An alternative to the nation-state, then, is the “state nation”, where various “nations” be they ethnic, religious, linguistic, or indigenous identities can coexist peacefully and cooperatively in a single state polity.
Case studies and analyses demonstrate that enduring democracies can be established in polities that are multicultural. Explicit efforts are required to end the cultural exclusion of diverse groups and to build multiple and complementary identities.
Such responsive policies provide incentives to build a feeling of unity in diversity a “we” feeling. Citizens can find the institutional and political space to identify with both their country and their other cultural identities, to build their trust in common institutions and to participate in and support democratic politics.
All of these are key factors in consolidating and deepening democracies and building enduring “statenations”.
India’s constitution incorporates this notion. Although India is culturally diverse, comparative surveys of long-standing democracies including India show that it has been very cohesive, despite its diversity.
But modern India is facing a grave challenge to its constitutional commitment to multiple and complementary identities with the rise of groups that seek to impose a singular Hindu identity on the country.
These threats undermine the sense of inclusion and violate the rights of minorities in India today.
Recent communal violence raises serious concerns for the prospects for social harmony and threatens to undermine the country’s earlier achievements.
And these achievements have been considerable. Historically, India’s constitutional design recognized and responded to distinct group claims and enabled the polity to hold together despite enormous regional, linguistic and cultural diversity.
As evident from India’s performance on indicators of identification, trust and support, its citizens are deeply committed to the country and to democracy, despite the country’s diverse and highly stratified society.
This performance is particularly impressive when compared with that of other long-standing—and wealthier—democracies.
The challenge is in reinvigorating India’s commitment to practices of pluralism, institutional accommodation, and conflict resolution through democratic means.
Critical for building a multicultural democracy is a recognition of the shortcomings of historical nation-building exercises and of the benefits of multiple and complementary identities.
Also important are efforts to build the loyalties of all groups in society through identification, trust, and support.
National cohesion does not require the imposition of a single identity and the denunciation of diversity. Successful strategies to build “statenations” can and do accommodate diversity constructively by crafting responsive policies of cultural recognition.
They are effective solutions for ensuring the longer terms objectives of political stability and social harmony.