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We need to emphasise on citizenship over narrow identities: Dipankar Gupta


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to create divisions in society by positioning Hindus as citizens and Muslims “as not being quite citizens” says eminent sociologist Dipankar Gupta.

The only way of countering these divisions, he feels, is to put primacy on citizenship.

In an interview with Catch, Gupta argues for emphasising citizenship over narrow identities saying that this can resolve several problems. “If you emphasise citizenship then banning beef may be a good idea or a bad idea but then you will ask: Is that something that citizens want? Is it an important element on their (citizens’) agenda?” he points out.

Gupta feels that human beings are basically ethno-centric and think naturally in caste, language and religious terms. They do not think naturally in terms of citizenship because “to think in terms of citizenship requires a great deal of effort.”

“What forces people out of their linguistic, caste and religious biases is the citizenship promised to them by political parties. It takes them out of their petty connections into something larger. But this is a constant fight. You can’t take your eyes off the ball. The moment you do, we slide back,” he points out.

He uses the term ‘Hindu majority’ not in the way it is used by political parties today but in the sense of creating a larger identity obliterating previous differences. He argues that this is the result of both Indian Independence and the process of democratisation. “The Hindu personal law brought in 1956, created a much larger Hindu identity by flattening differences within Hindus in laws of inheritance, marriage, adoption, etc.”

It made “Hindu” legally a wider group than it was in the past simply because of the emphasis on common entitlements through citizenship, he explains.

“I am saying that Hindus would become better citizens the more democratised we get. … the Universal Civil Code is a very good idea because what happens is that over time the differences people have in relating to each other get obliterated. … Citizenship demands a uniformity of status at the base, so that later on you can be different,” he argues.

Gupta feels that unless the non-BJP political parties have a manifesto which is credible, believable and alternative, they will not be able to challenge the BJP effectively. “The BJP has a manifesto which is believable – so far,” he argues explaining its appeal to the voters.

“If you want to beat the BJP – and I think every government should have a good Opposition -- then you have to have an alternative way of putting facts across or at least promises across, which are credible. …To say that we are going get 20 other parties together and then defeat the BJP is a ridiculous way of doing it,” he argues.

Watch the video interview for this and more -- especially for Gupta’s view of how getting the “sociology” right is important for winning an election. The BJP, he says, got its sociology right in the Uttar Pradesh election by going past caste divisions while others floundered.

Bharat Bhushan @Bharatitis

Editor of Catch News, Bharat has been a hack for 25 years. He has been the founding Editor of Mail Today, Executive Editor of the Hindustan Times, Editor of The Telegraph in Delhi, Editor of the Express News Service, Washington Correspondent of the Indian Express and an Assistant Editor with The Times of India.