The concept of Ethnic Identity and the resulting Politics is a somewhat recent development. History is full of examples where certain ethnic group got together and won over other ethnic groups for exploiting and snatching the assets of the other group. The battle for supremacy has exploited the ethnic ties in groups for their own benefit. The American Civil War – as is evident today – is a variation of this type of conflict.
The crusades undertaken by Christians – however unchristian that may be – is also coming under this category. Today the politicians are roping in ethnic groups to strengthen their rank and file so that they can exploit the number game of today. The invasion of India by Babur, the first Moghul Emperor, was an ethnic groups’ invasion of a foreign land where the things needed by the group were available. The Moghul Empire, after a shaky start, lasted out for a few centuries.
Hence, the fact Ethnic psychology played a significant role in shaping the history of the world is common knowledge. However, there must be something more in these group affiliations which is beyond religion, caste, creed or even culture.
This paper examines the possibility of some basic reasons like economics, common threats, recurring frustrations or uncertainty factors which evolve an ethnic group and their contribution for stimulating political activities.
Every ethnic group shares not only a culture, religion, caste system etc but they also face certain common hostilities, frustrations and drawbacks which they want to overcome. These days there is no way other than politics by which they can make their statement heard and acknowledged by the concerned people. In the past whenever there was any common threat to a group they combined under an umbrella which later came to be called an ethnic group. In most of the cases it was religion but fact remains the group maintained solidarity by some thread only to fight against the threat facing them.
There have been a number of ‘terrorist attacks’ all around the globe and in almost all these cases the roots are traceable to certain factions of a religion. The threats faced by these groups are numerous but it cannot be denied that the ethnicity factor had become dormant and the political ambition has become dominant.
A case in point is that of the Gorkhas in the eastern part of India. It is well known that the Gorkhas are Mongoloid in origin but as far as religion goes most of them are either Hindus or Buddhists. They have an identity of their own but are supposed to play a secondary role in the body politic of India in general and West Bengal in particular.
They claim to be affiliated to certain tribes and have been living in the remote hilly area for generations. Some clans are traceable to Chine uplands and are just not compatible to the society and culture of the main land India.
These people, who have earned distinction by their services under the Royal British Army, have a very gallant regiment under the Indian Army. They are known to be very tough and brave in all assignments they are given. Yet they have started feeling that, outside the Indian Armed Forces, they are being deprived of their rightful claim to all the facilities due to them. As far as education goes they are not given any preference, all the important jobs in their home country of Darjeeling and adjoining areas are being given to the main land people.
Thus they are now demanding that they should be giving a separate state under the Indian Constitution where they will be able to protect the interest of the hill people.
This is a glaring example of ethnic politics. This ethnic group is trying to maintain its identity by resorting to politics whereby they are trying to protect the interest of the ethnic Gorkhas. In the past they have used all the means available to them – strikes, non-cooperation, work stoppages and even violence in many cases so that their demands are at least heard if not met. The situation has become so serious that the tourist traffic to the hills has plummeted to the rock bottom causing great harm to the state’s exchequer.
However for the last forty years they have been given no consideration at all and the successive state governments have only made a mockery of their demands. Tall promises have been made but not a single action has been initiated for addressing their demands – most of which are towards protecting the rights of the ethnic Gorkha.
The cultural background of the Gorkha people is significantly different from that of the main land population. Their way of life, social bonding and group affiliation has ensured that they project themselves as a different lot and therefore the ethnic political actions have created a significant impact on the total nation. People all over the country have slowly but surely started realising that the Gorkha people have a point to state.
The major political parties are trying to woo their support in gaining advantage and clout in all local elections and other related issues. Thus they are now on the threshold making a big impact on the Indian political scene.
Due to their geographical location they cannot think of going with the Chinese set up and the Indian politics has been dragging its feet in giving them their rightful claim. The ethnic identity has led to a significant polarisation of the political forces and may be in some occasion in the not too distant a future the identity of the Gorkhas are accepted and accommodated in the body politic of the Indian sub continent.
When this long awaited eventuality takes shape it will once again vindicate the thinking that ethnic identity has a significant role to play in the political ambience of a place. The present day Gorkha movement is a clear validation of the existence of ethnic identity influence on the political development of an area.
It may once again be recalled that the visible and manifested problems of the Gorkha people are just an expression of their frustration and anger at being deprived of the due facilities which is their rightful claim. The ethnic display of social bonds, cultural affinities and religious leanings are all but a manifestation of basically economic factors. This has been mobilised into an ethnic identity for influencing the politics of the place.
The involvement of ethnic issues into creating any political identity is as old as history. However the truth is that the form and feel of such identity Politics on ethnic grounds has undergone a metamorphosis over time. The social, political, cultural, and racial aspects are all traceable to some common threat and frustration faced by the people. Such instances are countless in all countries but the issue of Gorkha people fighting to have their home land (on which certain knowledgeable write-ups were available) was chosen to highlight the main issues in the ethnic identity in politics.
Here also the underlying reason for such consolidation of peoples will, could be traced to essentially economic and deprivation issues. Thus so long there are reasons to feel frustrated people will unite – amongst others – under the ethnic identity and try to wrench out political advantage from the authorities. Crowding under the ethnic banner for an identity and visibility will continue to be a dominant force in shaping the political situation of the world in the days to come.