majority, Madhya Pradesh is Hindu majority, if they are to make laws which are conducive to the Hindu faith, let them be. But in our place, in our state where we are majority, where we feel whatever steps we take, you know, laws which are conducive to our beliefs, it should be. So they also should not have a problem with the way we live, and we also should not have a problem with the way they live,” he said. Rijiju later stated that he has been misquoted by the media. I thought, perhaps he will take back his majoritarian comment. He clarified, “I was misquoted. When the civil societies and press asked me if they have to go to Pakistan for beef consumption, I said India is a secular country and food habits cannot be stopped but the Hindu faith and sentiment must be respected in Hindu majority states, same as other communities have rights in their own dominant states.” So there, he was still being majoritarian. He was just clarifying that he was fit to be a part of BJP and not opposing what Naqvi had said. The issue here is not just whether one is allowed to eat beef or not. It is that we think it is perfectly fine to be majoritarian. When Rijiju says “let them be, if they are to make laws which are conducive to Hindu faith”, it is a problem. And when he clarifies saying “Hindu faith and sentiment must be respected” and “communities have rights in their own dominant states”, we know how deep rooted the problem is. All of us have this problem. And both socialism and majoritarianism are rooted in it. It is that we think the society, or the majority, is more important than the choices of an individual. I cannot eat beef in a few states in India, and I cannot start a business without government interference in any part of India. My parents and I can be arrested by the police without investigation even if my wife files a false complaint against me. I do not have absolute control over my private property, and the state can snatch it away if the majority agrees. I cannot start a school without permission from the government. I cannot buy and sell products at the prices I want. I cannot be gay, and I cannot even choose when I can die. And all of us think that at least one of the above, or all of the above, are just fine because it’s either done in the name of society or a larger community. Our concept of democracy too, is majoritarian. We think that there is a certain morality involved in prioritising the rights of the majority or society over the individual. As Suhrith Parthasarathy puts it eloquently here in the context of freedom of expression, “...democracy must entail more than just a commitment to elections; it must treat certain fundamental rights as distinct and incapable of being transgressed purely on the caprice of the majority.” What Rijiju said is only a natural extension of what we all believe in. Next time you outrage about a beef-ban, think about that.