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2nd December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses


  1. Regional priorities
  2. The pernicious idea of exclusive belonging



Three years after joining the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India hosted the SCO heads of governments (HoG) meeting for the first time on Monday.


GS Paper 2:  Bilateral, Regional, Global groupings & Agreements (involving and/or affecting India)

Mains Questions:

  1. The SCO serves India’s quest for geopolitical balance and regional engagement. Comment. 15 marks
  2. A number or outside powers have entrenched themselves in Central Asia, which is a zone to interest to India. Discuss the implications, in this context, of India’s joining the Ashgabat Agreement, 2018. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • About SCO
  • Significance of SCO membership to India
  • Challenges for India at SCO
  • Way Forward

About Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

  • SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organisation. Along with BRICS, SCO is seen as an attempt by China & Russia to challenge the Western dominated global order and counterbalance the activities of United States and NATO in Central Asia.
  • Currently, SCO has 8 Member States – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan; 4 Observer States – Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia and 6 Dialogue Partners – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka.
  • It has two permanent bodies the SCO Secretariat based in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent.
  • Its driving philosophy is known as the “Shanghai Spirit” which emphasizes harmony, working by consensus, respect for other cultures, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, and non-alignment. Culture has become an important element of the SCO, attuned to the group’s search for an inclusive Eurasian identity.
_ • Moscow 
• • Bishkek 
hi na 
• Delhi 
• Beijing

Significance of SCO’s membership to India

  • Security: SCO’s main objective of working cooperatively against “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism is in consonance with India’s interests.
    • Regular participation in Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) and joint military exercises (India participated in 2018) will help enhance combat capabilities and intelligence sharing.
    • It could be a platform for bilateral negotiations with Pakistan on issues of mutual interest without bringing in bilateral disputes. It can also help India counter Pakistan propaganda on other multi-national forums like Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
    • Both Central Asian Region countries & India face serious threat from illegal drug trade emanating from ‘Golden Crescent’ of opium production (Iran-Pak-Afghan) and are also victims of illegal arms trade. SCO provides a platform for multilateral cooperation.
  • Connectivity: SCO is also a potential platform to advance India’s Connect Central Asia policy – through trade, people to people contact and cultural connect.
    • This is much in line with India’s focus on connectivity as evident India’s efforts – International North South Transport Corridor & Ashgabat Agreement, construction of Chabahar Port and setting up an air freight corridor between Kabul, Kandahar and New Delhi.
  • Economic Interests:
    • With SCO countries contributing almost 42% of the world population and 20% of the GDP, the proposed FTA with Eurasian Economic Union can provide India with a wider market base for its IT, telecommunications, banking, finance and pharmaceutical industries.
    • With cultural connect and shared history, it also has potential to boost tourism sector of the country (presently SCO countries constituted only 6% of India’s total tourists).
  • Energy & Minerals: Being closer to India geographically, mineral trade with Central Asia can entail significant cost savings. Being an energy deficient country with increasing demands, India provides an assured market for Central Asian countries and Russia.
    • SCO countries along with Iran, Azerbaijan &Turkmenistan hold some of the largest oil (~25%) and natural gas reserves (~50%) of the world. Kazakhstan is the largest producer of Uranium. Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan are important regional producers of Gold.
    • SCO Energy Club can facilitate deeper interactions between producers (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Iran) and consumers (China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan and Mongolia)
    • SCO membership could help advance talks on construction of stalled pipelines like TAPI & IPI.
  • Political significance: SCO also provides a stage to India for achieving some of its foreign policy goals
    • It will help India to play an active role in its extended neighbourhood.
    • Presence of Iran & Afghanistan as observers also makes it an important venue to discuss vital regional issues. Eurasian powers, along with China, Russia and Pakistan, are bound to play a major role in Afghanistan’s security affairs. SCO membership could help India from not being left out of the peace process.

Challenges for India at SCO

  • Trust Deficit between members like India & Pakistan and India & China can be major drag on the effectiveness of the organization.
  • China’s Belt and Road initiative: India’s position on BRI is contrary to other members, all of which have supported the initiative. Funds are being allocated for BRI projects by AIIB and NDB of which India is an active member. This could be a potential friction point.
  • Global geopolitics: The growing proximity of Russia and China and India’s attempts towards better relations with the US makes the organization vulnerable to competitive geopolitics. For instance,
    • Iran, who is an observer at SCO and a major trade partner of India, is engaged in a major conflict with US. The US sanctions has forced India to stop buying oil from Iran.
    • India’s position on Syria is at variance with the US and its regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It has supported the current regime during the ongoing conflict, while agreeing to get further involved in the reconstruction process.
  • Definition of terrorism: India’s definition of terrorism is different from the definition of SCO under RATS. For SCO, terrorism coincides with regime destabilization; whereas for India it is related to state sponsored cross border terrorism.
    • SCO’s targets are groups like East-Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Al-Qaeda, whereas groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, operational in India, do not come under the ambit of the SCO anti-terror structure.
  • Limited existing economic footprint: India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia stands at about $2 bn and with Russia about $10 bn in 2017. In contrast, China’s trade with Russia has crossed $100 bn in 2018 and stands at over $50 billion with Central Asia.
  • Other regional organizations: Proliferation of other regional undertakings – Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Greater Eurasian Partnership, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) etc. – may also pose a challenge for SCO.

Way Forward

Whether the SCO grows into a successful regional forum depends on its ability to overcome bilateral differences between its members and their respective geopolitical calculations.

  • In this situation, India needs to improve its own standing and enhance its presence in the Eurasian region. The opening of Chabahar port and entry into Ashgabat agreement should be utilized for a stronger presence in Eurasia besides a clear focus on operationalizing INSTC.
  • Consistent efforts should be made by SCO mutual trust among the member states. India’s concerns over violations of ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’ must be adequately addressed by China.
  • There should be consensus over issues like terrorism and extremism and RATS-SCO should be tasked to identify and assess the presence of major terrorist groups throughout the SCO region.


Shanghai Five

  • After the end of Cold War, China sought to establish security cooperation with Central Asian states to prevent Uighurs of Central Asia & Xinjiang province in China to create unrest together.
  • Hence, a group called ‘Shanghai–5’ (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia & Tajikistan) was established in 1996 to undertake confidence building measures & demilitarize borders.
  • In 2001, Uzbekistan joined the grouping & it was renamed as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).



The idea that each human being belongs to only one religious or linguistic community, a single culture or a unique civilization appears to be ubiquitous.


GS Paper 1: Salient features of Indian Society; Diversity of India;

Mains Questions

  1. The spirit tolerance and love is not only an interesting feature of Indian society from very early times, but it is also playing an important part at the present. Elaborate. 15 marks
  2. Exclusive belonging erases the multiplicity and fluidity necessary for self-development and cultural growth. Explain. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Topic:

  • What is diversity?
  • What are the types of diversity in India?
  • What is the importance of diversity in India?
  • Factors Leading to Unity Amidst Diversity in India
  • What are the threats of diversity in India?
  • Way forward

Diversity in India

The diversity definition refers to the existence of variations of different characteristics in a group of people. These characteristics could be everything that makes us unique, such as our cognitive skills and personality traits, along with the things that shape our identity (e.g. race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, cultural background).

India is a plural society both in letter and spirit. It is rightly characterized by its unity and diversity. A grand synthesis of cultures, religions and languages of the people belonging to different castes and communities has upheld its unity and cohesiveness despite multiple foreign invasions.

National unity and integrity have been maintained even through sharp economic and social inequalities have obstructed the emergence of egalitarian social relations. It is this synthesis which has made India a unique mosque of cultures. Thus, India present seemingly multicultural situation within in the framework of a single integrated cultural whole.

  • The term ‘diversity’ emphasizes differences rather than inequalities. It means collective differences, that is, differences which mark off one group of people from another. These differences may be of any sort: biological, religious, linguistic etc. Thus, diversity means variety of races, of religions, of languages, of castes and of cultures.
  • Unity means integration. It is a social psychological condition. It connotes a sense of one-ness, a sense of we-ness. It stands for the bonds, which hold the members of a society together.

Unity in diversity essentially means “unity without uniformity” and “diversity without fragmentation”. It is based on the notion that diversity enriches human interaction. When we say that India is a nation of great cultural diversity, we mean that there are many different types of social groups and communities living here. These are communities defined by cultural markers such as language, religion, sect, race or caste.

What are the types of diversity in India?

  • Physical features diversity: India is diverse not only in terms of its people but also geographically. The northern part of the country homes the largest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas, that is covered with snow throughout the year.
    • The Himalayas is the source of plenty of major Indian rivers like Ganga, Indus, Yamuna and more.
    • The western part of the country boasts the vastness and magnificence of the Thar Desert.
    • The southern part of the country has the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea to add to its charm.
  • Racial diversity: India has a diverse group of people with a set of distinctive physical features which categorizes them into a particular race. The grouping is based on plenty of features such as skin colour, the form of hair, type of eyes or nose, and more. These features are distinctive and inherited characteristics. e.g. The Negrito’, The Proto-Australoid, The Mongoloids, The Mediterranean or Dravidian, The Western Brachyphals, The Nordic.
  • Religious diversity: India is a land of multiple religions. Apart from the tribal societies, many of whom still live in the pre-religious state of animism and magic, the Indian population consists of the Hindus (82.41%), Muslims (11.6%), Christians (2.32%), Sikhs (1.99%), Buddhists (0.77%) and Jains (0.41%).
  • Linguistic diversity: Languages spoken in India belong to several language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 75% of Indians and the Dravidian languages spoken by 20% of Indians. Other languages belong to the Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai, and a few other minor language families and isolates. India has the world’s second highest number of languages, after Papua New Guinea.
  • Caste diversity: India is a country of castes. The term caste has been used to refer to both varna as well as jati. Varna is the four-fold division of society according to functional differentiation. Thus, the four varnas include Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras and an outcaste group. Whereas Jati refers to a hereditary endogamous status group practicing a specific traditional occupation.
  • Cultural diversity: Cultural patterns reflect regional variations. Because of population diversity, there is immense variety in Indian culture as it is a blend of various cultures. Different religion, castes, regions follow their own tradition and culture. Thus, there is variation in art, architecture, dance forms, theatre forms, music etc.

In addition to the above described major forms of diversity, India also has diversity of many other types like that of settlement patterns – tribal, rural, urban; marriage and kinship patterns along religious and regional lines and so on.

What is the importance of diversity in India?

Diversity recognizes and appreciates the distinct characteristics of an individual or a social unit or a community as a whole. It exists in the form of age, colour, religion, gender, ethnicity, physical appearance, place, language and many other factors. Diversity is important in the following ways:

  • It provides the culture with perspectives and aspects which contributes to the development of the country as a whole.
  • Offer a blend of uniqueness not only in religion or beliefs but also in practices and various other things.
  • Melts down a pot of cultures, traditions and religions and carry the potential to make a change for the better.
  • Enhances the social development of individuals and develops an increased understanding of the world.
  • Enables individuals to come together and make a strong and beautiful community rich in cultures and practices.
  • Promotes the values of tolerance and true acceptance for each other in the people.

Factors Leading to Unity Amidst Diversity in India

  • Constitutional identity: The entire country is governed by one single Constitution. Even, most of the states follow a generalised scheme of 3-tier government structure, thus imparting uniformity in national governance framework . Further, the Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to all citizens regardless of their age, gender, class, caste, religion, etc.
  • Religious co-existence: Religion tolerance is the unique feature of religions in India due to which multiple religions co-exist in India. Freedom of religion and religious practice is guaranteed by the Constitution itself. Moreover, there is no state religion and all religions are given equal preference by the state.
  • Inter-State mobility: The Constitution guarantees freedom to move throughout the territory of India under Article 19 (1) (d), thus promoting a sense of unity and brotherhood among the masses.
  • Other factors such as uniform pattern of law, penal code, administrative works (e.g. All India services) too lead to uniformity in the criminal justice system, policy implementation etc.
  • Economic integration: The Constitution of India secures the freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse within the Territory of India under Article 301. Further, the Goods and Service Tax(GST) have paved way for ‘one country, one tax, one national market’, thus facilitating unity among different regions.
  • Institution of pilgrimage and religious practices : In India, religion and spirituality have great significance. . From Badrinath and Kedarnath in the north to Rameshwaram in the south, Jagannath Puri in the east to Dwaraka in the west the religious shrines and holy rivers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Closely related to them is the age-old culture of pilgrimage, which has always moved people to various parts of the country and fostered in them a sense of geo-cultural unity.
  • Fairs and festivals: They also act as integrating factors as people from all parts of the country celebrate them as per their own local customs. E.g. Diwali is celebrated throughout by Hindus in the country, similarly Id and Christmas are celebrated by Muslims and Christians, respectively. Celebration of inter-religious festivals is also seen in India.
  • Climatic integration via monsoon: The flora and fauna in the entire Indian subcontinent, agricultural practices, life of people, including their festivities revolve around the monsoon season in India.
  • Sports and Cinema: These are followed by millions in the country, thus, acting as a binding force across the length and breadth of India.

What are the threats of diversity in India?

Along with having plenty of positive notes and important aspects of diversity, everything has its negative side too. In certain ways, diversity can pose a threat or problems at smaller or larger levels which is as follows:

  • Regionalism: Regionalism tends to highlight interests of a particular region/regions over national interests. It can also adversely impact national integration. Law and order situation is hampered due to regional demands and ensuing agitation.
  • Divisive politics: Sometimes, ascriptive identities such as caste, religion etc. are evoked by politicians in order to garner votes. This type of divisive politics can result in violence, feeling of mistrust and suspicion among minorities.
  • Development imbalance: Uneven pattern of socio-economic development, inadequate economic policies and consequent economic disparities can lead to backwardness of a region. Consequently, this can result in violence, kickstart waves of migration and even accelerate demands of separatism.. For instance, due to economic backwardness of the North East region, several instances of separatist demands and secessionist tendencies have sprung up in the region.
  • Ethnic differentiation and nativism: Ethnic differentiation has often led to clashes between different ethnic groups especially due to factors such as job competition, limited resources, threat to identity etc. E.g. frequent clashes between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam. This has been accentuated by son of the soil doctrine, which ties people to their place of birth and confers some benefits, rights, roles and responsibilities on them, which may not apply to others.
  • Geographical isolation: Geographical isolation too can lead to identity issues and separatist demands. The North-East is geographically isolated from the rest of the country as it is connected with the rest of the country by a narrow corridor i.e. the Siliguri corridor (Chicken’s neck). The region has inadequate infrastructure, is more backward economically as compared to the rest of the country. As a result, it has witnessed several instances of separatism and cross-border terrorism, among others.
  • Inter-religious conflicts: Inter-religious conflicts not only hamper relations between two communities by spreading fear and mistrust but also hinder the secular fabric of the country.
  • Inter-state conflicts: This can lead emergence of feelings related to regionalism. It can also affect trade and communications between conflicting states. For instance, Cauvery river dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Influence of external factors: Sometimes external factors such as foreign organizations terrorist groups, extremist groups can incite violence and sow feelings of separatism. E.g. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of supporting and training mujahideen to fight in Jammu and Kashmir and sow separatist tendencies among resident groups.

In-spite of the challenges posed by diversity, there can be no doubt on the role played by sociocultural diversity in sustaining and developing Indian society.

Way Forward

Problem is not of diversity per se, but the handling of diversity in India society. The problems of regionalism, communalism, ethnic conflicts etc. have arisen because the fruits of development haven’t been distributed equally or the cultures of some groups haven’t been accorded due recognition. Hence, Constitution and its values must form guiding principles of our society. Any society which has tried to homogenize itself, has witnessed stagnation in due-course and ultimately decline. The most important example is this case is of Pakistan which tried to impose culture on East-Pakistan ultimately leading to creation of Bangladesh.

June 2024