Religon and nation-building in South Asia: A critical inquiry into state, identity, and politics

Panel organised by: Tripathi Siddarth (Universität Erfurt), Christian Wagner (SWP)

Panel description

South Asia seems to be in a tumultuous state in terms of state identity and politics. Shifts in the cartography of domestic politics in Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul, Dhaka, and Colombo have changed the parameters for nation-building in South Asia. Current developments in the region point to a markedly increased role of religion in the politics within these states, a point of continuity for some states but departure for others.

India comparatively has been a stable democracy. However, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India challenges the previous secular fabric of the country. The BJP gained majority in most of the Indian states which was followed by a stark increase in the role of religion in nation-building.

Pakistan saw several attempts in the past to mainstream religious extremist parties into the political mainstream. Therefore the challenge for the new government will be to affirm or complicate it. Military regimes in Pakistan seem to form an independent centre of power for the complicating dynamics in South Asian Politics. Bangladesh faces both similar and different challenges. Religion has begun to play a very important role in domestic politics and violence is meted out to those who have opposed fundamentalism.

In Nepal the political transition towards democracy was successful, but religious groups still propagate to re-introduce Hinduism in the constitution. Caught between China and India, it needs to find its pathway to democratic progress without having the perspective of feeling burdened with paranoiac syndrome. In Sri Lanka, the construction of state identity is an ongoing process and is constantly evolving amidst rise of Buddhist nationalism. Previously directed against the Tamils, radical Buddhist groups are increasingly targeting the Muslim minority.

The panel will look at the consequences of these developments for the prospects on nation-building and the repercussions on the security environment in South Asia. The aspect one can underline vis-à-vis challenges are mainly the interplay of state structures, religion and different regimes (military, democratic, fundamentalist/militarist) present in different countries of South Asia. The inquiry would ascertain whether true democratic regimes can be visually envisaged in such atmospherics. If so what are the factors involved, if not can we look at creative alternatives of engagement and cooperation?

Paper proposal

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