Ornit Shani, University of Haifa
Gandhi, Citizenship and the Resilience of Indian Nationhood
Among the main concerns that preoccupied Indian leaders before and after independence was the question of how to safeguard the country’s national unity, given its multifaceted and deep social divisions. How could the new state turn colonial subjects into citizens? The odds of India succeeding to become a functioning democracy were stacked against it in the aftermath of partition. A deeply divided society such as India is not considered to be a hospitable environment for the establishment and maintenance of democratic government. I argue that the Indian polity incorporated a deeply divided and conflict ridden population by offering four predominant notions of citizenship upon which a sense of membership in the nation, and a share in the various resources of the state could be sought. By continually negotiating and balancing distinct overlapping conceptions for competing membership claims in the nation, India’s diverse social groups could find a viable place in it without entirely relinquishing their various group identities. This essay focuses on one of these citizenship conceptions, by examining Gandhi’s legacy in the shaping of citizenship in India. It advances the proposition that a Gandhian conception of citizenship, which sustained as a practice, as well as a political language, played a significant role, in securing the resilience of Indian unity and its democratic viability.