7 PM | Nationalism | Gandhi’s idea of pluralism and Secularism | 12th October, 2019

Context:Nationalism, Gandhi’s idea of pluralism and secularism.

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  • All over the world today, ethnic nationalism of one kind or another is making a comeback. For example, Christian nationalism in Poland and Hungary, white nationalism among evangelical Christians in the US, Slavic and orthodox-church based nationalism in Russia, Islamic nationalism in Turkey and Indonesia and so on.
  • The idea of Hindutva or Hindu Rashtra is in the process of hijacking nationalism in India which is based on the pluralist ideas of Gandhi and Tagore.


  • Nationalism is an ideology that holds that a nation is the fundamental unit for human social life, and takes precedence over any other social and political principles. Nationalism typically makes certain political claims based upon this belief.
  • Nationalism, the ideology of the nation-state, stands for the sense of togetherness of a people in terms of ethnic, religious, linguistic, territorial, and other unities.
  • It is generally considered a secular (nonreligious) concept of Western origin.
  • Religious nationalism is therefore considered inimical to the secular state.
  • Empirical evidence reveals, however, that the relationship is complex and varies from case to case. This complexity is illustrated by the situation in South Asia where secular and religious nationalisms have long been in conflict and where both secular and religious states exist today.

Nationalism in India:

  • The second half of the 19th century witnessed he full flowering of national political consciousness and the growth of an organised national movement in India.
  • Nationalism was evolving in new areas in 1919 and, new social groups and new modes of struggle were developing.
  • The idea of satyagraha focused on the power of truth and the urgency of searching the truth. This idea imposed the power of truth and encouraged people to find the truth. He believed that physical force was not the required step to fight the colonialists.
  • Nationalist movement spreads when people from different religions and communities begin to develop a sense of collective belongingness. Through this, an identity of a nation is characterized.
  • During the Swadeshi Movement, a tri-color (red, green and yellow) flag was designed in Bengal. It had eight lotuses representing eight provinces and a crescent moon representing Hindus and Muslims.

How ideas of Gandhi and Tagore shaped pluralist India?

  • Both Gandhi and Tagore drew upon the long folk-syncretic tradition of Indian society which grew out of the layers of sediments formed by successive waves of social reform and rebellion, called the bhakti movements and against the dominance of the rigid Hindu brahminical system, extolling inter-faith tolerance and pluralism, and wanted to make that the constructive basis of Indian nationalism.
  • Gandhi Ji said that, “Free India will not be a Hindu Raj; it will be an Indian Raj, based not on the majority of any religious sect or community”.
  • Religion-based nationalism was propagated by Jinnah, and opposed by Gandhiji, was the basis of the formation of Pakistan. 
  • Gandhiji, Patel, Netaji Bose, Bhagat Singh, Vivekananda and even Ambedkar all of them were openly against the idea of Hindutva.
  • Thereby after Independence, Nehru and Ambedkar drew upon the society-centric pluralistic idea of nationalism of Gandhiji and Tagore and gave it a legal-juridical form in the Indian Constitution. 


  • The term pluralism has the basis in the principles of acceptance and diversity. It is promoted as a system for the common good of all.
  • It is a coming together with common recognition and credence to all beliefs and developments of modern social, scientific, and economic societies.
  • As pluralism functions as a system and be successful in achieving the common good, all groups have to agree to a minimal consensus regarding both shared values, which tie the different groups to society and shared rules.
  • The term religious pluralism is used in two senses:
    • Firstly, it signifies a state of religious diversity within a society, situation in which various religions exist and develop side by side.
    • Secondly, it refers to a particular kind of attitude of a believer of one religion towards other religions.

Gandhian Concept of Religious Pluralism and Secularism:

  • Gandhi’s conception of religion is primarily concerned with spiritual development.
  • It is essential not only for the countries practicing religious pluralism but also for the re-education of the human race.
  • As the world focuses its attention on materialistic civilization, Gandhi’s religious philosophy gains special significance in our age.
  • Religious Pluralism, according to Gandhi, does not include the historical or institutionalized religion because he considered them as manmade religions.
  • Gandhi propagated the essential unity of all religions and the basic unity of all humanity.
  • He believed that all religions are equal (sarva dharma samabhava); and all are to be tolerated.
  • Gandhi preached his ideals of secularism and religious tolerance throughout the nation. Gandhi wrote extensively on the need of secularism in India, and made speeches on the same all over the country.
  • Secularism, in India, helps to promote harmony in the midst of several religious faiths and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.

Conclusion:The diversity of religions in the world has been a fact throughout the history of the world’s living religious traditions. It is being increased presently, especially by migration, globalization, and geopolitical events. The indistinctiveness of the term “religious pluralism” gets its clarity depending on how the term ‘religious pluralism’ is being used and understood. An indiscriminate rejection of the notion may misguide people in the world.

However, in the name of national integration and fighting enemies, both outside and within, they undermine minority rights and procedures of democracy, they accuse liberals of appeasing the minorities (blacks and Hispanics in the US, immigrants in Europe, Kurds in Turkey, Muslims in India), and try to suppress dissent as “anti-national”.

There is need to fight the ideological battle of various versions of nationalism to safeguard the foundational values of multiculturalism in India.


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