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A false majority

Every Indian is actually a member of some minority or another

Devangshu Datta
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Sadly for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the statistics suggest that Amartya Sen's non-endorsement of is in line with the opinions of an overwhelming majority of voters. The projects itself as the champion of the Hindu majority. But three out of four members of its claimed core constituency refused to endorse it in the last two general elections.

Hindus form roughly 80 per cent of the electorate. Any party that won half those votes could land a massive majority. But in 2004 and 2009, the BJP received less than 20 per cent of total vote share. In its very best performances, in 1998 and 1999, the BJP received just over 25 per cent. Hence, at the zenith of its popularity, the party failed to win the hearts and minds of two out of every three Hindu voters.

If indeed the BJP pushes vote share back up to 25 per cent, it would have a fair shot at leading the next government. But it would still remain a long way short of any credible claim to representing a majority viewpoint.

Regardless of numbers, claiming to represent the majority is a clever tactic. Lenin was the first modern demagogue to try this on, when he referred to his breakaway minority faction as the Bolsheviks, which means "members of the majority". Hitler too claimed to know all about the will of the German people, while leading a minority government with minority vote share.

There is actually no "Hindu majority". India is too diverse and the religion too undefined for convenient monolithic assumptions. The differences between a Tamil Hindu and a Himachali Hindu are stark, for example. They don't speak the same language or eat the same food. Nor do they worship the same gods or celebrate the same festivals.

Every Indian is actually a member of some minority or another. The largest demographic - the Hindi-speaking Hindu from the heartland - contributes less than a third of the population, even glossing over differences in dialects between, say, Awadhi and Rajasthani. Apart from linguistic differences, there are also caste differences.

Caste and language are markers tattooed more deeply into the average Indian's psyche than any abstract considerations of religious unity. This makes minority sensibilities much more important than the majoritarian ideologues like to admit.

belongs to a minuscule minority. He was born into the Brahmo Samaj, a reformist monotheist movement that has never possessed even a lakh of adherents. Despite their lack of numbers, Brahmos have punched above their weight in terms of intellectual contribution. Rabindranath Tagore, Jagadish Bose, Prafulla Roy, P C Mahalanobis and Satyajit Ray were all Brahmos.

Brahmos are not legally classified as Hindus. More importantly, Brahmos don't think of themselves as Hindus. They have no rituals, no caste and no dietary restrictions. They take no dowry and marry outside the purview of the Hindu Marriage Act. They don't swear legal oaths on the Gita. Their educational institutions have minority status.

To top this, Professor Sen is a self-proclaimed atheist, which makes him a member of an even more minuscule minority. The God he doesn't believe in is a "formless mysterious spirit that cannot be defined but is present everywhere" according to the Brahmo code.

There is little that a Brahmo finds more irritating than an unthinking assumption by RSS ideologues that Brahmos share "Hindu cultural sensibilities", whatever those are supposed to be. It is roughly equivalent to how a Hindutvadi would feel if embraced as a fellow traveller by a Christian fundamentalist.

Given all this, Amartya Sen would be very unlikely to vote for any party that propagates a majoritarian one-size-fits-all ideology. He said it in public. Most of the members of the mythical the BJP claims to represent won't say it upfront. But they may just let the ballot speak for them.



Disclosure: The writer is a Brahmo by birth

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