Monday, May 19, 2008

On Group Politics

Most Indians have grown to detest all kinds of group politics. Any group which gets formed representing people of certain identity is considered divisive and hence bad.

Is group politics bad or good?

Instead of answering that question directly, I shall ask few more questions. Since we have so much exaggeration and sensationalism on the TV these days, shall we go back to those days when there was only one channel and that too controlled by the state? Since we have so much excessive consumption and waste today, shall we go back to those days of poverty where there was little food to eat and little water to drink?

Just because we have excess of certain things (and deemed bad) does not mean we eliminate them completely. We have to agree that we all want free media; it’s just that we want it less sensational and less exaggerated. We all want easier access to food and water; it’s just that we want it less wasted. However, there are lots of people who think very differently, they go onto discredit the entire system itself as bad.

Before I dig deep, let me put some more examples on how we look at groups and lobbies.

When blacks of US come together to form a group to represent blacks, it’s not seen in the bad light. But when well-to-do whites of US come together to form a group to represent whites, it’s usually derided.

When dalits of India come together under a group to represent untouchables, it’s not seen in the bad light (by some of us, including mainstream media). But when well-to-do upper castes of India come together under a group to represent upper castes of India, it’s usually derided (by some of us, including mainstream media).

Is there hypocrisy involved?

I will get back to this question but before I do that, I urge you to read an article on this blog: Duties of the Majority and the Privileged.

Role of Group Politics

Group Politics when done well can create a healthy democratic environment to work towards betterment of minorities and underprivileged, to bring in sense of equality. But when done on an excess can result in divisive and destructive politics.

In many countries, civil wars, frictions, breakaways, etc, can all be avoided by allowing group politics to play a healthy role.

In India, for some reason, there has been a notion to decry every case of group politics without seeing the merit in it. For example, Congress of pre-Independent India always looked at group politics with contempt. When Muslims wanted to be seen as a different group, it failed to recognize it, and in the process allowed Muslim League to represent the Muslim groups which eventually led to the division of the sub-continent. By not allowing Muslims’ representation as a group, Congress has inadvertently led the country to the very same situation it feared the most- division of the country on the name of religion.

For many years, grouping under one's identity within Indian context was always considered bad - a force that would break up India. All discussion into legitimizing group politics was shunned.

Some of us understand now that the underprivileged and minorities need to have their groups represented in politics under their identities. It’s a necessity that a democracy has to bear the burden of.

However, the problem appears when the privileged and majorities also form their groups under their identities. That only causes the gaps to widen and further alienation of minorities and underprivileged.

It’s usually OK (for some of us, including mainstream media) to see a group of underprivileged or minority to form a party under the banner of its identity, but somehow NOT OK (for some of us, including mainstream media) to see a group of privileged or majority to come and form a party under the banner of its identity.

That's why some of us deride BJP which forms a party to represent the majority and (in many cases) the privileged. And that’s also why some media people criticize white people’s parties and lobbies in US.

Why is one grouping OK and the other NOT OK?

These are the common set of notions. It is believed that,

When underprivileged and minorities form their groups, they do so, to bargain for better rights, better privileges which are denied to them, better access to education and opportunity because they are underrepresented, and to secure better access to political power.

When privileged and majorities form their groups, they do so, to perpetuate their hegemony, to appropriate more resources for themselves in excess of their share, to continue their dominance and superiority over others, and ensure they get an excess and uneven share in education, opportunity and political power.

These are the general perceptions on why some group politics are considered OK and why others are NOT.

[However, reality is never so stark and contrasting, and hence we will see legitimacy for even the supposed privileged and majorities, and derision for supposed underprivileged and minorities.]

Related Posts: On Caste Politics in India, Duties of the Majority and the Privileged.


  1. What's the connection between excess/waste and group politics?

  2. Something that I was always wondering about is the division of people into some or the other group - be it majority , minority, national ,linguistic, educational qualification, job status, money etc. Only the first two seem to get enormous attention.

    Destination Infinity.


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