Jinnah and Consociational Democracy

Recent events surrounding the release of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah have resulted in renewed interest in Jinnah and his legacy both in the press and on this blog as can be seen here and here. Prof Ashutosh Varshney writing in the Indian Express argues that in light of recent historical research, it appears that Jinnah was probably in favour of what he calls “consociational democracy”. He describes a consociational democracy as opposing liberal democracy on at least three counts.

“First, according to consociational theory, groups — religious, linguistic or racial — are the unit of politics and political organisation, not individuals. As we know, strategising about groups is a pervasive feature of politics, whether in the US or India. The consociational theory goes far beyond that. It says that the constitution should allocate political power and offices to different religious or ethnic groups — 50 per cent of offices would go to group A, 30 to group B, 20 to group C, etc.

Second, each community would be represented by a political organisation of that community only, not by an organisation that claims to be multi-religious or multi-ethnic. This is the “sole spokesman” idea: that only the Muslim League would represent India’s Muslims. LTTE made similar claims about the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Third, minorities would have a veto in governmental decision-making, and consensus should be the basis for governmental functioning. If the Muslim League did not like something that others wanted Muslims to consider, the deliberation would not go any further.

He further states that consociational democracy is not an abstract theoretical idea but that it was in fact used in several small European countries after World War I: Holland, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland. In fact, theorists like Arend Lijphart have argued that a consociational democracy is much better for multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies, for it allows disaffected groups to develop a sense of security.

Varshney concludes that if Jinnah’s argument was indeed consociational, then “partition was inevitable and Jinnah was as responsible for it as anybody else.” The full article can be accessed here.

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