National Integration and Communal Harmony


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Dr. Prashant Shukla

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In the contemporary socio-political scenario, nationalism poses the most profound and debatable issue to the governing principles and intellectual contours of a democratic independent India. The issue seems to have two simultaneous impulses:

  • an obligation to the territorial integrity of India, and
  • a political commitment towards the constitution of the country.

However, given India’s turbulent cultural history, it seems quite difficult that nationalism can achieve both objectives at the same time. Therefore, what becomes of India (as a nation) depends on how strong this notion of nationalism becomes, and the way in which its embedded paradoxes are sorted out through national integration and communal harmony. As V.S.Naipaul aptly remarks,

“People everywhere have an idea of who they are and what they owe themselves. The liberation of spirit that has come to India could not come as a release alone”.

Further, he adds,

“India was now a country of a million little mutinies. But there was in India now what didn’t exist 200 years before: a central will, a central intellect, a national idea… The Indian Union was greater than the sum of its parts.”

It may be said that this essence of a central will is an active consciousness of belonging to a single nation, sharing of common ideologies, existence of common goals, pride in the achievements of the country and combined efforts for common achievements irrespective of our communal, regional and linguistic divides. Such nationalism has, in fact, existed in this country in the past before the Britishers adopted their ‘divide-and-rule’ policy, and such nationalism again manifested itself during the freedom struggle and again during national crises like the Chinese aggression and the Indo-Pakistan wars.

At the threshold of the discussion, it is desirable to have a clear idea of the meaning of national integration. The first National Integration Council that was set up in 1961 in its declaration of objectives defined national integration in the following terms:

“The foundation of our national life is common citizenship, unity in diversity, freedom of religion, secularism, equality, justice- social, economic and political- and fraternity among all communities.”[1]

This definition should form the basis for the quest for the ways and means of achieving national integration. National Integration, therefore, recognizes that India is a country of different regions, languages and cultures and the achievement of national integration is not inconsistent with the existence of such differences. To quote the Supreme Court of India:

“The people inhabiting this vast land profess different religions and speak different languages. Despite the diversity of region and language, there runs through the fabric of the nation the golden thread of a basic innate unity It is a mosaic of different religions, languages and cultures Each of them has made a mark on the Indian polity and India today represents a synthesis of them all.”[2]

Our nationalism which always lies dormant and comes to the surface only on the occasions of national crisis must be activated and made a permanent feature of our national life. The National Integration Council which was set up in 1961 identified ‘regionalism’ and ‘communalism’ as the two major hurdles to the achievement of national integration. The fact that the National Integration Council has been revived following the Assam agitation and communal riots in various parts of the country indicates that even today regionalism and communalism are the two major hurdles to the achievement of national integration. Efforts must therefore be directed against the elimination of these two hurdles.

Before Independence, the people of this country regarded themselves as Indians to whichever part of the country they might belong, but since Independence narrower loyalties have begun to prevail with the people of different States and this tendency gained a fillip by the reorganization of States on linguistic basis. Composite States consisting of people speaking different languages but having a common culture were split up and new States were constituted only on the basis of languages. Perhaps such a reconstitution has resulted in compact units for purposes of administration and economic development, but it divided the people into various linguistic sections and national interests were subordinated to regional interests This resulted in a set-back to national integration The agitation in Assam and the slogan of ‘sons of the soil’ are the worst examples of such regionalism.

It is perhaps too late at this stage to reconstitute the States on multi-linguistic basis but parochialism should be discouraged in whichever form it may manifest itself and a consciousness that all the people of this country to whichever State they may belong are Indian citizens and that national interests are paramount over regional interests, must be actively developed.

As regards communalism, it is an evil which afflicts not only the minority communities but also the majority community and it should be our endeavor to free the majority as well as the minority communities from this evil. The accusation of communalism is usually made against the Muslim minority community. The accusation is perhaps justified when any section of this community indulges in activities which segregate it from the other communities or which spreads antagonistic feelings between the two communities But a demand for the implementation of legal rights conferred by the Constitution and the laws on any minority community and a plea for fair and equal treatment and a protest against the practice of discrimination cannot be called communalism. On the other hand the denial of legal rights and just and equal treatment to the minorities and practice of discrimination against them by the majority community also amounts to communalism.

An accusation is also made against the some that they have not joined the mainstream of national life Joining the mainstream does not mean being submerged in it One cannot jump into a stream without being able to swim in it. People can join the mainstream only if they are treated as equal citizens, enjoying all the rights and privileges of citizenship like equal employment opportunities, equal educational facilities, equal social and economic benefits and effective representation in the governance of the country Unfortunately, however, discrimination has deprived the minority groups of equal opportunities of employment and education and has deprived them of the benefits of the fiscal and economic schemes launched by the Government. No wonder therefore that barring a few privileged individuals the common man in this community feels that he is a second class citizen The word ‘equality’ when applied to a minority community has a special implication To quote from the Supreme Court:

“The problem of the minorities is not really a problem of the establishment of equality because if taken literally, such equality would mean absolutely identical treatment of both the minorities and the majorities.”[3]

This would result only in equality in law but inequality in fact. The distinction need not be elaborated for it is obvious that equality in law precludes discrimination of any kind, whereas equality in fact may involve the necessity of differential treatment in order to attain a result which establishes equilibrium between different situations. It may sound paradoxical but it is nevertheless true that minorities can be protected not only if they have equality but also in certain circumstances differential treatment. To quote again:

“The idea of giving some special right to the minorities is not to have a kind of a privileged or pampered section of the population but to give to the minorities a sense of security and a feeling of confidence. The great leaders of India since time immemorial had, preached the doctrine of tolerance and catholicity of outlook. Those noble ideas were enshrined in the Constitution Special rights for the minorities were designed not to create inequality… The differential treatment for the minorities by giving them special rights is intended to bring about an equilibrium so that the ideal of equality may not be reduced to a mere abstract idea but should become a living reality and result in true, genuine equality, an equality not merely in theory but also in fact.”[4]

Finally to quote from the Advisory Opinion of the Permanent International Court of Justice:

It is easy to imagine cases in which equality of treatment of the majority and of the minority whose situation and requirements are different, would result in inequality. The equality between members of the majority and of the minority must be effective genuine equality.’’

It is only when the minorities enjoy equality in the real sense as stated above, that they can join the mainstream of national life. The several communal riots that have recently occurred in different parts of the country have further brought about a feeling of insecurity amongst the Muslims. The State owes a duty to its citizens to protect their life and property. The recent incidents have shaken the faith of the Muslims in this regard. The most unfortunate aspect of these communal riots is that even the police and district administration have behaved in a way detrimental to the cause of national integration. Efforts must, therefore, be made to remove the feeling of frustration and bitterness from the minority communities by taking effective measures which could infuse confidence in the minority communities.

The mass media, namely the Radio, the Television and the press, have a vital role to play in bringing about national integration. At present their contribution is negative. It has been our unfortunate experience that media are readily available for the spread of even unverified news items, which later are found to be incorrect but which bring about estrangement between the communities. It is necessary that the Radio and the T.V. should put forth programmes which promote communal harmony and the press also should make a more positive effort to promote communal harmony and national solidarity

I would conclude by appealing to the minority groups as well to come out of their shell and take part in all national activities. They should realize that their destiny is permanently linked with this country, and this country alone, and that they are part and parcel of the people of this country. They should realize that a large section of the majority community consists of right-minded persons who are sympathetic to their interests and it should be their endeavor to convert this section of the majority community into an active force in their favor. They must realize that whatever safeguards may be provided in the Constitution and the laws, their best and ultimate safeguard lies in the goodwill of the majority community.

(Writer – Dr Prashant Shukla, Department of Philosophy, University of Lucknow)

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  1. Berlin, Isaiah, “The Bent Twig: On the Rise of Nationalism,” The Crooked Timber of Humanity (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).
  2. Hampshire, Stuart, Review of Berlin’s views in “Nationalism,” in Edna and Avishai Margalit, eds., Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration (Chicago, 111: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
  3. Gupta, Col. Ranjit Singh, Management of Internal Security: Freedom from Fear (Lancer Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1994).
  4. Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society Vs State of Gujarat (1974) 1 Supreme Court Cases 717.

[1] Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society Vs State of Gujarat (1974) 1 Supreme Court Cases 717.

[2] Gupta, Col. Ranjit Singh, Management of Internal Security: Freedom from Fear, Lancer Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1994, p.20

[3]Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society Vs State of Gujarat (1974) 1 Supreme Court Cases 717.