Conservative nationalism is on the rise: Study

‘For now there is little evidence to link this rise with electoral behaviour’

Published - March 30, 2019 01:45 am IST - Bengaluru

There is a rise in conservative nationalism and rise in radical perceptions of imposition of majoritarian beliefs, shows a public opinion survey.

‘Politics and Society between Elections 2019’, the third round in the series conducted by Azim Premji University (APU) and Lokniti, asked nearly 24,000 people in 12 States whether they identify with overt symbols of nationalism: punishment for those who do not say Bharat Mata Ki Jai in public functions; punishment for those who do not stand up for the national anthem; punishment for those who eat beef; and punishment for those who engage in religious conversion.

These questions have often been touted by major political parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as being signs of nationalists.

The ‘Index of Nationalism’ developed categorised responses to ‘conservative nationalists’, who fully agreed with punishments; centrists with middling responses; and ‘liberal nationalist’. The report finds that nearly a third were ‘conservative nationalists’ who believed in the imposition of majoritarian beliefs; while 27% were opposed to conservative position.

“The bad news is that cultural majoritarianism is on the rise... This is high in places such as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and lower in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, and Mizoram,” said Asha Venugopalan from the APU and one of the authors of the study.

This sense of nationalism is going to be a “strong template” in the coming years, particularly how society will respond to this, said Hilal Ahmed, associate fellow at Lokniti–Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

He points to the contradictions in responses to having a minority friend and in their perceptions of the community. While a higher number of people — compared with the previous two rounds — declared they have a Muslim or Christian friend; Hindus, who form the majority of the country’s population, consistently rated their community as being more patriotic than other communities.

“There is a sense of nationalism emerging and increasing divisions between communities,” said Mr. Ahmed.

Exposure to media

Conservative nationalism was found to be higher among those who have exposure to the media or greater education levels.

“We, however, cannot determine how the relationship has come: that is, one cannot conclusively say whether conservative nationalism arose because of the media, or conservative nationalists seek out the media,” said Ms. Venugopal.

For now, however, there is little concrete evidence to link this rise with electoral behaviour, said Sudhir Krishnaswamy, professor, Political Philosophy and Politics in India, APU.

For instance, Odisha, which ranks high on the conservative nationalism scale, did not vote for the BJP which often identifies itself with ideas of conservative nationalism. “We need to rethink the hyper-rational voter model that assumes there is a link between core beliefs and voting. Electoral behaviour is transactional. Its mobilisation follows logic that exists only around elections and voting is instead shaped by social entanglements,” he said.

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