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Book Engagement: A New Idea Of India – Part-II


The central theme of this book is “The anchor in India’s case is the idea of individual rights in a civilizational state”. This is written in the context of where new ideas required for us to progress rapidly should be anchored in. In this Part-2, we shall explore how this line of thought has evolved in the book, its potentials and its limitations. While we see this undercurrent throughout the book, its conceptual anchoring is in the first two chapters of the book, which we shall explore in some detail.

The State and the Society

Let us explore some sentences from the book and understand where they are headed.

  • The fundamental flaw of modern India’s secularism as practiced today is that it embodies a confusion between the state and the society.
  • The opposite of secularism is not communalism but theocracy, for secularism is the feature of the state; nation-states can be secular or theocratic.
  • Communalism is a feature of all societies.
  • It is precisely through the non-birth based, idea driven networks and communities that ideational synthesis happens and social mobility accelerates.
  • While the State and society cannot be entirely divorced, the state has to be seen as a conceptual entity.

Fundamentally, what the book argues for is the emergence of communities that are not “tied exclusively to social, religious, linguistic and ethnic identity”. Fundamentally, the book recognizes the importance of communities but considers the socio-religious communities as being too restrictive and antagonistic to the individual dynamic required for economic development. Economic development, of course, is a fundamental necessity of our times to acquire power if not a more fundamental civilizational dynamic itself. Hence, the need for idea driven networks rather than more religious community networks. In addition, the pre-eminence of the socio-religious communities forces the State to engage and recognize communities in its framework forcing the state to become consociationalist/confessionalist – the harmful effects of which we are already seeing with the kind of exceptional rights some communities enjoy. As a consequence, the State must instead only recognize Individual Rights.

There is some merit in the above perspective. However, this leaves some questions unanswered.

  • There is a premium associated with Economic Development. There is an undercurrent of other social realities to be subservient to economic realities. What are the implications of this on the Civilization, on the Dharma itself?
  • Why is there such a premium to economic development? What are its implications? Should we become rich because it is needed for better experiences in our individual life? Or should we become rich in order to have self-confidence? Or is it to protect ourselves from all kinds of assault that we see from other countries/civilizations? Or because only then can we protect Dharma everywhere? Where should we anchor “Economic Development”?
  • Whatever be the answer for the first two questions – where does that leave the State? How should the State be for us to achieve whatever version of Economic Development we envisage? And when we answer that, where do we place our communities? Would it still be possible to have socio-religious communities and yet achieve the same economic development that we wish to?

At the outset, it might look hilarious and ridiculous that somebody should seek a philosophical exposition of economic development. Yet, that is the most urgent necessity of our times. It is the absolute acceptance of one version of economic dynamic that is forcing us all to transform both Societies and State in that direction. These are really fundamental questions. We shall come back to these questions subsequently.

A Narrative of New India

In the section on a Narrative for New India, we find the following sentences.

  • There are four levels of political consciousness, in increasing order of depth – party politics, public policy, the philosophical and the psychological.
  • Intellectuals must focus more on promoting ideas. Electoral politics must be left to cadre.
  • At the public policy level, everybody should agree to concede a little and drive change on connected issues. (Some examples are also given)
  • At a philosophical level, is there a Dharmic version of utopia or Ram Rajya besides rhetorical abstractions? If not, what is the point of communal cold wars in the face of worsening demographics? India needs a different narrative. That is – the state must not discriminate based on identity.
  • At a psychological level, the real debate is between self-belief and a deep-seated inferiority complex. India will soon be the largest section of humanity but do we really belong at the high table and what do we hope to contribute?
  • It is reasonable to want the average Indian to be at least as well off as the average human. India will have to make prosperity and not merely the removal of poverty, the overarching aim. Indian society will be free and open when it focuses on self-improvement as our mantra.

In this section, there is a very clear statement on what must be our foremost purpose, not just the foremost focus, as a nation and that is economic prosperity. In the previous section, we saw the seeking of the restructuring of socio-religious realities to realize a dynamic required for economic prosperity. In this section, we see the same being expected in our political consciousness. But we see two more things emerging that are of greater significance. Although the book significantly bats for Dharma in its rhetoric, there is a very clear sense of disappointment with Dharma – it has not yet led to our own version of Utopia (an ideal state that we must aspire) for. In addition, the book wonders how we are going to get our self-confidence. The answer to both questions is that we must aspire for economic prosperity. Make economic prosperity the new destination for Dharma, that will (alone) bring us self-confidence. A third defence for economic prosperity is “when the rest of the world is already rich we ought to be somewhere close to that”.

This is not how a Civilizational state would approach economic development. These are rather inferiority ridden narratives and forcing the civilizational apparatus to further reduce itself. This is a disguised way of saying that let us follow the world and reach an important destination for us to feel our confidence. Even though the book constantly expressed confidence in the Civilization, it does not explore the Civilizational dynamic to restate problems of today and carve destinations that are different from the rest of the world.

In the next section, the book makes the following statements.

  • India is not just a nation-state manufactured in 1947, it is an ancient civilization with a remarkable – and unique – cultural continuity across space and time.
  • India is an ancient, continuing civilization that is slowly being transformed into a nation through the agency of a modern state.

The questions it does not answer in the book are:

  • What is the nature of this ancient civilization? If Dharma is the difference, what conceptual framework has that led to? What can be brought into the current in order to revitalize and re-energize civilization? Does that lead to the same destinations as the rest of the world or would we go in a different direction? Why should economic prosperity alone be the journey and destination of the future?
  • What is cultural continuity? Why is it that we have a cultural continuity in spite of so much diversity? What are the elements of this civilization driving cultural continuity? How are these elements going to make a difference in our choices of the day? Will pegging everything on economic development help us retain this cultural continuity? What do we need to do to ensure that this cultural continuity is not harmed?
  • What is the nature of a modern state? Is the skeleton and substance of a modern state universal? Will our current modern state help us retain our civilizational identity and continuity? Are there different types of modern states possible? Are we allowing the civilization to shape its own version of the modern state or are we blindly following a version of it that is antagonistic to our civilization?
  • By keeping the state distanced from socio-religious complexity of India, by pegging the individual as the most fundamental entity in the state, are we going to retain this civilizational continuity?

Indian Exceptionalism

This is the section that presents a narrative for the way forward most definitely. Let us explore some defining sentences from the section.

  • As civilizational awareness follows industrialization and in turn leads to self-assuredness, old certitudes as well as Orientalist cliches of a collectivist, traditional, rural, static India start to fall apart…On a civilizational timeline this transformation has been blindingly fast.
  • This quickly evolving India needs new ideas….If these new ideas can still be anchored in an ancient, authentic, yet somewhat conveniently abstract past, so much the better. The desire for robust anchors is only human.
  • That anchor in India’s case is the idea of individual rights in a civilizational state, where Indian civilization is best encapsulated by the word ‘Dharma’.
  • An ideal polity would be a State that is ideational and not just territorial, and a State that sees all citizens as equal individuals. The ties that bind are about a broader world view, only a part of which can be captured by religion or ethnicity.
  • For this is not a religious revival, so much as an ancient spirit embracing modernity – finally doing so without much cant.

From a subsequent section,

  • The Hindutva movement is a civilizational movement…It is conservative only in the very broad sense of wanting to conserve and defend Indian civilization. It is radical at the same time because it breaks from traditional Indian society on questions of caste, increasingly also gender, to fashion an India-specific modernity within the confines of a globally connected, powerful, yet restrained State.

This section characterizes the dynamic that India is experiencing. It recognizes the enormity of this dynamic, the need for new ideas, for everything to be rooted, for a broader world view, for an ancient spirit embracing modernity, for robust anchors and so on. Yet it merely satisfies itself by proposing “the idea of individual rights in a civilizational state” where the civilization is best encapsulated by ‘Dharma’.

The book does not ask the following questions.

  1. How is our civilizational awareness shaping our industrial progress? Is the former shaping the latter or vice-versa? If the universal narrative of industrial progress shaping the former, then what are the implications? Can they ever run in parallel without meeting? How can the former engage with the latter without loss of continuity?
  1. How did our Civilization view Individual Rights? What are its strengths and limitations? Our current vision of Individual Rights – are they in line with the Civilization? If not, what do we propose to change? Do we propose to alter our Civilizational fundamentals in order to accommodate our current vision of Individual Rights? Or would we reshape Individual Rights themselves?
  1. Are we truly shaping a Civilizational State? What are the ideas from our Civilization that we are truly bringing into the Modern State? If that is Dharma, then which elements, instruments, structures of the Modern State is Dharma influencing?

These are extremely important questions. It is not that the book does not engage in these at all. However, it is a touch and go indulgence in these questions. The book leaves the reader asking for more each time it touches these questions in the subsequent chapters. In Chapters 3, 4 and to some extent in 5, the economic and political dynamic the book proposes are nearly disconnected from the civilizational rhetoric we see in the earlier chapters. It would have been more interesting for our dynamic to be articulated in terms of our own Civilizational elements. However, that requires going back to our Ontology and re-imagining everything from First Principles. We may not have the opportunity to rebuild everything from First Principles. But, we will, in the least, know how far we are away from our desired state and how we can get there in steps spanning decades, if not years.

Individual Rights in Bharateeya Parampara

In this section, we shall explore one such fundamental element from the stand-point of Bharateeya Drishti. Where do we place Individual Rights in our world view? Has Bharateeya Drishti given primacy to Individual Rights or has it completely trumped it in favour of Community Rights? And where do we place economic development?

Let us recap our First Principles of Purushartha – defined as goals for all individuals.

  1. We have a right to fulfill our desires (Artha) and needs (Kama).
  2. Our desires and needs often clash with each other. Hence, they need a systematic resolution and mediation through Dharma. There are definite principles of Dharma through which the larger life is organized into communities, traditions and so on.
  3. Even this mediation through Dharma can sustain itself only when everybody pursues the path of Moksha. Thus our pursuit of Moksha shapes Dharma and in turn reshapes our desires and needs.

In this framework, it is necessary for an individual to ‘perform’ the following.

  • Acts that lead to fulfillment of our desires and needs.
  • Acts that lead to fulfillment of others’ desires and needs within our families, communities, and other higher organizational entities.
  • Acts that lead to the strengthening of Dharma.
  • Acts that lead to our progress in the path of Moksha and making the sacred accessible to everybody in the society.

Bharateeya Parampara grants us ‘Adhikara’ to perform these ‘Karmas’.

  • Not performing a Karma for which one is Adhikari would lead to Adharma
  • Performing a Karma for which one is not Adhikari would also lead to Adharma

Adhikara here refers to a set of abilities that comes to you by being within a system and a responsibility. Thus the King has Adhikara to punish crime, the king is trained for it and not doing too would lead to Adharma. Similarly, a craftsman has Adhikara to create something to serve the society and not performing that act, Karma, would lead to Adharma. This system is fundamentally very different from ‘Rights’ and ‘Duties’.

  • One has the ‘Right’ to perform a ‘Karma’ because one has become an ‘Adhikari’ (Competent and Responsible) by the virtue of being trained and being in the Ecosystem.
  • It is one’s Duty to perform a ‘Karma’ because one has been trained, one is competent and one is responsible for it. The moment you have the Adhikara you ought to perform that Karma.

Thus, we see that our civilization has not too much distinguished our between Rights and Duties. It is the net effect of Dharma that the civilization has focused on.

The emphasis on Individual Rights in the modern world is a direct consequence of the Industrial Revolution and Modernity. Each has fed the other. It is fundamentally economic in its origins. It is Artha, Kama driven. It is a significant challenge to our Civilization to imagine the splitting of Adhikara based Karma into Rights and Duties. By merely wishing for a Civilizational State but premium-ing Individual Rights will only result in us gradually moving towards the Western Civilization.

That is not to say that we should not premium Individual Rights. The Industrial Revolution and its continued dynamics have reshaped the equation between the Individual and the Community. But this is definitely to weaken the Dharma when the Individual Rights are anchored in Artha, Kama alone. How can we recreate the Adhikara-Karma alignment with Dharma now in the new reality of Individual Rights? Can merely articulating ‘Duties’ compensate for that? If Rights and Duties are in different universes, can they compensate for the integrated system of Adhikara-Karma?

The answer probably lies in every Modern Institution including the Industry having ‘Purushartha’ of its own. So far, Individuals and Communities were presented with the Purushartha framework and the Rajya had Rajadharma as the guiding framework. With the Modern State becoming far more capacitated, powerful, intervening and structured, with the Community powers completely taken over by the State, Corporate and its constituents the only way we can restore this balance is by defining ‘Purushartha’ for every Modern Institution and Industrial Institutions. What does it mean for State Constituents and Corporate entities to create Purushartha for themselves? That is something yet to be imagined. However, with our community identities weakening, economic dynamic seeking greater freedom for the individual – it is best for political and economic institutions to take over the responsibility of erstwhile communities and provide the Purushartha journeys to people within them. All our political institutions and economic entities today are completely western modern shaped by the Protestant ethic. Their reimagination in the Purushartha model will require several years of investigation and many more years of continuous refinement.

The one way for Individual Rights to mirror image Adhikara-Karma is by realizing a State that is truly Civilizational through Purushartha. This requires confidence, original thinking and withstanding immense global pressure. Will we get started?

A New Idea Of India


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