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Lecture by Professor Gurpreet Mahajan

Reluctant Secularism, Committed Multiculturalism: The Framing of India’s Democracy

The Second Inaugural Lecture titled ‘Reluctant Secularism, Committed Multiculturalism: The Framing of India’s Democracy,’ was delivered by Professor Gurpreet Mahajan at the Baker Auditorium, CDS on 8 August, 2018. Prof Sunil Mani introduced and welcomed Prof Gurpreet Mahajan to the CDS. He said she was presently Professor, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and also Visiting Professor to many prestigious universities abroad, like the Columbia University as a Fulbright Scholar, University of Toronto and universities in Paris and England. He said Prof Gurdeep has also been publishing extensively and is on the editorial boards of several journals in the area of Political Science. Prof Mani pointed out that the CDS was happy to invite a non-economist to the Centre to talk on this extremely important theme of secularism, diversity and multiculturalism.

Abstract of the lecture:

Not simply secular, but multicultural. This was the framework in which the founding members envisaged Indian democracy. They did not use the term multicultural, but it is an appropriate reflection of what they had in mind.

Over the last three decades, we seem to have overlooked this distinction. The debates that have occurred in the public domain have tended to collapse the two concepts, often viewing the latter as an extension of the former.

This paper undertakes a situated conceptual history to argue why we need to conceive the Indian constitutional framework as a multicultural democracy. It explores methodological issues – such as, should we use a vocabulary that was not used by the agents themselves – while discussing substantive challenges that India faced from the beginning.

It argues that there was no clarity on what would be a multicultural path and it was easy to slide into a form of competitive communitarianism. But that changed in the 90s. The unaddressed vulnerabilities in the multicultural framework paved the way for assertive majoritarianism. So the question before us is: why should we lean towards multiculturalism? Do we need to rethink and reinvent this vision; or should be set it aside and opt for liberal secularism?