Practice  Question  –  Elucidate the concepts of majoritarianism’ and ‘minoritarianism’ in accentuating communal tensions in India.  [ UPSC 2016]

Approach – Introduction, Define Communalism, Explain communalism in India and establish the role of majoritarianism and majoritarianism in fuelling communal tensions, Give examples from both pre-independence and post-independence India, Conclusion.


Communalism actually stems from religious fundamentalism that makes one believe that one’s own religionis the only true faith. Communalism itself is the ideology of a social , political or a religious group that their religion and practices are superior to that of other groups. Religion is a personal and sensitive issue for most people. Therefore any hint of antagonism or a sign of disrespect towards one’s religion immediately triggers hatred and violence. Communalism is divisive in that it stresses the significance of one religion over the others. While effectively the preaching and values of all religions do not differ , it is the conflict of interests and desire for dominance that provokes hostility. It has also been observed on various occasions that religious leaders arouse fanatic behaviour among followers through fundamentalist speeches and political leaders do the same to ensure themselves of a vote bank for attaining power.


Some scholars attribute this cause due to stagnant economy during the British Rule. The stagnation of economy may have affected the aspirations and economic prosperity for certain sections within society. Scholars opine that this section of society usually termed as ‘Middle Class’ used communalism as a weapon for their own survival at the cost of other classes in
society. Subsequently, other leaders from the community and political parties joined to fuel the tension of Communalism in India. This may be well illustrated with the emergence of modern politics with its roots in partition of Bengal in 1905 and feature of separate electorate under Government of India Act, 1909.Later, British government also appeased various communities through Communal award in 1932, which witnessed strong resistance from Gandhiji and others. All these acts were done by the British government to appease Muslims and other communities, for their own political needs. This feeling of communalism has deepened since then, fragmenting the Indian society and being a cause of unrest.

In the pre-independence period the British used the policy of Divide and Rule to weaken the nationalist aspirations by creating a cleavage between the Hindus and Muslims, favoring one community against the other in terms of services and opportunities. It resulted in communal tensions between the two groups and therefore, it is considered that the Hindu-Muslim disunity took shape during the continuation of British Rule in India.

During the national movement, a strong Hindu religious element was introduced in nationalist thought. The orientalist writings which glorified the Hindu religion and period in history became the basis for the propogation of nationalist ideas and pride for the motherland. In the process the Muslim were seen as alien. Other factors which are believed to fan the flames of communalism include rumors and distorted news publicized by media which disseminates false information to the public. Also, political parties resorted to the politics of appeasement whereby sanctions were used to appease different ethnic, religious, cultural groups for votes. This vote bank politics greatly followed tactics of appeasement by provisioning services and opportunities to a few sections of the population against the other sections.


Partition of India,1947
Anti-Sikh riots, 1984
Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits in 1989
Babri masjid demolition in Ayodhya, 1992
Assam Communal violence,2012
Muzzaffarnagar violence, 2013


Colonialist Viewpoint

The British seemed to see ‘Hindu-Muslim antagonism’ much earlier than the term ‘communalism’ emerged. Colonial thinkers like Hugh McPherson in his work ‘Origin and Growth of Communal Antagonism’ rejects the idea that ‘communalism’ is “a modern invention, the product of recent political developments”, which refers specifically to the politics of separate electorates. In order to prove his point McPherson cites the Benares riots of 1809 and the testimony of a “landholder of Bengal” to the age-old animosity between Hindus and Muslims which dates back to the Muslim invasion of India.

Nationalist Viewpoint

For the nationalist, while both nationalism and ‘communalism’ were responses to colonialism, the former was the ‘right’ response and the latter, the wrong one. The nationalist project a unitary and symbiotic culture of historic co-operation between Hindus and Muslims which was thwarted with the colonial rule especially with the policy of Divide and Rule, of the British rulers in India which gave rise to communalism.


  • Role of Law and order Administration – The police have an important role to play in intercepting and diffusing communal riots and flare-ups before it assumes huge proportions. They should act responsibly to combat violence and work with the cooperation of peace committees and members of conflict in communities to resolve tension.
  • Role of Education – The study contents should be devoid of any communal content and partial views about particular religions. It should in fact teach secular principles, appreciation and respect for all religions. Schools and higher educational institutions should use various teaching aids promoting national values and communal harmony. Teachers should be trained to motivate students to conduct community programmes with involvement from their parents, neighbours and others to promote secularism, nationalism, cooperation and tolerance.
  • Role of Religious Leaders – Religious leaders have an important role to play as the preaching is followed by the masses. People look up to their leaders and hence these leaders should teach the importance of communal harmony through their discourses.
  • Role of Media – The media should act responsibly and avoid delivering news in a manner that will further encourage violence. Instead the media should identify and expose communal elements. It should create a forum for discussion where information about the ill effects of communal activities.
  • Role of NGOs – NGOs should go for large-scale publicity campaigns in media promoting communal harmony and national unity. They should draw public focus on more pressing national problems and educate people about the ill consequences of riots and destruction based on religious intolerance.
  • Ban on communal political parties – The political parties having any direct or indirect connections with communal forces should be de-recognized by the government. They should not be allowed to play with the religious sentiments of the public and exploit them for their political gains. This will help in force harmony among various communities.
  • Public Awareness – Public awareness needs to be raised about the harmful impact of communalism. Our constitution, which labels India as a secular nation makes provisions to protect the interests of all religions and goes beyond the code of any religion. Hence one must learn to put national interests above one’s religious views.
  • Security – All communities must be treated equally. The people belonging to smaller communities should not feel isolated. Instead confidence should be instilled in them so that they feel safe and secure to partake in the growth of the nation.

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