The Hindutva Paradigm : Integral Humanism and the Quest for a Non-Western Worldview
|Genre||Non-Fiction; History; Civilization; Philosophy; Political Theory; Economics|
|Release Date||4th October, 2021|
India, a continuously breathing civilization, has been home to innumerable ideas for the betterment of not only mankind but creation as a whole. It has asserted the desire to accept philosophies over ideologies and therefore didn’t produce any ideologues alike Karl Marx or Mill, but outlived great men propounding deep philosophical ideas in Mahavira, Buddha, Vivekananda etc., and the sages and savants continuously inspired and influenced humanity across history and geography.
Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay is another such philosopher that this great nation fostered. Upadhyay’s Integral Humanism, or as in Dattopant Thengadi’s (a veteran Sangh leader) terminology (considering the all-exclusive nature of ‘ism”, that doesn’t amalgamate into Hindu Philosophy) – Ekatm Manav Darshan, translatable in English as Integral Humanist Thought or Integral Humanist Philosophy is one such open and inclusive idea that our civilization could cater.
The idea of the Integral Humanist thought was conceptually presented through a series of 4 lectures back then in 1965. The celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the Integral Humanism Lectures in 2015 and the Birth Centenary of Pandit Upadhyay in 2016-17 ushered Integral Humanism back into limelight. The close association of the author – Ram Madhav’s family to Deendayal Upadhyay and his legacy, the poor status quo with respect to the number of studies on the subject as compared to other philosophies, and the quest for furthering the thought into academia, acted as primary reasons for the author to channelize his deliberations into this very book titled – ‘The Hindutva Paradigm – Integral Humanism and the Quest for a Non-Western Worldview’.
Ram Madhav is an Indian politician who served as the National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is a member of the National Executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has authored Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after Fifty Years of the War (2014) and Because India Comes First: Reflections on Nationalism, Identity and Culture (2020). [ref]
This book contains 15 chapters and a concluding essay in the form of an epilogue. The first three essays deal with the life of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, the political situation of the country during that period and the summary of the Integral Humanism lectures of 1965 respectively. The remaining twelve chapters deal with various aspects of the Integral Humanist philosophy where the author has attempted to look at his ideas from the prism of western philosophical doctrines and contested many western ideas in its light. The author claims this book as his humble attempt to provide Integral Humanism a 21st Century interpretation.
Chapter 1 - Deen Dayal Upadhyay : The Man
The first chapter as the aforementioned suggests discusses the life of Deendayal. It starts with a prima facie introduction to the origination of the RSS as a movement based on a strong organizational edifice incorporating all the nobler aspects of popular Hinduism. The RSS veterans from Dr. Hedgewar to Guruji Golwalkar to incumbent Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, all having a qualified and learned background shaped the intellectual scaffolding philosophically of the organization, but never attempted to propound a separate ideology for the same. Deen Dayal was born to a lower-middle class family in Uttar Pradesh. Fate was unlucky to orphan him at a young age of 8, which forced him to live a nomadic life, changing houses frequently. Finally, he found a home in the RSS, associating himself to the Sangh in Kanpur.
Dr. Hedgewar left for the heavenly abode in 1940, passing on the baton of Sangh’s leadership to the 35-year-old spiritually inclined academic - Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. 1942 proved itself to be a year of turbulence for the country. The Quit India Movement gained momentum while Netaji’s Azad Hind Fauj launched an armed struggle for freedom. The time was ripe of Guru Golwalkar to call upon youngsters to join the RSS as full time Pracharaks (full time functionary of the RSS, often described as sanyasis who serve the society save for the orange robe) to serve the country. Thus started the journey of Deen Dayal, with he being one among them until his demise. The author has also thrown light on the concept and life of a Pracharak especially during the struggling years of the Sangh as an institution.
Independence brought with itself the horrors of partition. The Indic principle of unity in diversity or ‘anekta me ekta’ dithered and the Indian Leadership displayed a general lack of conviction to stand up the divisive challenge of separating on religious lines. The Congress under Nehru was willing to reconcile with the aftermath of the two-nation theory and was preparing to build a new, secular nation. The death of Gandhi and Sardar Patel left Nehru as the sole inheritor of the Congress Party. Nehru wished independent India to emulate the European ideas and institutions. But several freedom fighters had different ideas about the future of India. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, a Hindu Mahasabhaite-turned-Congressman walked out of Nehru’s cabinet and approached the RSS leadership for the support of his fledging political outfit – The Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Guruji Golwalkar while making an analogy of the non-political RSS and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh with parallel rail tracks said that both would never separate but would also never merge, and encouraged important Pracharaks to work for the new political outfit, with Deen Dayal being among those assigned the task, beginning his political career that lasted for 17 years. In the very first session of the Jana Sangh in December 1951, Deen Dayal was appointed as the General Secretary of the party.
Syama Prasad Mukherjee passed away while in detention in Srinagar. The then 37 years old Deen Dayal was practically without any political experience. The responsibility of building up and guiding the nascent political party fell on his shoulders. The relentless hard work by the RSS-inspired young leaders in Jana Sangh, under Deen Dayal’s guidance, had resulted in firmly establishing the party in a few years’ time. The party though did not perform encouragingly in the first general elections, but was able to manage to be recognized as a National Party. The Jana Sangh could not register any spectacular electoral victories in the first decade of its existence. But the fact remained that under Deen Dayal’s leadership, the Jana Sangh was laying firm foundations for its long-term growth.
Deen Dayal believed that politics must not be seen just as a means for capturing power. He would always insist on practicing value based and principled politics. The centre thrust of his politics was national interest. He used the initial years to lay strong moral and ethical foundations for the new party. He would educate the cadres about democracy, value-based politics, national interest and threats from alien ideologies like Communism. The cadre would be encouraged to work with dedication and devotion, not for any short-term gains for the party but for securing the long-term interests of the country. Deen Dayal also started framing a code of conduct for elected members of his party. He was categorically opposed to party hopping and defections. Forging a political alliance with parties with contrasting ideologies was also considered immoral and unethical by him.
However, this steadfastness of Deen Dayal's idealism has to give way to pragmatism in the later years. He realized that national interest can also become a catalyst for ideologically disparate parties to come together. Towards the end of 1967, Deen Dayal became the party's choice in taking over as the president of the party, replacing Balraj Madhok. But the arrangement was short-lived. In just a couple of months after becoming president, he was found dead by the side of the railway track near Mughal Sarai station in Uttar Pradesh on 11 February, 1968. He was just 52 at the time of his death. Incidentally, Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee too was just 52 at the time of his demise. [ref]
Chapter 2 - Twentieth Century : 100 Years of Political Tumult
This Chapter very broadly takes stock of the evolving political developments through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, both at the structural as well as the ideological levels; and situates India’s many competing political narratives within that global churning.
It was the Enlightenment phase in Europe which spawned a new social reality founded along the ideas of freedom, rule of law, human rights, etc. States sought to locate their ‘national identity’ in line with these modern values. The nationalism of a liberal hue, dyed along with democracy was understood as the dominant ideal for state formation and governance. Western liberal democratic nationalism assumed pre-eminence. However, this conception of social organization and nationhood rested on somewhat weak foundations and gave way to more crude ideas of nationalism by the early decades of the twentieth century; the earlier liberal democratic variant growing increasingly unsustainable with the socio-economic pressures of the post-War years. The nationalism that emerged had a distinctive ethnic/cultural basis, and reflected no real respect for political and individual freedoms. Leaders like Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy came to command absolute authority and led their nations into a radically undemocratic direction. This being the case for much of Western Europe,
Eastern Europe presented another model of socio-political realignment Communism. The Bolsheviks had relegated Tsarist Russian institutions to the dustbins of history, and a complete refashioning of the social landscape was underway. The Soviet Union was actually translating Marx’s ideas into practical action, a hitherto unthinkable state-of-affairs. Fascism and Communism appeared as challengers on the scene, and coupled with the Great Depression of the 1930s, started making ‘liberal democracy’ look as a bankrupt idea whose days were numbered and few.
Both fascism and communism unfortunately did not stand the test of time, and for the most part did not realize the aspirations of their constituent populations, descending quicky into systems of ‘organized barbarism’. People were treated in the most inhumane and brutal manner possible, and the facade of a new transformative world was exposed. The answer to these twin failures then was thought to be a multipolar global order, and multilateralism as an idea gained in currency. The instituting of The League of Nations and the United Nations Organization can be looked upon as indicative of this new vision governed by international solidarity. All of this posturing remained only in name. The lived actuality of the period in question was by no means one of global cooperation, but rather that of the intensive competition synonymous with the Cold War. The World came to divided along the Capitalist/American and the Socialist/Soviet camps. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union collapsed out of its own internal contradictions and the debate over the primacy of one statesystem over the other appeared to have been settled. The great American historian and political theorist Francis Fukuyama went as far as to proclaim the ‘endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution, and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’ As the experience of the last few decades has shown us, this imagined liberal democratic magnanimity is not without its own faults, and bodies like the UN are observed to be floating in irrelevance. The economic and otherwise rise of Asia and the Middle East has changed many basic assumptions of an America-led liberal world order.
Protectionism is on the rise the world over, and populist tendencies are gaining traction the world over. Nationalism, even if of an improvised nature, is undoubtedly making a grand comeback.
With all of this dynamism sweeping through the world, how did India respond to this changing environment? How did India’s trajectory as a nation evolve with respect to these global trends? and is there a distinctively Indic approach to looking at political structure and ideology? It is these imperative questions that the author tackles head on in the subsequent sections of the chapter, outlining a Bharatiya vision for state formulation, and showing how only a political arrangement founded on the principles of India’s indigenous cultural ethos can be reasonably expected to succeed in some measure in a nation of as great peculiarity as ours. India’ s ancient philosophical conviction of ‘Krinvanto Vishwamaryam - Let us Ennoble the World’ was reignited from around the late nineteenth century by scholars, politicians and thought-leaders of nationalist persuasions.
As India achieved independence after almost a millennium of imperial subjugation, many saw in it the rebirth of ancient Bharat, and imagined India to lead the world out of the abyss of destruction and darkness that had engulfed it. Only India had the unmatched spiritual energy to sustain a purpose for all of humanity. Sri Aurobindo, one of the time’s greatest scholar-thinkers delineated the profound moral standing of India in the emerging world order. He observed that an Indian Renaissance was building and that its culmination would fill all the world with both spiritual reawakening as well as unimaginable material splendor. Swami Vivekananda, another towering visionary from the period too contributed significantly to this newly constructed consciousness. He identified the mission of Indian nationalism as to recover Indian thought, character, energy, India’s lost greatness and to apply that greatness to solve the problems plaguing humanity in an Indian spirit from an Indian standpoint. The understanding of India as the ‘Jagat Janani- Universal Mother’ was rekindled.
Many in India’s political class too reflected upon this theme, and internalized the message, most notably that father-figure of Indian Nationalism- Gandhiji. Gandhi recognized the national sentiment of India as one aimed at wholesale global welfare, and sought to invent novel political methods drawing from ideas and practices native to the land. Satyagraha and Ahimsa are as much signifiers of the Indian people’s empathetic sensibility as they are Gandhi’s individual politicalintellectual adventures. Gandhi introduced a lot of scriptural messaging and religious symbolism into his politics, seeking to relate political demands to the everyday life of ordinary Indians. This was one of the cornerstones of the spectacular political success he was to enjoy. Independent India’s political class for the most part suffered from a rather unfortunate bipolarity, that can be perhaps, more easily constructed around the twin dominant personalities of Gandhi and Nehru. While Gandhi placed his confidence on India’s villages for his swaraj, and looked upon self-sustaining rural economies to power the nation’s rise, Nehru sought to model India’s growth journey along the lines of socialist states. Nehru, understandably was heavily influenced by European ideas, and not really confident of investing the project of nation-building drawing from native traditions. He was an avowed socialist almost enamored by the progress the then Soviet Union claimed to have made, and as India’s first and arguably most powerful prime minister he was instrumental in hurtling the country’s destiny towards a future founded on industrialization and state control of resources. With critics of a downright socialist approach like Gandhi and Sardar Patel no longer around he faced no real opposition, except occasional rebuttals from other socialists like Acharya Narendra Dev and Dr Lohia. While all of this continued in the mainstream, another movement was fast developing.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s founding in 1925 had triggered a new civilizational reawakening amongst India’s disparate social mass, and birthed leaders like Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Balraj Madhok and others, who with their Jan Sangh were outlining a much more culturally-rooted and socio-economically coherent logic for India’s national regeneration. Though they were inspired by the core RSS vision of Hindu Rashtra, and partly Savarkar’s Hindutva, the Jana Sangh, from its very inception, presented and articulated a pan-Indian vision using contemporary vocabulary. Jana Sangh believed in cultural nationalism and the existence of Bharat as a nation from time immemorial. Deen Dayal would consistently use words like Bharatiya and Dharma in place of India, thus underscoring the fact that his party was based on ideals different from Western ones, and championed an alternative socio-political philosophy. The Jana Sangha rejected both socialism and capitalism, and looked to chart a new course for the country inspired by Dharma, other than the Nehruvian ideology, the dominant theme of the first two decades of independent India. [ref]
Chapter 3 – The Four Lectures
Deendayal Upadhyaya’s 4 lectures in April 1965 led to the conceptualization of ‘Integral Humanism’ that continues to be an influential doctrine. These lectures were addressed to the Jana Sangh cadres in Mumbai. He heavily drew from the wisdom of ancient Indian scriptures and traditions, making his idea more a philosophical school of thought than any ideology. Jacques Maritain was a French philosopher who wrote ‘Integral Humanism’ in 1936 and ‘Man and State’ in 1951. Deendayal Upadhyay approached this issue from an Indian perspective. He strongly believed that true independence exists in the freedom to make autonomous choices in individual, social and religious life.
In his first lecture, he drew attention to the pervasive influence of Western thought on Indian consciousness, something that he believed had to be overcome. He advocated a discarding of thoughtless imitation of the West. While western science was certainly to be respected, western thought must never be construed as ‘universal’. There was immense ideological confusion reigning in the West, as could be surmised by the continual exploitation of individuals in spite of a democratic ethos. Deendayal Upadhyay stridently argued that Indian thought had a lot to offer to the world, and Indians must invest their time understanding their own culture.
In his second lecture, Upadhyay argued that every country evolves ideas in accordance with its own context, and thus it cannot for the cultural basis for events elsewhere. Culture in his view formed the basis for independence, and the fundamental difference between Indian and western thought was the former’s integral approach to life. Indian culture looks at life as an integrated whole, rather than in compartments, as is the wont of the West. Every part of the society must work in synthesis in order for it to function harmoniously. While diversity and plurality are certainly accepted, an underlying unity is also traced. Thus, the unity of all life is given salience. Upadhyay calls notions like ‘survival of the fittest’ as western and compartmentalised. These were the ideas that contributed to the conflictual character of Wesetern society, whereas in India, the root cause of conflict is addressed because of the emphasis on unity. Unlike conventional ideas of India focusing purely on spiritual growth, the body is also given due importance.
The body is the primary instrument to discharge dharmic responsibilities. However, satisfaction of bodily needs cannot be the sole aim of our efforts. The body is only an ‘instrument’ to attain more lofty goals. The four ‘purusharthas’ underscore the importance of all activities being pursued keeping dharma as the foundation and moksha as the ultimate end.
In his third lecture, Upadhyaya distinguished between Western and Indian societies, by criticizing the ‘Contract theory’ that evolved in Western democracies that considered groups of individuals to have been brought into being by individuals through an agreement among themselves. However, like individuals, nations too have souls. There is a core idea that engenders the formation of any nation, and this idea in turn becomes the soul of the nation. In the Indian context, this core idea can be called its ‘Chiti’. Krishna killing his uncle Kamsa or Pandavas killing their own brothers on the battlefield can be justified as righteous only on the basis of this Chiti. Like a body has a prana which is its life force, the nation too has a Virat that is the manifestation of the Chiti of the nation.
A strong democracy and an integral society can only be imagined when the Virat is strong. Thus, a nation and society are self-born entities, a state is simply an institution that evolves because of this character of a nation. State is definitely a key institution but it has never been the centre of Indian national life. The phenomenal contributions of Chanakya, Vidyaranya Swami and Nana Phadnavis stand testament to how the state does in many ways shape the nation and its governance.
Upadhyaya highlighted the harmony between man, society, state and nature- all four integrated in India. The problem with Western thought was that it looked at all four as separate entities. In India, dharma is the pivot linking together all these units. Dharma is a manifestation of the nation’s chitti, and is a repository of the nation’s soul. However, dharma must not be conflated with religion, it is a much wider concept. It essentially implies a way of life that sustains the chitti of a nation. Upadhyaya pitched for a unitary, rather than federal system of government. This doesn’t come at the expense of local communities, which remained important, but the king remained pre-eminent. The state’s primary task is to ensure that rules of dharma are observed. A dharma rajya is supposed to ensure religious freedom, but all actions should correspond with the Chiti of the nation.
Upadhayay’s economic ideas were also novel. The economic system must help in the flowering of human qualities. He underscored the limitations of both the capitalist as well as the communist systems. While capitalism was woven around the idea of owners of industries appropriating all profits, communism implied the irreconcilable differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Such approaches are compartmentalized at their very core, and Upadhyaya believed that a dharma rajya looked beyond these ideas. In his view, education and health were to be imparted free of cost. Such basic needs should be provided to every citizen. The capital for such an initiative can be ensured if ever able-bodied citizen of the country is given a job. This way, there will be sufficient resources for economic growth as well as ensure social equity.
The centralization and monopolization of production totally undermine the influence of the consumer, and in Upadhyaya’s view, the capitalist system has destroyed all individuality- rendering it incapable to facilitate the development of an integral human being. Socialists and Marxists simply transferred such monopolistic control from the hands of capitalist to the state. In a communist state, in the name of crushing counter-revolutionaries, the state ends up becoming more and more totalitarian.
Thus, he argues that the objective of the Indian system should be to aim at progress and happiness of an integral man. Man must realize his innate greatness and encouraged to attain divine heights. He summarized his objectives for an economic system in two terms: Swadeshi and decentralization. Thus, while concluding his four-day lecture series, Upadhyay suggested that ideas like nationalism, democracy socialism and world peace have to be reconciled with Bharatiya culture and its values. This can herald ‘integral humanism’. [ref]
Chapter 4 – Nationalism, Communism and Fascism in Twentieth-Century Europe
According to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, India with its rich civilizational history and a long experience of nationhood, need not imitate West whose ideologies were products of a very brief civilizational experience and were reeking with contradictions. These ideologies, be it communism/socialism or capitalism, thrive on centralization of power which is against the natural inclination of Indian genius towards decentralization as well as the idea of democracy.
Europe has been acquainted with the concept of nation-states for merely two centuries. Nation-states like UK and USA have not yet been able to forge a common identity. While the former suffers from disintegrative attitudes of its constituents, the core identity of latter is vague and as articulated by Samuel Huntington, under significant erosion in the past few decades. Thus, the European perspectives are based upon fragile and short-lived models.
European nationalism, in its early stages, was based on religious identities and acquired a secular flavor later with the advent of democratic polities. As the longsustained religious unity of Europe with Roman Papacy at the top was shattered during Reformation and the rulers were made sovereigns over their respective territories (Treaty of Westphalia), the era of nation-states can be said to have begun. The conflicts too played a key role in hardening of the identities. Even today, the European Union, organization of 29 nations, is limited to political spheres only and its every attempt to infringe into political realm is met with severe opposition.
European definitions of Nationalism vary greatly. From the ‘enlightenment’ ideal of territorial sovereignty to the later cultural dimensions to ‘ethno-political’ or ‘ethno-cultural’ states of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the theoretical and conceptual elements of nationalism have witnessed significant shifts. Scholars like SN Balgangadhar saw this phenomenon as rooted in Christianity. The elitist concerns of profit-making and the emergence of mass-politics on the addled background of rising economic disparities and Great economic depression had created a world of turmoil with two world wars accentuating the fiasco. It was here, when liberal democracies were struggling against totalitarian ideologies that Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya intervened with his integral humanist thought as a quintessential Indian response to this global confusion. Recognizing the insufficiency of both capitalist-democratic and socialist models for India, Deendayal Upadhyaya strove to work out an Indian alternative which could synthesize these two.
Capitalism, a by-product of Liberalism, eroded the kinship ties and communal structures and brought with it, not merely economic prosperity and rule of law but also social and psychological insecurity that resulted from the loss of traditional institutions. Selfishness peaked, demagogues appeared in hosts and the zenith of woes was reached during the great depression that, an obvious consequence of unbridled capitalism, seemed like an ‘end of Civilization’ to many and created a vacuum where people had to turn to totalitarian ideologies.
Liberalism, the precursor to capitalist attitudes, started as an ideology to protect and project the interests of aristocratic class. Its economic correlate was laissezfaire system whose earliest proponents like Frederik Bastiat strove to restrict the State interference in economy at all costs, even if it meant the impoverishment of poor, who suffered, according to these thinkers, due to their own ‘laziness and irresponsibility.’ Their ideas, like opposition of universal adult suffrage and support of colonialism for its civilizing mission’ were quixotic and absurd. Europe gave two responses to this ideology- Fascism or radical national socialism and a much more well-articulated model of Communism or international socialism.
Communism, pioneered by Marx and Engels, proposed a perpetual conflict between two vertical divisions- haves and have nots, which would only end with the coming of ‘Proletarian Dictatorship.’ It was under the regime of Lenin following October Revolution of 1917 in Russia that the world first witnessed a proper implementation of this ideology. Democracy, freedom and equality were all denounced as bourgeoises constructs, and all means were justified to achieve the communist objectives. This Leninist communist project, bloodier than that of Nazis, brutally exterminated millions (nine million according to Timothy Schnyder), suppressed ruthlessly the individuality of man, gagged freedom of speech and dissent and established an iron dictatorship. At its peak, almost 40 countries were under its spell. But owing to its inflexible nature and indemonstrably inhumane dictatorial attitudes, it could not last. Communist states started collapsing in 80s and major blow came with the disintegration of USSR in 1990s. Today it survives in just a handful of countries like Vietnam and China and in pockets of some others like Maoists in India.
Instead of the dictatorship of party that was characteristic communism, dictatorship of individual became the hallmark of fascism which strangled Italy and Germany after first world war. Both the nations, allegedly wronged by Treaty of Versailles, were led by Demagogues who considered themselves indispensable, abolished democratic institutions, stifled liberty and purged their opponents ruthlessly. These dictators, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, committed crimes of monstrous proportions, especially the latter who, infatuated by his theory of racial superiority of pure blood Germans, was guilty of murdering more than 6 million Jews. He, in his drive for territorial expansion or what he called Lebensraum, invaded Poland and sparked off the second World War.
The friction between European ideologies lasted decades after the second World War in the form of Cold war and engulfed the entire world including India. Deendayal Upadhyaya, a careful observer of these gruesome events, concluded that if India were to progress, she shall have to forge a new model on the sturdy foundations of her long civilizational experience. [ref]
Chapter 5 - Rashtram : The Indian Concept of Nationhood
After Independence, pondering upon the tumult in the country, leaders including Nehru and Ambedkar preferred making a secular nation-state out of a newly independent and partitioned India, while rejecting the Gandhian idea of India as a cultural nation. British propaganda that India was not a nation had had enough impact on the makers on modern India. Several British scholars opined the above theory, taking nation in the European sense of the word which convinced several eminent Indian leaders as well who were of the same opinion. Surendranath Banerjee observed that India was being made into a nation largely due to British efforts.
The Indian Constitution does not call India as a nation, but Union instead. Also it uses "We, the people of India". Both these expressions - people and union - were borrowed from the constitution of America. The American Constitution was an effort to build a more perfect union than the one that existed among the
Confederate States. There were prolong deliberations in the Constituent Assembly over these core concepts with some members insisting on taking quintessentially Indian approach while some others favoring concepts borrowed from outside. Dr. Ambedkar presented his first draft of the Constitution to the Constituent Assembly in 1948. Finding Gandhian principles like united and strong nationhood, village empowerment etc., missing, several members including Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur, Mahavir Tyagi and K. Hanumantaiah opposed Ambedkar. Referring to an American example Dr. Ambedkar was of the opinion that believing that India which was divided into several thousands of castes as a nation, was cherishing a delusion. Parting ways with this "misconception" was according to him a tool to realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously thinking of ways and means to realize the goal.
However, the European concepts of nation and nation-state are Semitic and alien to the Indian/Hindu temperament and genius. Like Semitic religions, it emphasizes on exclusion of those who don't belong to the charmed circle. The Indian Civilization aimed at not acquiring, but realizing her surroundings. India as a land of such extreme diversity in language, religions, rituals and customs is difficult to explain in terms of the modern nation-state concept. Sri Aurobindo had rejected the theory that the essential conditions of nationality were unity of language, religion, life and race. He mentioned geographical unity, a common past, a powerful common interest impelling towards unity and certain favorable political conditions as essential elements of nationality.
Deen Dayal’s ideas on nation and nationhood were different from the west. In his lectures he identified four elements that constitute a nation - one, land and people; two, common aspirations and collective will; three, Dharma or a wellorganized system of dos and don’ts; four, certain ideals of life that are common to all those people. There must be shared feelings, shared sense of history and shared vision for the common future of people to emerge as a nation. He called nation a living organism that evolves over millennia through historical and civilizational experiences. According to his concept, the nation is a spirit, a feeling and an emotion. He called the sentiment of nationhood, alike in Jews since before the existence of Israel, as an eternal reality.
The Indian word for denoting this eternal emotional and spiritual idea of nationhood, as distinct from the European racial, political and geographical idea of nation as 'Rashtram'. This Indian concept of nationhood as an ancient idea was developed by Hindu seers and sages through persistent experimentation and analysis of social life, even before Europe pondered upon the idea of a nation. Unlikr nation, Rashtram is etymologically explained as a firm, enlightened path for the welfare of a community. References to Rashtram can be found in many places in ancient Indiam literature.
Rashtram unlike western nation is a female entity in India. The references to Rashtram in the Rig Veda is the origin of the concept of Bharat Mata - the motherland. The mission of a Rashtram was deliberated upon by Hindu sages many millennia before which gave birth to the concept of 'bhadra iccha' or the benign wish. According to Atharwa Veda, the benign wish for Abhyudayam or the welfare and glory for all of the Hindu seers produced national identity. Abyudayam is the material and spiritual well-being of mankind. Therefore, Rashtram isn't political, but spiritual, with welfare of all as its motto. A doctrine of Dharma was developed on the basis of this bhadra iccha. To secure Dharma (attainment of abhyudaya & Nihsreyasa) was the Dharma is the soul of the Rashtram, and thus
Dharma is the soul of Bharat. This concept of National soul described by Deen Dayal as Chiti, is unique to India and that soul manifests in Rashtram - the quintessential national identity. Dharma can be understood as a set of values that define the ethical and spiritual life of India as a Rashtram.
Rashtram is more an ethical, spiritual concept - a view and way of life and doesn't define geographical boundaries. The sages of India had concluded that the whole of earth, surrounded by oceans, is one Rashtram. It delineates the principles of life that define man's relationship with the entire universe and creation.
Deen Dayal makes a clear distinction between the Rashtram and the state. Rashtram, the Indian nationhood is a spiritual-emotional concept, state is a political entity. Unlike West, the Rashtram views the state as one of the many institutions that help society pursue the path of Dharma. Thus state, described as Rajya, is not synonymous with Rashtram. The Aitreya Brahmana, one of the ancient texts of India, describes ten kinds of Rajyas under one Rashtra. During all those foreign and colonial invasions, the state was under alien control, but the nation didn't cease to exist. [ref]
Chapter 6 - Chiti, The National Soul, and Virat, The National Life-Force
Benjamin Disraeli, the two-time Prime Minister of Britain had championed the idea of a national character. The national character to many psychologists appeared as an over-generalization leading to stereotyping of nations. But the existence of national character/soul can't be denied. Sri Aurobindo alluded to the concept of national soul. He believed that the nation, like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind and soul. Deen Dayal used the word Chiti for describing national soul. According to him, Chiti is fundamental and central to the nation from its very beginning. Chiti determines the direction in which the nation is to advance culturally. It is on the foundation of this Chiti that a nation arises and becomes strong and virile.
Conservatives all over the world agreed to the proposition that national cultures play and important role in shaping the destiny of nations. Liberals contested this view stating that it was politics that defined the destiny of nations, not culture. Ghana and South Korea had identical economies in the 1950s. After half a century, South Korea emerged as one of the top fifteen economies in the world, while Ghana remained where it was. Samuel Huttington, asserts that irrespective of other factors, culture has played a massive role in South Korea.
India offers a classic example of a unique culture that has contributed to shaping its national life. As Swami Vivekananda focused, Indian cultural experience has been not only about tolerance, but acceptance and validation of all the different religions and thought processes as true; and to further celebrate this diversity. Events in India's past reflect the manifestation of this inner soul of India, referred to as Chiti. All major invasions into India happened through one major mountain pass called Khyber Pass. No Indian king chose to close it down by building a wall across it as the ethos of India, its belief in the dictum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - the entire world is but one family - doesn't allow the idea of shutting off from the rest of the world.
The decision of the Indian leadership to pass on the membership of the UN Security Council to China despite it being offered to India; or its refusal to take over Gwadar port from Oman when the Emir wanted to sell it to India - demonstrated the specific cultural trait of the country. Even the remotest of the villages and the poorest of families wish for the glory of the mankind. This is the manifestation of Chiti in the daily life of an average Indian. [ref]
Chapter 7 - Dharmic vs Semitic : Worldviews at Variance
Before we take a look at what ‘dharma’ is, we need to differentiate it from the English word ‘religion’. The inaccurate translation of the word dharma into a commonly used English word ‘religion’ has led to serious doctrinal confusion in India & around the world. While religion is concerned with ‘the belief in a god or gods or a way of worship’, dharma doesn’t prescribe any way particular way of worship. It sees divinity all over and everywhere.
The Supreme court of India when saddled with the question of the difference between the western concept of religion & the Indian concept of dharma, described dharma as a consortium of values & held that the word ‘Hindutva’ cannot be automatically understood to be denoting any religion but a way of life.
Even if we see Hinduism as a way of life, it cannot be ignored that the semitic religions too qualify to be ‘ways of life’ as they also command every aspect of the believer’s life. However, as far as Dharma is concerned, it can be uniquely understood as a ‘view of life’- a worldview that is different from other religious and theological concepts that originated from the semitic region or materialistic European concepts like capitalism.
Religions in the west mainly focus on moral do’s & don’ts for mankind. But when we talk about dharma, it is about the values that binds the society together & gives it a direction & a life mission. However, dharma & religion are not isolated concepts as components of religion also forms part of dharma. It is about practice & penance, a journey inwards as much as outwards. Janaki Abhisheki has explained that four sources have been given by the composers of Dharamashastras to understand Dharma – the Vedas, Smritis, Sadaachaara & doing what is “good for the soul”.
Deen Dayal has highlighted the fact that God cannot act contrary to Dharma as they are not omnipotent & descends in human body to destroy Adharma & reestablish dharma. Hence, dharma is a value system that includes actions not only of humans but even gods. Unlike semitic religion, Dharma as a value system is not static. The dharmic worldview believes in an ever-changing social order, based on unchanging eternal values. The authority in Dharmic traditions is vested in the institutions of gurus, who, unlike a teacher does not teaches the past but envisions the future. The value system that is described as Dharma is a product of Indian genius that evolved over centuries of penance & dialogue. The Hindus call it Sanatana Dharma which means an eternal value system, universal in time & space. The sages & saints of India have defined & interpreted it in multiple ways.
It is the values that distinguishes the Dharma worldview from the Western worldview. On the question of creation, the western worldview attributes divinity only to trinity, while the dharmic worldview sees divinity everywhere. On the question of differences in the world, Dharma proposes the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning the entire world is one family whereas all west has reached is the idea of ‘global markets. On the lines of economy, while the concept of sustainable development is new to mankind, dharma has talked about it ages ago. On the welfare question, the western world proposes a utilitarian idea while dharma insists on the principle of happiness for all. When it comes to the environment, West propagates the narrative of ‘subduing of nature’ while Dharmic worldview is about mother earth. Dharma school is about the universal acceptance of religious diversity as against the condescension & intolerance of Semitic philosophies.
Dharmic traditions encourage humankind to seek union with the divine through rational human thinking unlike the semitic worldview which proposes that reason should be subordinated to devotion. On one hand, the dharmic interpretation of religious experiences must be in conformity with the findings of science, but, on the other hand, semitic theology asks their followers to have unquestioning belief in God. Semitic traditions are predominantly monotheistic but in case of dharmic traditions, polytheism, monotheism, anthropomorphism, monism & atheism exists side by side.
For years western thinkers have believed in the idea that struggle & conflict are inevitable to human existence. However, when it comes to dharma, it is believed that there is fundamental harmony & order in creation, and conflicts exist as a result of ignorance. While West talks about the idea of survival of the fittest, dharma believes that it not just the fittest who shall survive but everyone who’s born shall have a right to survive. When it comes to the exploitation of nature, the Western ideas have resulted in the subordination of earth. But at the same time, it must be noted that domination & exploitation are alien concepts to dharma; reverence for nature is integral to dharmic traditions. On the question of individual human rights, it can be concluded that while the rights discourse is very prominent in the west, it always comes with duties in the dharmic traditions. [ref]
Chapter 8 - Institutions to Sustain Dharmic Social Order
John Stuart Mill was the first leading Western economist to conclude that man was essentially an economic being. Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychoanalyst reduced a man to a bundle of desires. Western socio-economic institutions were a product of this individual-centric discourse. Karl Marx was against this individual-centric social order, and 'maximum benefit to maximum people' became his maxim.
The first-ever experimentation with the Marxist idea of creating a collective man as against the individual man had happened in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and it turned out to be one of the greatest disasters in the history of mankind. The collective man in the Soviet Communist model was a creation of the state. The West had created a man exactly opposite to this Marxist version of the collective man - completely self-centered and individualistic. Western individualism is centered on ideas like self-wealth, self-reliance and self-esteem. Self is of primacy. As against the West's individual man and communism's collective man, the eastern worldview has introduced the concept of the integral man.
Dharmic traditions propose a fundamental unity at the individual level and a synthesis at the spiritual level. According to Deen Dayal, the longings of Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha are in-born in man and satisfaction of these in an integrated way is the essence of Bhartiya Culture. Eastern philosophies saw the world as an interconnected whole. Deen Dayal believed that man was at the epicenter of a spiraling evolution that ultimately leads to the cosmos and divinity. Man has to pass through society, humanity and the universe before finally realizing the divine.
Western man is a material man. Deen Dayal's integral man is a synthesis of body, mind, intellect and soul. The ultimate and eternal happiness of man lies in the happiness of the soul. In India, the social order was developed in such a way that man evolves not through acquisition but sacrifice. The institutions aimed at providing a social order that was focused on the welfare and well-being of each and every component of creation. They did not minimize or discard the importance of man, but saw his evolution and glory not in his individual self but in his larger integration with society and beyond.
Unlike West and the communist ideas that believe that there exists a conflict between the individual and the society, the Dharmic view has been that the individual and society have an organic and living relationship and are not two independent and exclusive entities. Instead, they are complementary. Over millennia, a conscious and thoughtful effort was made in India to develop institutions that would promote the idea of integration.
In India, family was seen as the basic unity of the society initially. Marriage was a sacred obligation, not a contract unlike the west. Under the individualistic and liberal outlook, each partner enjoyed their rights and break up of families was seen as a result of the assertion of the individual's rights. This individual-centric thinking greatly hampered the family system in the west.
Besides the institution of family, religious institutions like temples, maths and pilgrimages were promoted in India as means of developing social bonding and integral outlook. Hindu Temples were major centers of social cohesion and unity. They played an important role in promoting moral and ethical values in society through activities of literacy and education. The Gurukul system where a student lived with the teacher for the period of his learning was a unique model developed in India. Universal education had been the motto.
Temples had also sustained the art and craft of India and were major centres of recreation. The temple was a place of free food too. These places ensured that nobody went hungry, and nobody was ever denied food. Building temples and supporting the activities of the temples was considered a sacred obligation, especially for kings and the rich. Institutions run by temples and maths like Dharmasthala, Ramakrishna Mission, and Kanchi math have contributed enormously to the spread of Dharmic moral and ethical values besides rendering social service.
Social organization on Varnashrama basis was another institution that had evolved in India with the objective of promoting an organized social order. Varna was the social order and Ashrama was the individual order. The four Ashramas recommended were: Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha, Sanyasa. Like Ashramas, Varnas were also categorized into four, based essentially om vocation. Class-based organization of societies was not exclusive to India in ancient and medieval times. It occurred in almost all parts of the world.
The relevance of Varna system gave rise to divergent opinions within the Hindu school of thought. Gandhi, Golwalkar and Deen Dayal were broadly sympathetic to the Varna system, while Savarkar, Ambedkar and Balasaheb Deoras endorsed the view that the system had no contemporary relevance. Both Deendayal and Gandhi were aware of the degeneration of the Varna system into a rigid hereditary and hierarchical caste system. He did warn that any inequality in society was unacceptable and should be removed. But he wasn't willing to outright reject the Varna system. He tried to differentiate between the distorted vision of society and the system itself and appeared to suggest that if the vision was corrected, the system could still work. Savarkar was a staunch proponent of a casteless Hindu society. He believed that the caste system was a greater curse on the ideal of Hindu unity. Ambedkar saw caste as a hugely debilitating institution for society and wanted nothing less than its complete annihilation. Balasaheb Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, opined that what exists currently is not Varna Vyavastha, but Avyavastha, and we must correctly guide a system which has to die and is already dying a natural death - to the correct path to its termination.
Though, nuanced differences do exist among nationalist leaders and thinkers over the relevance of Varna and caste systems, there is a total unanimity over the rejection of hierarchization of castes and social evils like untouchability. The institutions that form the core of the Dharmic social order in India needed constant revision and upgradation. Even the sages warned that not everything ancient is noble. [ref]
Chapter 9 – Integral Economic Vision and Programme
Economic policy of the Indian right-wing have never been consistent. In the words of Swapan Dasgupta there remained contradictory strands in thinking on economic policy making among right-wing political groups. Even such differences are visible in the BJP in its journey of 4 decades. Though leaders like Golwalkar were supporters of Capitalism, they preferred hiding their viewpoint than supporting outrightly. Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was considered as an open market protagonist who consistently criticized Nehru’s Socialist policies. Deen Dayal Upadhyay propounded the Integral Humanist philosophy as alternative to the conventional theories. In 1980, the BJP declared “Gandhian Socialism” as its core philosophy and senior members like Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained a staunch Gandhian until his last breath. It is here where socialism got an approval in rightwing groups for the first time. The BJP and Sangh took up the slogan of “Swadeshi” to mark their protest against reforms initiated by the Narsimha Rao government. When Vajpayee succeeded as the Prime minister, he too suffered criticism for his liberal policies. At this time, Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujrat earned a name for his market friendliness.
The Post-war economics are earmarked by the rift between communism backed by Soviet state and capitalism backed by USA. But the world is witnessing the return of Economic Nationalism in 20th century as both frameworks have proven to be a utopia in the end. The idea of Swadeshi has always been in limelight even before Stalin’s call for a global Communist order, initially propounded by senior Congress leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, but time and again redefined and promoted by other leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, Sakharam Ganesh, Tagore, Tilak, Gokhale, Rash Bihari Bose and others. It has also been used as a political weapon to counter colonizers and the western influence as exerted by ‘Firangi’ Oppressors by the Indian National Congress.
Leaders thought the idea of ‘Swadeshi’ as the rise of east against west. Gandhi soon became the champion of Swadeshi by amending the existing narrow definition that focused on gross boycott of foreign goods and articulated his views in his treatise “Hind Swaraj” that added moral and ethical dimensions besides the known political and economic reasons. He ardently advocated “Gram Swaraj”, “Trusteeship” and “Satyagraha” to bring changes in the life of people. He also supported decentralization for rural reconstruction programme which fetched support from eminent sociologist M.N. Srinivas and others, though the 73rd and 74th amendments came later altogether with the Panchayat Raj amendment act.
Gandhi opposed technology. Both Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyay were supporters of ‘Gainful Employment’. Debates ensued on Gandhian ideas as intellectuals like Ambedkar and Nehru both showed opposition to them, but Gandhi and his successors defended and promoted his ideas. Gandhi focused on virtues like humanity, simplicity, peace and non-violence and these got symbolized by the ‘Charkha’. But the Nehru government rejected his ideas while perusing policy making for this nation.
Deen Dayal Upadhyay incorporated ideas of Gandhi in his philosophy and tried to evolve a synthesis between Capitalism and Socialism by rejecting the capitalist concept of ‘economic man’ and the socialist system that enslaves man. He promoted the concept of “Antyodaya”, tried to figure out a relationship between Agriculture and Industry, and related his spiritual and economic theory to Consumption. He supported the fulfilment of minimum basic needs to each and every one to ensure the rule of Dharma despite not being a welfare statist as Nehru. Jana Sangh initially rejected Nehruvian Socialism and leaders like Deen Dayal attempted to prove that the BJS had a clear economic policy. Even the concept of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” adopted by the incumbent government to combat recession in the economy owing to lockdowns imposed to restrict the spread of COVID-19 is an application of Deen Dayal’s economic ideas that humanized economic liberalization. It is actually not a new concept as many previous Prime ministers have used the same in their respective tenures.
Indira Gandhi went on nationalization while Rajiv Gandhi tried to shed socialist thoughts of his grandfather but lacked the resources. Chandrashekhar’s tenure was centred around the turmoil owing to the policies of previous leaders. Narsimha Rao implemented path-breaking reforms followed by the adoption of concept of “Atma-Shakti” as invoked by Vajpayee in his times. He placed heavy focus on disinvestment, which was praised by Deen Dayal as an attempt to bring parity between Public and Private sector. Narendra Modi too followed this lineage and envisaged a self-reliance model as per the need of the present era.
Many nations like China, Israel, Japan etc. have used self-reliance for national reconstruction. Sakuma Shozan adopted the slogan “Japanese morals and Western technology” and three-pronged strategy in the early 50s and 60s. Even in case of China, Den Xiaoping in 1978 reformed and transformed the economy. Israel’s economic success are driven by its start-up industry which very soon transformed their lives. Many Indian leaders had their own versions of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. The role of government in the life of Indians had been minimal but this scenario changed post adoption of the Westminster model, and this needs to be changed as the “Minimum Government-Maximum Governance” has been adopted by the Modi government. “Atma Samriddhi” follows in three stages- “Atma Samriddhi”, “Atma Gaurav” and “Atma Vishwas”. Not only large global superpowers but small nations too significantly contribute towards the world economy and India must take lesson from them. [ref]
Chapter 10 – Democracy, with Popular Moral Authority
The author explores the idea behind democracy, especially in light of Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s philosophy of Integral Humanism and in the context of Indian conditions. The western notion of Democracy has been incomplete and a holistic view on it requires taking into account the Indian experience. As the author starts his discourse on Democracy, he mentions the Greek origin of the concept. They too have struggled with quest over individual morality and social happiness. However, as the author rightly observes, the democratic experience in Greek city states was short of modern expectations, as it excluded women, working class and slaves from the democratic process. Various Greek philosophers, especially Plato, emphasized on the required morality of man, without which democracies could become a source of injustice. Different philosophers dwelled on the dilemma over ‘moral man’ differently, with Plato giving the concept of Philosopher-King. Other accounts as those based on rationality, as propounded by the French revolutionaries turned out be corrupt.
Deen Dayal viewed Western brand of democracy as a product of historic progression in Europe. Democracy came with the emergence of a trader and mercantilist class across Europe. Like other Indian stalwart nationalists, prominently Guru Golwalkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, Deen Dayal was also convinced over the utility and desirability of democracy for India. All however were inclined towards an Indian version of democracy, suited to its needs and unique conditions.
The author presents the case for Dharmocracy, or Dharma Rajya, as the true embodiment of democracy in India, which draws upon the Integral Humanist philosophy of Deen Dayal. The idea of Dharmocracy is based on the integral man of Deen Dayal. This is because unlike the western experience, Deen Dayal did not find religion and reason to be the opposite poles. However, as Deen Dayal also notes, Dharma here must not be viewed narrowly as religion but as the eternal law that encompasses everything including statecraft. For Deen Dayal, democratic government is a Jana Rajya, which must also be rooted in Dharma, the eternal law. ‘The true democracy is one where there is freedom as well as Dharma’ said Deen Dayal.
This Dharmocractic model has ancient roots dating millennia. This shows that democracy or democratic way of governments were prevalent in ancient India and the concept is not just the reserve of ancient Greeks. The Dharma code was what distinguished the ancient Hindu nation from the Greeks. Renowned Indian personalities like the economist Prof PR Brahmananda and Gandhi also underscored the Indian experience at democracy. Prof Brahmananda underscored the ten principles of a Gandhian society, which essentially encapsulated the Dharma code of socio-political order.
Even Deen Dayal, who made a distinction between the western and Dharma based democratic models, used to say that adult franchise and electoral processes alone do not constitute democracy. Democracy, as he states further, does not mean the rule of majority but must harmonize and combine the majority with the minorities. This is real Dharmocracy or Ram Rajya. Gandhi, through his works and publications, echoed views similar to that of Deen Dayal.
The author explicates the democratic experience in India. Post-independence, several international leaders like Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee derided India’s ability to rule itself. Yet, there was a near unanimity in India, except for the Communist Party of India (CPI), over democracy as the way forward for the Indian nation. It must also be noted that the Indian leadership had agreed on adopting democracy as the mode of government much before independence.
Leaders like BR Ambedkar and Deen Dayal viewed democracy as a natural choice for India. Speaking in 1949 before the Constituent Assembly, BR Ambedkar drew attention to the practice of democracy in Buddhist Sanghas. Another member of the Constituent Assembly, T Prakasam informed the house that even modern democracies were not completely unknown to India. He highlighted that the practise of Ballot Box and Adult Franchise could be seen by looking at the inscription on the walls of a temple in the villages of Conjeevaram. Deen Dayal agreed with this. For him, the Vedic Sabhas and Samitis were organized on the basis of democracy. For Deen Dayal democracy was a potential tool for national unity. He believed that democracy reform and moderate secessionists and separatists. Democracy is thus essential for national unity.
In the next sub-section, the author throws light on the debate over universal adult franchise among the members of the Constituent Assembly. Some members were against granting voting rights to all, irrespective of their educational levels. However, members like Ambedkar stood steadfastly with the provision of universal adult franchise. Also, as the author notes, the Congress leadership had made its mind in favor of adult franchise just like it had on democracy. The seven decades of Indian experience at democracy bear testimony to the political maturity of the Indian people.
However, senior leaders like Gandhi and Ambedkar had given some words of caution to effectuate this democratic transition. Gandhi described true democracy as Ram Rajya as it meant not just the political independence, but a system suited to the Indian genius. Ambedkar too talked of the inadequacy of political independence and emphasized on the social aspect of democracy. Both also believed that parliamentary majorities need to be checked through constitutional ethics and public morality. Democracies work through a judicious balance of elected and non-elected institutions. The success of Indian democracy can also be traced to a strengthened non-elected political environment. The democracies of today need to become less majoritarian and more consensual.
Another important issue is that of public education for a well-functioning democracy. Both Gandhi and Deen Dayal held that the success of democracy lay in educating the masses and the failure to do so would lead to democracy degenerating into a mobocracy. Similar concerns have been raised in the past and contemporary examples of demagogues manipulating populations are before us to see in the form of Donald Trump.
Deen Dayal had a different lens of looking at this issue. While he acknowledged the need of popular moral authority, he believed rulers were could not do this alone. For Deen Dayal, educating public opinion is the work of selfless ascetics. People should imbibe ideal morals, or Samskaras. These samskaras include tolerance, discipline responsibility, selflessness and respect for the law of the land. Deen Dayal also gave a number of tips to citizens to keep in mind while voting. Deen Dayal also exhorted political parties to work selflessly and set an example for ordinary citizens. He noticed the evils of money and muscle power creeping into politics and warned against it. As a true democrat, Deen Dayal insisted that power should not be concentrated in the hands of any single leader or authority. His idealism is thus a tall order for present-day politics. [ref]
Chapter 11 – Identity as Ideology
The author picks the thread on the Dharmic foundations of Indian democracy and builds on the ideas in the preceding chapter. The author highlights Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s insistence on the preservation and promotion of the unique Dharmic national identity, the core of which is being Bharatiya or Hindu, since both these terms along with the term ‘India’ are used synonymously in RSS lexicon.
Interesting it is to note that Deen Dayal Upadhyay used the word Bharat instead of Hindu, though both are essentially synonymous.
In the next sub-section, ‘Indianization to Cultural Nationalism’, the author gives an account of how the nationalist politics in India has articulated its vision on furthering national identity. The first was that of Indianization, whose votaries were the likes of Balraj Madhok. As the author highlights, Jan Sangha’s usage of the terminology of Bharat and Bharatiya were snubbed by the communists and detractors as an effort to promote Hindu politics. However, Jan Sangha’s usage of the term Bharatiyakaran comes closest in meaning to Indianization.
Prof Balraj Madhok, stalwart leader of the Jana Sangh, even wrote a text, Indianization, in which he dwelled on what Indianization meant and why it was required. Golwalkar, another RSS leader, also shunned communist propaganda against Bharatiyakaran, or Indianization as some may like to say, in an interview with an Iranian scholar. Golwalkar was categorical in his description of Indianization, which he explained was not akin to converting all non-hindus to Hinduism. It essentially was built on the understanding that our ancestors and aspirations, irrespective of our religion, caste or creed, were common.
The emergency period, 1975-1977, was a stunning example and manifestation of the Dharmocratic model as enunciated by Deen Dayal Upadhyay. While the Bharatiya Jana Sangh merged with the Janata Party, and unity under the leadership of Jay Prakash Narayan, a number of non-political organizations like the RSS were at the forefront of defending the political ideals enshrined in the Indian Constitution. However, this union was short lived as Jana Sangha withdrew from Janta Party and rechristened itself under the banner of Bharatiya Janata Party.
The author also mentions the short-lived romance of the nationalist brigade with Gandhian Socialism. Lal Krishna Advani, another stalwart leader of the now Bharatiya Janata Party, turned to the term ‘Cultural Nationalism’ to describe the philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyay. However, the term and the idea of Cultural Nationalism was not a novel one as it had first emerged in nineteenth-century Europe. In the Indian context, it was Deen Dayal Upadhyay who insisted vocally on the need to think about national identity, as without it, there is no true meaning of independence.
In the next subsection on National identity in Nation building, the author gives an account of the Western experience. As expected, the concept of national identity has generated haughty debates worldwide. The Left-liberal discourse has looked down to ethno-cultural nationalism as divisive and that leading to the world war I. However, one must look at the experience predating the world wars, especially in America and France to get a broader understanding of the roots of this debate over national identity. Though both the efforts, first manifested by the American independence and the second by the French Revolution, were praiseworthy, both fell short of expectations and had their lacuna. The two world wars made ethnonationalism a cuss word among the elite and the intellectuals, to the extent that words like nationalism and national identity were often at the receiving end of enlightenment inspired liberals. This made forced those working for national identity go on the defensive.
Another related debate which the author picks up in the next sub-section is between those advocating Multiculturalism and those advocating Assimilation, the former known as Multiculturalists and the latter Assimilationists. The roots of this debate can be traced to the increased inflow of immigrants, both legal and illegal, which has forced these host prosperous western societies to relook at their national identity. Identity debates now generate passions and have been at the forefront of the rise of anti-immigrant, ultra-conservative political movements in these host western countries. Some examples include Alternative for Germany (AFG) in Germany, National Front in France and the League Party in Italy, among others. These precipitous developments have reignited the debate between multiculturalism and assimilation. It is here that, as the author states, that the west can learn from societies like India which have successfully managed their diversity and knit a diverse population together. In fact Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is said to have cited the example of India to USSR’s Gorbachev as the best example of managing diversity.
Referring to cultural identity as national identity, the author points to the insistence of several thinkers of the nationalist school, including Deen Dayal Upadhyay, that the national identity in India has to be based on cultural identity. This India identity, or Bharatiya identity as Deen Dayal called it, celebrates diversity while nurturing unity. As such, India’s core national identity cannot be encapsulated in political ideologies and programmes. Different spiritual and national leaders, ranging from Swami Vivekananda to the likes of Dr Sampurnanand and Nehru, spoke at length and advocated for cultural and spiritual dimension of India’s identity. Another important thing to note is that cultural identities shouldn’t be mistaken for religious beliefs.
While the Indian experience with diversity was different, as unlike the west it did not face immigration. Nevertheless, the new entrants assimilated with the Indian social fabric, though with some negative experiences. The semitic faiths of Christianity and Islam were propagated through state power and left deep scars. However, the prominent question remains – does change of religion lead to change of national identity?
The author highlights the challenge presented before India’s cultural identity, particularly from the Two-Nation theory. The Muslim League, and prominent personalities like Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mohammad Iqbal, were at the forefront of this faulty theory. In opposition were the leading freedom fighters, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru among others. On closer enquiry the two-nation theory was in contradiction to India’s nationhood based on inclusive pluralism. Despite partition on religious lines, India adopted a national identity based on inclusive values, with respect for all religions and rejected a nation on the lines of Pakistan.
Post partition this debate on national identity continued to rage on, with Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s four principles of ‘One Country, One Nation, One Culture, Rule of Law’ endorsed by the Jana Sangha. As opposed to the Nehruvian elite’s discourse of nationhood and identity, the Jana Sangha and nationalist elite stood with its commitment to India’s identity based on Bharatiya value system. Different interpretations of this national identity were made by the likes of BR Ambedkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
This was later picked up by Golwalkar and the RSS, for whom the terms Hindu, Bharat and India were synonyms. This however generated immense and acrimonious debates and widespread misinterpretation by the communists and Islamist-minded intelligentsia. Savarkar first addressed this concern over the word Hindutva being anti-muslim in 1923, in his eponymous work Essentials of Hindutva.
The RSS also held Hindu and Hindutva to be synonymous with India and Bharat. Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, was also vocal in dispelling the famous misunderstandings surrounding the words. As he elaborates, Hindutva is not just for the Hindus but also for the world and humanity and all other faiths. Hindutva essentially means Indianness. As the author argues further, the RSS uses Hindu and Hindutva in the cultural and civilizational sense, not in the conventional religious sense. Acknowledging Hindutva means acknowledging the self-hood of this nation. This does not mean surrendering one’s faith, language or any other identity marker. Despite the repeated clarifications, differences and mistrust persist and Hindutva continues to be seen as anti-minority.
The scars of partition also gave rise to a flawed debate over secularism. The twonation theory, though defeated, continued to haunt the national leadership. The new terminology of ‘Dharma Nirapekshta’ was hailed as the Indian version of modern secularism. While most leaders agreed on the principle of secularism, most were suspicious of including the word in the constitution. The flaw in the debate over secularism was the provision of special minority rights by ignoring the majority religion. This in fact was a fundamental flaw.
Secularism, however, was a European concept. It became a movement in Europe mainly due to enlightenment thinkers. This did not mean a consensus on the concept in Europe itself. Even in India the concept was not new and had roots going over many millennia. An important difference to note that while in Europe Secularism was a response to religious orthodoxy, in India this we never had theocracies in the first instance as it was a land rich with religious diversity. The Indic doctrines of ‘Ekam Sat – Viprah Bahudha Vadanti’ and Sarva Panth Samaadar’ were integral to the Indian cultural life from time immemorial. Thus, the RSS views secularism as equal respect for all and appeasement of none. [ref]
Chapter 12 - Symbols of Cultural Integration 1 : The Ram Janm Bhumi
Two judgments of the Supreme Court - one in the 1990s, that asserted that Hinduism or Hindutva was not a religion but a way of life, and the other being the historic 2019 verdict Ram Janm Bhoomi - Babri Masjid case, helped negate the two-nation theory by upholding the view that those who had invaded India could not be heroes of any community or religion.
The constituent assembly debated on the question of minority rights. Referring to minorities as an explosive force and taking precedent from the European example of Ireland, Dr. Ambedkar believed that if erupted, they can blow up the whole fabric of the state. He furthered his stance by claiming that unlike Ireland, the minorities in India have agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority. Therefore, safeguarding them constitutionally by the majority is a must. After causing quite a stir in the assembly with his comments, Ambedkar's views were contested by H. V. Kamat and Mahavir Tyagi. Giving separate examples and claims, both referred to the point that no minority existed in India post-partition, and all Indians were the majority. They also refuted Ambedkar's comments that there was a communal majority in India, insisting that the majority party is Congress, which is purely political. These debates aimed at answering the question of bridging the gap in the Majority-Minority divide. But politics in independent India came to view minorities as vote banks and a brazen version of appeasement politics came to be identified with nationalism and secularism.
The 1986 legislation led by the Rajiv Gandhi government that reversed the Supreme Court's Shah Bano judgment is one such inglorious episode of minority appeasement. With giving such a background, the author claims the popular Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement as a challenge to this minority-ist religious orthodoxy and state patronage towards it.
Finally, after 7 decades of judicial scrutiny of the case, with the Babri structure being demolished in between, the Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of granting the disputed site for constructing a Ram temple in 2019. While giving out the intricate details of the verdict, the author puts light on 116-page addenda attached to the verdict, which refers to a observation made by Justice Gajendragadkar in a 1966 judgment, that establishes the description of Hindu religion broadly as a way of life. The restoration of the rights to rebuild the temple was a reassertion of not any religion, but a wounded civilization.
Damnatio Memoriae is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to "erasing bad memory". The author uses two precedents - both domestic and foreign to further sensitize with the concept. The Russians built the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Polish capital of Warsaw in 1912. When Poland emerged as an independent nation, the cathedral was demolished by the Polish authorities. The Poles saw it not as a religious monument but as a symbol of Russian domination. The opposition to the demolition from the orthodoxy was dismissed. Nowhere in this incident involved reflections of opposition to Orthodox Christianity. The Indian precedent referred to the restoration of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat that was destroyed by Mohammed Ghazni in 1951, immediately after independence. The power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction, added President Dr. Rajendra Prasad in his speech at the inauguration of the Mandir.
Another aspect of the restoration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir as to be seen in the context of the sacredness of the value system that is at the core of its country has been highlighted by author. The chapter further deals with Ram as an ideal being and Maryada Purushottam (Virtue) and Ram Rajya as an ideal state of affairs, beyond religion. [ref]
Chapter 13 – Symbols of Cultural Integration 2 : Akhand Bharat, Kashmir
This Chapter takes forward the discussions initiated in the earlier parts of the book, by deliberating in some detail on the constituent elements of a cultural nationhood; and the peculiar relationship between the modern political formation of a nation-state and the expansive cultural consciousness that informs a certain imagination of the individual self and national identity. The particularity of India being understood as an eternal social union bound by fundamental cultural ties is sought to be communicated through a variety of self-sustaining arguments. Justice P.N. Bhagwati’s observations from a landmark 1984 case ascribe a definitive cultural unity to India, and recognizes it as a nation birthed not out of political considerations, or linguistic-ethnic compulsions, but rather as one whose evolution as an inherently unified social mass of cohabiting communities is rooted in the historical fact of the Indian sub-continent’s natural cultural linkages.
For a truly transformative cultural nationhood to manifest into its resplendent actuality, it requires: a physical territory to locate itself within, a society to populate the territory and an emotional bond to fuse the two together. It is this emotional energy; this shared sentimentality that really brings a nation to life. Right from the ancient Vedic times to the India of today, it is this specific ideation of India as more than a piece of land for its resident populace which accords a unique vitality to the Indian experiment in nationality. The Indian people have always looked upon their country as the very condition of their existence. The idea of the Indian nation is not a tentative arrangement, but the very soul of the subcontinent’s historical experience. The very dust of this land is revered as holy by her children. There are no Indians without India. This is the essential fact of India’s social reality. The medium of interacting with this overwhelming national identity is one’s culture- a culture that can only be understood through the specific value systems of this land which consider the whole geography of India to be sacred. India is worshipped, very often through the image of Mother India or ‘Bharat Mata’. It was in line with this foundational understanding of the nation as a motherland: the physical form of the divine feminine that Indian nationalists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sought to fashion new political ideas idioms to take the nation forward. Deen Dayal Upadhyay, who for all practical purposes can be understood as the ideological fountainhead of the Jan Sangh maintained that the basis of their patriotism was their faith in Bharat Mata. The specific framework of his belief drew from the conviction that the relationship between a nation and its citizenry was akin to that of a mother’s relationship with her son. Be it Swami Vivekananda or Sri Aurobindo, all appropriated this understanding of the nation as motherland into their social messaging. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ remains to date one of the most powerful signifiers of India’s national sentiment.
This is however not a completely unique understanding. Many nations the world over deploy the vocabulary of a ‘motherland; to denote their homelands. Notably the German and Russian States once looked upon their nations as ‘Vaterlands’ or ‘Fatherland’, but after the Nazis went about their degeneracy in the name of the ‘Vaterland’, its use understandably plummeted. In India, it was only V.D. Savarkar who imagined the nation as a ‘Fatherland’ which Indians had inherited through their common ancestors. Countries deploy cultural and emotional arguments to secure their unity and integrity. India too is a participant in this phenomenon, and one of its most lasting cultural formulations had been the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ or Indivisible/Integrated India. The notion of Akhand Bharat is but a direct output of the construction of ‘Bharat Mata’. Akhand Bharat is generally positioned within the context of the cruel partitioning India underwent on achieving Independence. The concept of Akhand Bharat reflects a civilizational commitment to restore the cultural unity of our nation.
For leaders of the Jan Sangh, India’s partition was an unacceptable fact. Deen Dayal Upadhyay held that Akhand Bharat was the natural state of our nation, and any development that compromised its sanctity must be held to be unnatural.
Some sought to view India’s Partition as the sharing of property by siblings. Children divide property but don’t partition their mother. India’s Partition was a serious setback to the basic values of Indian nationalism and integral culture. Gandhiji too saw the division as a defeat of his lifetime conviction of believing in a single national society for India. M.S Golwalkar at a press conference in August 1949, set forth the RSS view on the subject by terming Pakistan ‘an uncertain state’, and maintaining that ‘if Partition is a settled fact, we are here to unsettle it’.
The fundamental unity of the Indian Nation was thought to be unalterable. By quoting the dynamic historical movements that brought about the reunification of Germany and Vietnam, the author attempts to provide a template for a similar coming together for the Indian people as a whole. The idea and importance of Akhand Bharat is absolutely essential in grappling with the challenges to India’s integrity that the author takes up. Firstly, there is the Kashmir problem. Jammu and Kashmir was an independent princely state under Maharaja Hari Singh with a Muslim majority population. Its ruler had signed a Standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan, and decided on acceding to India after Pakistani tribesmen and military troops forcefully tried to capture the state. On 26 October 1947, J&K formally became a part of the Indian Union. However, the specific conditions of Kashmir were to prove its complete integration with India a particularly difficult task.
Unlike the other cases which involved some degree of tension like Hyderabad and Junagadh, in Jammu and Kashmir a special institutional invention in the form of Article 370 was observed. Starting as Article 306A in the Constituent Assembly which eventually became Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the article mandated a special status for Kashmir with respect to other units of the national federation. The structural and otherwise features of the article were such that it institutionalized the notion of a country within a country. Having been framed under great pressure from Sheikh Abdullah, the popular chief of Kashmir’s National Conference, it provided for a separate Constitution for the State, a Separate Flag and the position of a separate Prime Minister for the State. The influence of the erstwhile Dogra dynasty was systematically extinguished. Laws and strictures from the Indian Parliament could only apply to Jammu and Kashmir upon their approval by the State legislature. Most rights and privileges extended to ordinary Indian citizens did not apply to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir where an arbitrary distinction between State and Non-state permanent residents ruled the roost politically and socially. Some rights were made applicable to the State after a Presidential Order in 1954. As a result, many welfare programs of the government did not translate therein. Women were particularly discriminated against. While men were free to marry as they wished, women would lose their rights to inheritance and permanent residentship on marrying out of the state. The Scheduled Castes did not receive any benefits and continued to be excessively exploited. Due to complicated land regulations, no industries were set up in the State for a very long time. Article 370 therefore not only maintained a political distance between Jammu and Kashmir, but also severely impacted the developmental chances of the state, forcing large sections of the population to continue in impoverishment even as other states matured economically. It was a double whammy in the sense that it eroded both Kashmir’s financial progress as well as its democratic political set up. The Jan Sangh under Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee launched a Satyagraha against such an Article 370, which was effectively fanning the flames of secession from the Indian State amongst
Kashmiris, creating a serious strategic bottleneck for the country. The slogan of the Satyagrahis was that two nishans (flags), two vidhhans (constitutions) and two pradhans (prime ministers) could not be allowed to operate simultaneously within the Indian political landscape. Tolerating such excesses was akin to surrendering the nation’ sovereignty, and painted a rather bleak future for India’s territorial integrity if not addressed hereon. Terrorism and a politics of convenience practiced by the political class proved to be significant roadblocks in realizing the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. What was supposed to be a temporary and transitional provision continued for almost seven decades, before being packed off to the dustbins of history in 2019 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office. The nullifying of Article 370 must be looked upon as a milestone in achieving Jammu and Kashmir’s complete integration into the Indian Union, and a testament to the spirit of Akhand Bharat. This is still a developing situation, and in many ways, still a work in progress, whose conclusive outcomes are yet to see the light of day.
Another theme the author briefly touches upon is that of cow slaughter. The cow is an almost universally worshipped animal in India, and holds a place of great reverence in the minds of the general public, making cow slaughter an emotive issue for most members of our society. Gandhiji understood cow protection as the
greatest civilizational gift Hinduism could offer to the world and there are recorded instances wherein, he placed the cause of cow protection above that of the much-celebrated Swaraj. Several members of the Constituent Assembly had argued for a complete ban on cow slaughter, but consensus could not be arrived at and it was included under the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Gau Hatya Nirodh Samiti, an organization focused on cow protection launched a major signature drive in the 1950s, and submitted a memorandum along with some 20 million signatures to President Radhakrishnan. Pandit Deen Dayal described the cow as a symbol of Bharatiya nationhood, and Jan Sangh members participated in and initiated many popular struggles seeking a ban on cow slaughter. We get a sense of M.S Golwalkar’s view on the subject from the memoirs of the muchacclaimed hero of India’s white revolution Verghese Kurien. He mentions how Golwalkar recognized the unifying potential of the cow for the entire nation, and remarked that it was particular unfortunate that such a potential unifier of society and a symbol of national reverence was being viewed through the lens of a communal Hindu-Muslim binary.
On the whole it can be said, that the Chapter provides a survey of India’s experience of cultural nationhood and how the idea developed in the West. He then teases out the broad contours of the understanding of an Akhand Bharat, viewing it in the comparative perspective of a Partitioned India, and then seeks to relate this expansive conception to practical issues of national integration like that of Kashmiri separatism and resistance to cow slaughter. [ref]
Chapter 14 – Human Dignity and Human Rights
Human dignity is another domain where Indian thought and experience decisively differs from that of the West. In Europe, people had to wage a long battle for their basic rights until the passage of Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR) in December 1948. European thought, right from its origins in Greek philosophy, has accorded far more importance to God. There is a famous ‘Euthyphro dilemma’ in Western philosophy which revolves around the question of piety and its relation to being ‘loved by Gods’. The Semitic statement from Genesis 1:26 clearly proposes that human beings are essentially made in God’s image. Thus, God was central to human life in the Semitic world. Judeo-Christian thought over time emphasised on the belief of ‘One God’ as against the multiplicity of gods that existed earlier, thus clearly perpetuating intolerance against polytheism.
By fourth century CE, religion had to come to dominate reasoning in the Roman world. God and Church began controlling human enterprise- both at the temporal and spiritual levels. Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity to the status of a state religion, and gradually, the church started influencing every aspect of human life in the West.
This continued well into the Middle Ages, a period most notorious for religious fundamentalism. In the early modern age, Copernicus’s theory was banned and Galileo was imprisoned for not agreeing to recant his views that challenged the jurisdiction of God. Thus, secular knowledge was treated with disdain until Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke liberated man from the shackles of the Church. The publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Darwin was the final nail in the coffin of the theory of the ‘divine’ myth of creation. However, post-enlightenment political discourse veered to tendencies of ultranationalism and revolutionary extremism, as can be seen in the actions of Stalin and Hitler. In the east, the end of the first world war coincided with the rise of communism, that replaced with the individual man with the collective, which didn’t bode well for humanity. Tyrannical governments oversaw horrific human rights disasters, as were noticed in communist states like USSR and China.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was propounded in the aftermath of the second world war, that witnessed unimaginable atrocities being perpetrated on the common man. Gandhi’s views were also solicited by Julian Huxley, and the Mahatma offered his inputs, that clearly reflect the importance he gave to duties, over rights. He believed every right must be related with a duty. Prof. Puntambekar provided inputs on the basis of Indian philosophical virtues like the five social freedoms- ahimsa, asteya, aparigraha, avyabhichara and aregya. One of the long-standing members in the Commission responsible for drafting this declaration was Hansa Mehta. Lakshmi Menon and Minoo Masani too participated. The UDHR grants equal recognition to economic, social and cultural rights, alongside civil and political rights. The Indian delegation’s most profound contribution was in underlining the ‘universal’ nature of these human rights, transcending political or sectarian boundaries.
Indian thought considers human beings to be manifestations of divinity. The reason for the evolution of such integral ideas was that they evolved through interactions between different sages. Thus, Hindu thought is against the idea of ‘commandments’ as its ideas have emanated from informed discussion. In India, the tradition of debate has immense antiquity, and as Deen Dayal too noted, is a means of realizing the truth.
The author calls Indic thought ‘man’s pilgrimage’ representing an unending exploration of the Absolute Reality. It exhorts man to be a seeker, and always open his mind to new ideas. The Upanishadic idea of ‘Neti Neti’ (Not this, not this) captures how there is no absolute truth in the Indian way of life. Further, Indian thought lays emphasis on duties, and opposes looking at rights and duties as distinct. Proper practice of karma was regarded as the basis for all basic rights of citizens. Kings were expected to perform their actions and secure the welfare and happiness of their citizens. Moreover, Ananda is deemed to be the ultimate goal of life in Indian thought. Freedom is cherished in omnipresent divinity.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s idea of ‘Omnitheism’ proposes that divinity undergirds all existence. An omnitheistic person sees divinity in everything- regardless of whether they are animate or inanimate. All creation- including trees, birds, animals- is sacred. The river is called Ganga Mata, and cows are worshipped as a Go Mata.
Indian thought naturally accepts all religions and forms of worship. The Narada Smriti enjoins upon the king to protect non-believers too. Human dignity must be embedded in the basic value systems (samskaras) of society. The ancient sages of Bharat have visualised unity between Atman and Paramatman, through chetna or a collective consciousness. The author identifies this to be one of the greatest contributions of Hindu classical thought to the wisdom of the world.
Vedic and Upanishadic literature proclaim universal oneness and universal wellbeing. The Nobel Prize winner Erwin Schrodinger too argued in his book ‘My view of the world’ that consciousness can never be plural, rather stating that the solution to this problem can only be found in the Upanishads.
Varnashrama is perhaps the most scientific principle of social organization. The way it was conceptualized is at variance with the rigid-birth centric arrangement that prevails today. The Rig Veda itself in one of its hymns states ‘Janmate Jaayate Shudra’ implying that by birth everyone is a Shudra. It is only by the virtue of one’s actions that they can go up in the caste hierarchy. The Shanti Parva in the Mahabharata also rejects the idea of some varnas being superior to others. Shri Krishna in the Bhagavat Gita also classifies different varnas on the basis of qualities of man. We also find innumerable rishis who were Shudras by varna. The privileges based on caste are the result of distortions that percolated the Hindu body-politic during the medieval period.
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya too objected to attempts of viewing the Varna-vyavastha as a discriminatory institution, rather emphasizing on its organizational structure. Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar resolutely fought the derogatory practice of untouchability, but a milestone was achieved in 1969 when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a conference in Udipi, Karnataka, with rishis and saints from across the country unequivocally declaring that no one was superior by virtue of birth in his caste.
The Varnashrama system may have outlived its utility, and today, the caste system is posing one of the most significant threats to social harmony. Attempts at removing the caste system have only led to the formation of groups that approximate caste-like structures. Thus, the need of the hour is to ‘replace’ the caste system with something else that resonates with the Indian ethos. [ref]
Chapter 15 - Womenhood in Western and Indic Traditions
As Swami Vivekananda presciently observed, there is no chance for progress in this world unless the condition of women is improved. Women have played a pivotal role in the development of civilizations. But there is a marked difference in their treatment in the West and in India. Women have always been venerated in Indian culture; unlike the way they are perceived in the West. To understand the Western paradigm, one can go back at least two and a half millennia to the Greek civilization in which epics like Iliad and Odyssey underline the dismal position of women in Greek society. Western civilizations have treated women with ignominy. The Minoan Crete Civilization is arguably the only exception, wherein Mother Goddesses were worshipped and the society was largely matriarchal. Homer’s Iliad is premised upon Helen being used as a puppet in the hands of powerful men like Paris and Menelaus. She is denied any agency, and her beauty becomes the precondition for a war. All through the narrative, she is shown as a hapless and weak figure.
The treatment of Pandora in Greek Mythology and Eve in the Judeo-Christian creation myth further attest to the beleaguered position of women in ancient Western civilizations. The Book of Genesis presents Eve as a harbinger of evil, having been influenced by Satan. These notions retained their strength well down to the modern age, as can be surmised in the views of Luther, Calvin and Knox. It naturally required a significant amount of resistance to oppose such entrenched beliefs, and this is exactly what transpired in the feminist movement of the twentieth century. In the era of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), a discriminatory social and moral code- captured by the phrase ‘Victorian ethics’- percolated into those nations colonized by European countries, and these dubious ethics continue to undermine Eastern values and traditions. It confined women to homes, and restricted their freedom, which began being determined by a woman’s promiscuity.
Eastern cultures in fact value women far more than the West. This is true for preConfucian China, where oracle bone inscriptions suggest that women enjoyed leadership positions too. Likewise, in India, perhaps the greatest advocate for woman’s agency in the recent past was Mahatma Gandhi. He very firmly said that women should stop being slaves to men. He also believed that true independence could only be salvaged when women could freely roam around even at midnight. A mindset change is the need of the hour. Gender equality must define our actions and gender neutrality should necessarily shape our perceptions. The safety of women can only be ensured by bringing about a change in the attitude of men. This however does not translate into legitimizing violence against the established order or circumventing the family. Neo-feminism has come to represent negation of social order, indiscipline and rejection of family. In the Indian context, family is the bedrock on which dharma stands, as it sustains creation. Gender equality can certainly be salvaged within this domain as family too requires constant reform.
Moreover, women certainly do not have to ‘protected’ as they are naturally strong and resilient in many ways. Swami Vivekananda had balked at the proposition of women needing to be protected when they were already powerful- as embodiments of Durga and Sakshat-Jaganmata. Thus, the key is to help women realize the strength they possess naturally. The Hindu worldview considers God to be ardha-narishwara, i.e, half-woman and half-man. Ancient philosophies like Samkhya darshan also refer to the fusion of purusha and prakriti, that embody male and female principles respectively. Thus, in our civilizational paradigm, women and men are not seen as separate but linked and connected in many ways. The distinguishing feature of Indian women over the centuries has been the sense of control they have over their own lives.
Right from the Vedic times, women have been playing a role in shaping Bharat’s civilizational virtues. They were treated with dignity and respect. They were also epitomes of knowledge and wisdom. Two types of Vedic scholars existed among women: Brahmavadins and Sadyodvahas. While Brahmavadins never got married and dedicated their lives to Vedic learning, Sadyodvahas studied the scriptures until getting married. Several scholars like Appala, Ghosha, Maitreyi and Gargi made seminal contributions to the Vedic corpus. Much later, the epochal debate between Adi Shankaracharya and Mandan Mishra was mediated by the latter’s wife Ubhaya Bharati, who went against custom to declare Adi Shankara as the winner. Later, she engaged him in a discussion on the Kama-sutra, which given the stature of Adi Shankara was an act of immense courage. The famous dialogue between Maitreyi and Yajnavalkya over the nature of Brahman is a testimony to the enormous respect women enjoyed in the Vedic period.
Innumerable women Bravehearts have also been an integral part of our history. Rudramadevi, Razia Sultana, Rani Abbaka, Velu Nachiar and Ahilyabai Holkar- all contributed tangibly to retain India’s civilizational character in their own times. Thus, women have always been accorded with leadership roles in Indian society. Sita and Draupadi too are epic figures who capture the essence of Indian womanhood. Draupadi comes out as a self-willed and courageous character. An incident from the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata is suggestive. Here, Draupadi laughs at Bhishma when he speaks with Yudhistira on his death bed, and Bhishma replies that she is perfectly entitled to laugh given he was also in the room when she had been violated by Dusshasana.
Sita too comes out as a woman of high self-esteem. In the author’s words, the word ‘Sita’ itself represents the words Strong, Intelligent, Transparent and Assertive. She went along with Lord Ram from the vanvas despite having the option of staying back in the palace. She withstood all hardships in Ashoka vatika, and did not succumb to Raavan’s overtures. She engaged in discourses on Dharma with Ram, giving him a lot of food for thought. Sita’s self-assertion can be noticed at multiple points in the epic, wherein she puts her point forward with loads of confidence.
Thus, the author concludes that it is important to make the current generation celebrate the strength and glory of womanhood, and the need for unequivocally respecting women as equal human beings. [ref]