This article explains the Tyranny of the Majority by claiming that the formation of nations is influenced by the conception of nationalism and the notion of collective identity. Tyranny of the Majority: Walking the Tight Rope Nationalism is often regarded as one of the greatest driving forces in contemporary history, if not the most potent of all movements.… Read More »

This article explains the Tyranny of the Majority by claiming that the formation of nations is influenced by the conception of nationalism and the notion of collective identity.

Tyranny of the Majority: Walking the Tight Rope

Nationalism is often regarded as one of the greatest driving forces in contemporary history, if not the most potent of all movements. From the French Revolution to India's independence struggle, from the American Civil War to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the concept or postulation of nation and nationalism has steadily grown as an inspirational driving force for mass movements, rather than remaining confined to a political ideology.

The seeds of this very ideology of country and nationalism were never sown; instead, they grew out of the people, particularly among those wanting revolution and the growth of their society into a free and affluent one.

This article claims that the formation of nations is influenced by the conception of nationalism and the notion of collective identity, notwithstanding its diversity. It is critical to consider how theories play a role in understanding the world, and how one mode of operation may speak to us more than another, influence and adapt in our surroundings, depending on different periods and our condition of affairs.

The goal of evaluating how a certain view of a problem becomes dominant is to expose and uncover the hidden assumptions that underpin it, as well as to open alternate possible and realistic ways of being, thinking, and acting.


Election discourse in India is devoid of concern for those who live in bleak environments. Considerations on Representative Government, by John Stuart Mill, should be read by everybody who aspires to political office. According to Mill, democracy isn't the best form of government until it assures that the majority can't relegate everyone else to political insignificance except itself. Simple claims that a majority group has some undefined right to impose its will on the body politic are demolished in this book.

The principle of majority rule is superseded in democracies by the giving of fundamental rights. The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of religion, caste, class, gender, or sexual preferences is the most important of these. It makes no difference to which group we belong to, what faith we proclaim, or what language we speak. In the political system, every person is an equal shareholder.

We Indians have a habit of dismissing our heroes. We make Gandhi into a naive saint and a harmless nonviolence preacher, Bhagat Singh into a ferocious nationalist, and Charan Singh into a caste leader. We've done something similar to the intellectual heritage of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. His thinking has now been reduced to his reflections on the caste system, after decades of neglect. It's past time we unearthed some of his more nuanced ideas and secured a place for him in intellectual history's canons. His democratic insights qualify him as the first candidate for such a comeback.

Ambedkar and his philosophy

Babasaheb Ambedkar was the first, and arguably the only, Indian to give a radical democracy theory in the twentieth century, a theory that can lead us in the twenty-first. This is important to recall because his intellectual and political legacy is nearly entirely focused on his critique of caste-based oppression. This must be remembered today, as those who preside over his birthday celebrations are dismantling India's democracy.

Ambedkar was hardly the first Indian intellectual to consider the concept of democracy. However, he was the first to provide original answers to the three fundamental concerns that a democratic theory must address. To begin, a theory must establish a standard, an ideal of what democracy should be. Two, it must assess the existing state of democracy in comparison to its ideal and make recommendations. Three, it must lay out a path from where we are now to where we should want to be in terms of democratic ideals. Ambedkar's responses were unique in that they were not derived from any abstract concept. His thoughts were profoundly rooted in Indian culture.

Dr. Ambedkar's responses were diametrically opposed to the two dominant approaches to democracy at the time. On the one side, there were 'liberals' like Jawaharlal Nehru who anticipated India to follow the Western dream of democracy, albeit with a time-lapse. They saw Western democracies as the paradigm India had set for itself by drafting a constitution and having free and fair elections.

On the other hand, detractors, particularly from the Left, believed that India's democratic experiment was a charade, nothing more than a capitalist class dictatorship clothed in democratic norms. Gandhi, like many others, despised Westminster-style democracy. Dr. Ambedkar proposed a cautious and conditional optimism hypothesis, with optimism based on the abstract promise of democracy and caution based on the Indian environment.

Ambedkar provided a substantive concept of democracy, which contrasted sharply with the procedural definitions that dominated twentieth-century ideas of democracy. He was not unconcerned about the procedural features of democracy, but he believed that all of these democratic institutions, including as elections and parliament, were in place for a reason: "to bring about the welfare of the people." He went on to give a contemporary conception of democracy that positioned him apart from the dominant democratic theorists. "A form and a system of governing whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without violence," he defined democracy.[1][2]

Ambedkar, in contrast to the Western democratic vision, which prioritizes liberty, placed equality and fraternity at the center of democracy. "Democracy's roots are not found in any form of government, whether parliamentary or otherwise. A democracy is more than a political system.[3] It is basically a way of life in which people live together. The origins of democracy can be found in social relationships, specifically in the associated life of the people who make up a society." He looked to the Buddhist tradition for this aim. Buddhist Sanghas, he claimed, were models for parliamentary democracy.

In the context of this ideal, Ambedkar provided a detailed criticism of current democratic societies. Despite the fact that his critique was broad, he focused on Indian society, which is understandable. In India, the "associated living" that democracy requires simply did not exist. The caste system has separated Indian society into numerous separate, self-contained communities, preventing the required dialogue and negotiation for a functioning democracy. As a result, Ambedkar's critique of the caste system was not only that it was unjust and harmful to the "depressed classes," but that it also shattered national unity and rendered democracy impossible.

Ambedkar developed this criticism into a general philosophy of democratic preconditions. "Democracy is not a plant that grows everywhere," he said.[4] He would frequently mention the failure of nascent political democracy in Italy and Germany due to a lack of social and economic democracy.[5] The first and most important criterion for democracy, according to him, was that there should be no obvious inequities and that every person should be treated equally in everyday administration and governance. This must be backed up by widespread public consciousness, popular support of constitutional morality, and the maintaining of moral order in society. Finally, there can be no democracy without opposition, and tyranny of the majority is opposed to democracy.[6]

Ambedkar took a unique method to bridge the gap between the current and the envisioned future. He did not seek violent or even nonviolent destruction of the existing democratic order, unlike the social revolutionaries of his period. Indeed, he advocated against the continuation of satyagraha, or civil disobedience, in independent India at one point. For a radical democratic theorist, this may appear to be disappointingly conservative. However, a closer examination reveals a more subtle radicalism at work.

Ambedkar was India's first serious student of political institutions' social repercussions. He realized that any institutional design has an inherent drag, that it has repercussions regardless of the designers' intentions. Ambedkar brought a razor-sharp understanding of how each of these decisions would affect the most marginalized sections of society, whether it was the choice of the parliamentary system over the presidential system, the role, and powers of an elected panchayat in a village, the formation of linguistic states, or the partition of the country. In States and Minorities, he suggested an institutional architecture that demonstrated a nuanced approach to employing democracy's political structure for social reform.

Democracy and Majoritarianism

We don't have to think too hard to imagine what Ambedkar may have said about the persistence of inequalities, especially caste inequality, and the emergence of majoritarian democracy in today's India. Turning these shards of original thought into a coherent theory of radical democracy for the twenty-first century requires rigorous reflection and imagination. Beyond birthday celebrations, individuals who take Babasaheb's intellectual legacy seriously have work ahead of them.

The BJP government appears to be unifying its governance institutions in order to promote a more contemporary state. The transaction costs resulting from the lack of a standardized sales-tax structure have undoubtedly been significant for India's citizens and economy throughout the years; however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking steps to address this.[7]

Then there's the call for a single civil code (UCC). Different rules for different religions have also proved costly for many Indian residents, particularly women, especially Muslim women, because they affect their inheritance rights and how they are treated in divorce cases. Congress has been resistant to reforms for a UCC because it does not want to alienate the Muslim vote, which is a crucial electoral asset. Its conduct in the Shah Banu case 30 years ago exemplified its viewpoint, which does not appear to have changed significantly since then.[8]

Providing for group rights can aid in the unification of a diverse community. A system of consociationalism democracy, as identified by political scientist Arend Lijphart, helped keep such plurality in unity in some European countries. It involved elite coalition governance, in which most parts of society had a say in major decisions, and minorities may use their veto power to protect their interests and maintain balance.

As a result, ethnic divisions in such cultures offered little of a barrier to advancement. Variations on the consociational solution have been used in India, as Lijphart and others have argued. The country's internal borders were redefined after independence, replacing the ad hoc borders left behind by colonial authorities with new ones that better reflected ethnolinguistic realities.[9]

Furthermore, by being receptive to group rights, Nehru was able to defuse separatist ambitions in the south. While the subcontinent has always been plagued by conflicts, India has defied predictions that its democracy would perish by tolerating diversity and respecting its incredible cultural diversity. However, one question has always been a sticking point: who gets to represent a group.

Furthermore, the logic inherent in the promotion of group rights – which were most often established to protect minorities – is vulnerable to being hijacked by majority groups or by organizations whose interest's conflict with others. Shouldn't other groups be able to have their own interpretation of history in their schoolbooks if a minority wishes it? Can't creationists make the same case for their worldview if evolution is presented as "true"? Particularism has the potential to lead to relativism. With the fast changes in the political climate over the previous two decades, such challenges have gotten increasingly acute.[10]

There were parallel developments in India. The battles in Punjab and Kashmir, in particular, had huge political ramifications, fueling a wave of Hindu revivalism that eventually contributed to the demise of the Congress as the country's leading political party. These conflicts appeared to back up the argument that such conflicts were mostly caused by excessive tolerance toward separatist forces and political extremists – that they were the result of granting other religious organizations too much leeway.

In India, there were parallel developments. The fights in Punjab and Kashmir, in particular, had far-reaching political repercussions, sparking a wave of Hindu revivalism that finally led to the Congress' downfall as the country's most powerful political party. These conflicts appeared to support the view that such conflicts are mostly caused by excessive tolerance of separatist forces and political extremists – that they are the result of giving other religious groups too much liberty.

Of course, it is impossible to say whether the many conflicts outlined above are generated by socioeconomic cleavages, activities of states or extremists against other groups, or by the content and dogmas inherent in religious teachings or political ideologies in each case. Values that are 'cultural,' 'ethnic,' or 'community-based', on the other hand, clash. They may conflict with the values of other groups, as well as democratic and secular norms, principles, and laws. [11]

The majority of Indians feel that democracy entails majority rule. They believe that if a political party or coalition achieves a majority in Parliament or a state legislature, it has the legal and moral authority to do whatever it wants. Those in the minority must either accept the majority's wishes or wait until their turn in office comes around. Such majoritarianism is unworthy of a great country. It is past time for India to reassess its unrestricted majority rule system.[12]

India, as one of the world's most diverse countries, was never a good choice for majority rule. The key issue was that the country was communally charged and had a religious majority that was permanent. Even now, Hindus account for around 80% of the population, Muslims for 14%, and Sikhs and Christians for 2% each. Then there were the perennial majority-minority squabbles, such as over languages and castes. Because none of these criteria were subject to modification, the majority rule was deemed unsuitable for Indian conditions.

These majority-minority disputes have wreaked havoc throughout history. Nonetheless, majoritarianism persists. The BJP has recently flexed its majority at the Centre, in UP, and other states. As soon as Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, he began to rule by ordinances. "Consensus is more vital than majority rule," he had to reassure Parliament. However, his and his party's majoritarian instincts have manifested themselves in a variety of ways, from their hardline stance in Kashmir to cow protectionism. Previously, 65 former IAS officers urged the government and public institutions to address the "growing authoritarianism and majoritarianism" that prevents "reasonable debate, discussion, and dissent."

However, lecturing the majority on tolerance will not make our majority rule system more suitable. This was obvious from the start of the republic. "It is not tolerance alone that makes democratic democracy work," British constitutional expert Sir Ivor Jennings warned India in 1945.

Jennings explained why the British majority government system was unsuitable for India. "The majority with us is not permanent," he wrote, "it is founded on distinct personal and national interests, perspectives that are prone to change… This permits the minority to adhere to the majority's policy in a peaceful and even joyful manner."[13] "A Conservative government may persuade me to become a Conservative overnight," he added, "but it cannot change my heritage, language, tribe or caste, religion, or economic status."

Many significant authorities have rejected majority rule as the foundation of India's government for similar reasons. In 1933, a British parliamentary committee concluded that "none of the elements can be considered to exist" in India for majority rule to succeed. In 1939, Jinnah had the Muslim League passed a resolution proclaiming that the Muslim League was "irrevocably opposed to any purpose that must obviously result in majority community control under the cover of democracy." In 1945, B.R. Ambedkar stated that "majority rule is unworkable in theory and unjustified in practice" in India.

The Non-Parties' Conference of 1945, a non-political endeavor to find a good system for India, was clear in its rejection of British-style majority rule. Chairman Tej Bahadur Sapru said it was "unsuitable" and "will not deliver the same outcomes in this nation as it has in England."

Innumerable ways, India's majority rule has failed the country. It exacerbated communal tensions, ultimately leading to the country's division. It enraged the majority of Kashmiris, turning the conflict become India's bloodiest in history. It frequently empowers majority governments to act arbitrarily in passing laws or enforcing them. It allows governments to use investigative agencies like the CBI, police, and tax authorities to tyrannize citizens and political opponents. India's severe corruption is also a result of unrestricted majority rule. Indira Gandhi was able to bring India's democracy to an end thanks to an out-of-control majority.


We can start to solve this problem if we cease thinking of majority rule as synonymous with democracy. Other democratic approaches have been shown to be more effective. The American system was designed precisely to keep majority rule in check. James Madison, one of its founders, had researched the world's democracies during the previous 3,000 years. The basic question highlighted by their failures struck him: Is the majority rule principle sound? His response was no, therefore he and his colleagues set out to create a better method.

Madison discovered that democracies fail because of majorities' "mischief." "Majorities in legislative councils, with interesting views, often engage in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former," he wrote, "join in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former." "Place three individuals in a circumstance and give two of them an interest opposed to the rights of the third," Madison requested.[14] "Will the latter be safe?" says the narrator.

How does the American system prevent authoritarian majorities from gaining power? It accomplishes this in two ways. First, it broadens the scope of elections to cover a wide and diverse population, resulting in a diverse range of interests rather than simple majorities. This is a significant advantage of electing the nation's and states' chief presidents through nationwide elections. A communal, caste, or language-based majority would make it difficult for a prime minister elected directly by the people of the entire country to win.

Second, the American system complicates government structure and processes. It makes it impossible for a majority to rule the entire government through genuine separation of powers, bicameral legislature, judicial scrutiny, and true federalism. Minority viewpoints may always find a platform for expression and an institution to act against the majority since power is split in so many ways. As a result, the opposition has real power to stop a government action.

Similarly, India must safeguard its democracy from the evils of majority rule. It's past time for Indian administrations to start 'serving' rather than 'ruling.'


[1] Nathan Heller, "Politics Without Politicians" (The New Yorker, February 19, 2020), Available Here

[2] Global Gastronaut, "Singapore embraces a new vision of pragmatism: democracy" (July 11, 2020), Available Here

[3] Jean Drèze, "Dr. Ambedkar and the Future of Indian Democracy", Available Here

[4] Britannica, "The theory of democracy", Available Here

[5] Hechter, Michael (2000). Containing Nationalism. Oxford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-19-829742-0.

[6] Hochman, Adam (2015). "Of Vikings and Nazis: Norwegian contributions to the rise and the fall of the idea of a superior Aryan race". Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

[7] Burke, Jason (16 May 2014). "Narendra Modi's landslide victory shatters Congress's grip on India". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077

[8] Iwanek, Krzysztof. "Narendra Modi Wins Again — What Does That Mean for India?

[9] Herbst, Jeffrey (Spring 1990). "War and the State in Africa". International Security. 14 (4): 117–139. doi:10.2307/2538753. JSTOR 2538753. S2CID 153804691.

[10] Robert Hislope "From Ontology to Analogy: Evolutionary Theories and the Explanation of Ethnic Politics: in Patrick James and David Goetze ed. Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Conflict (2000)

[11] P. McDevitt, May the Best Man Win: Sport, Masculinity, and Nationalism in Great Britain and the Empire, 1880–1935 (2008).

[12] Tudor, Maya Jessica (2013). The promise of power: the origins of democracy in India and autocracy in Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139519076.

[13] Milestone Documents, Available here

[14] Founders Online, "Vices of the Political System of the United States, April 1787", Available Here

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Updated On 5 Sep 2022 1:22 PM GMT
Vidit Baya

Vidit Baya

Student, Times School of Media, Bennett University

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