February 28, 2024

Conservative Nationalism and its Nexus with Democratic Values in India

In India, conservative nationalism and democratic values are intrinsically linked, creating a complex and dynamic political landscape.
Keywords: Conservative, Nationalism, Democratic, Political, Ideology, Cultural, Law, Governance, Knowledge 
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India, a land of diverse cultures, languages, and traditions, has a rich history of political ideologies. Conservative nationalism in India represents a belief in preserving traditional values, cultural heritage, and national identity while promoting democratic principles such as individual rights, the rule of law, and participatory governance. This essay is s modest attempt at exploring the intertwining relationship between conservative nationalism and democratic values in the Indian context, highlighting how these seemingly contrasting ideologies coexist and contribute to the country’s political landscape.

Conservative nationalism in India is a political ideology that seeks to protect and promote the country’s cultural and historical identity, emphasising traditional values and customs. This ideology finds its roots in historical events such as the freedom struggle against British colonial rule, in which the preservation of Indian heritage and identity played a significant role. 

The concept of Indian nationalism has a long history dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the country was under British colonial rule. Conservative nationalism emerged as a response to the challenges posed by British imperialism and the need to reclaim India’s identity and heritage. Prominent conservative nationalists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, C. Rajagopalachari, and Bipin Chandra Pal promoted cultural pride, emphasising the importance of traditional values, religion, and indigenous knowledge systems for uniting the Indian masses. 

One of the primary motivations of Indian conservative nationalists is the preservation of the nation’s cultural identity. India’s cultural diversity is seen as integral to the country’s fabric. Conservative nationalists believe that protecting these diverse elements is crucial for maintaining social cohesion and unity. By celebrating and promoting indigenous art, literature, and customs, they ensure that India’s cultural heritage remains intact and broadly unaffected by external influences.

Conservative nationalists in India place a strong emphasis on preserving the nation’s diverse cultural heritage. They view this cultural diversity as a source of strength and knowledge, fostering a sense of unity among the people. Conservative nationalists advocate for a strong and united India, emphasizing national security and sovereignty. They believe that a robust defence system is crucial for safeguarding the country’s democratic values. They place a strong emphasis on traditional values and ethics. They argue that adherence to these values is essential for maintaining social order and harmony. These values, often rooted in religious teachings and cultural norms, provide a moral compass for individuals and communities. By upholding conservative principles, they seek to foster a sense of responsibility and discipline, which, in turn, contributes to the overall well-being of society. Indian conservative nationalists have also been proponents of economic nationalism. They advocate for protecting domestic industries, encouraging self-reliance, and promoting indigenous manufacturing and agriculture. This approach aims to reduce economic dependency on foreign powers and strengthen India’s economic resilience. The principles of economic nationalism are especially relevant in a globalized world, where countries strive to protect their economic interests while participating in international trade.

Conservative nationalists in India have had a significant impact on shaping the country’s political ideology. They have been vocal advocates of strong central governance, emphasizing the importance of a unified, albeit federative nation-state. They view a powerful central government as essential for maintaining stability and cohesion in a vast and diverse country like India. Their ideology has influenced various political parties and policymakers, shaping India’s governance structures and policy decisions. Though conservative nationalism might be perceived as authoritarian or exclusive, it can coexist with democratic values and, in some instances, complement them. The following points illustrate how conservative nationalism intersects with democratic principles in India. 

One of the foundational tenets of democratic governance is the rule of law. Conservative nationalists understand the importance of a well-established legal system that protects individual rights and upholds justice. They believe that adherence to the rule of law is vital for maintaining order and ensuring that all citizens are treated fairly.

Democracy encourages citizen participation in political processes. Conservative nationalists tend to actively engage with democratic institutions, exercising their right to vote, participating in debates, and supporting policies that align with their nationalistic values. India’s diversity is one of its greatest assets, and democratic values respect this pluralism. Conservative nationalists acknowledge the importance of coexistence and mutual respect among different communities. 

Democracy fosters a vibrant exchange of ideas and opinions. They uphold the right to freedom of expression, allowing individuals to voice their concerns and opinions on matters of national importance. Many conservative nationalist movements in India recognise the need for social welfare programs and equitable development. They view these measures as essential for uplifting the marginalised sections of society, aligning with democratic principles of inclusivity and social justice. 

Despite the convergence between conservative nationalism and democratic values, there are inherent challenges and potential tensions. Critics argue that conservative nationalism might prioritize the interests of the majority at the expense of minority rights. This can lead to marginalisation and discrimination, which contradicts democratic principles of equality and protection of minority rights. Some conservative nationalist ideologies may place greater emphasis on the dominant religion, potentially hindering the religious freedom of minority groups. This poses a challenge to India’s secular and pluralistic democratic fabric. Striking a balance between individual rights and national interests can be a delicate task. Some conservative nationalist policies, aimed at protecting national security, might inadvertently infringe upon individual liberties.

In India, conservative nationalism and democratic values are intrinsically linked, creating a complex and dynamic political landscape. While conservative nationalism emphasises the preservation of cultural identity and national unity, it is essential to ensure that it aligns with democratic principles of inclusivity, the rule of law, and the protection of individual rights. Indian conservative nationalists, undoubtedly, have been instrumental in shaping the country’s identity, political ideology, and policies. Their emphasis on cultural preservation, traditional values, and economic nationalism has contributed to India’s resilience and uniqueness in the global arena. Understanding their role is essential for comprehending the complexities of India’s social and political landscape, and appreciating the diverse viewpoints that contribute to the nation’s growth and development. Thus, striking a balance between these ideologies is crucial for fostering a robust democratic system that upholds the afore mentioned values of pluralism, social justice, and national cohesion and solidarity. As India continues to evolve as a democratic nation, it must navigate these complexities to maintain harmony and progress.

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Prashant Barthwal

Prashant Barthwal is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi.

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