A New Politics Of Dharma, Truth And Balance

The politics of this age seems to be one of dogma and ideologies. Gone are the days of Gandhi (whom I pay my respects today, on his death anniversary, also commemorated as Martyrs’ Day) and Mandela, when politics was inclusive and nuanced. Gone are the days of realpolitik, when a conceptual construct was not an end in itself. What is left is a culture of polarisation and binaries, of other-ing in society.

While people see it as a clash of the Left and the Right, of the East and the West, of oriental and occidental thought, I see it as a clash within: a clash that seeks to obtain force from mobilisation on broad frameworks at the expense of true understanding and nuance; a clash between the power of discrimination and political ambitions within.

Today, one has the rabid Radical-Right as much as the regressive Ultra-Left. One has ‘Urban Nazis’ and ‘Urban Naxals’ and an assortment of political animals from across the spectrum. India has been a nation built in modern times on values and a cultural nationalism that is as old as the oldest of civilisations. We may have never been one nation-state, in contemporary terms, except somewhat in the days of Ashoka and Akbar and few others, and yet we have been bound together in values and traditions that are inherently Indic. Ours has been a nation that has always fostered a culture that accepts diversity and welfare of its constituents as nuances of its reality, nay its very existence.

A statue of Gandhi stands outside India’s Parliament. (Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

While most contemporary socio-economic and political models have sprung up from the West, be it socialism or even modern capitalism and mixed-market economies, none of these have been successful in addressing various key aspects of humanity. What is probably missing is an idea that is the underlying basis for the modern nation-state of India as well as a fundamental pillar of the Indic consciousness: Satya (सत्य) or Truth. This is not just an absence of falsehood in actions and speech but rather the Truth that theists may see in God and atheists in physicalist Laws of Nature.

This is the Truth that includes relative truths and yet transcends identities, social constructs and societal dynamics. Therefore it is beyond dualities and multiplicities. This was also the basis for Gandhi’s satyagraha (सत्याग्रह). While Gandhi’s was based on uncompromising commitment to this principle, mine is a more pragmatic approach to the same.

So, for instance, while he spoke of Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा) or non-violence at all times, I believe that Ahiṃsā is the ideal but the practical level may instead require a commitment to the Vedic concept of Ānṛśaṃsya (आनृशंस्य) or non-cruelty, even when a ‘just war’ is warranted. Let us see if this element of balance and pragmatism can be the basis of an Indian conception of modern politics, sans the crutches of western political philosophies.

Today, politics that is based on Indic values, Dharma or Hinduism unfortunately has elements that are regressive, exclusivist and even violent. This is paradoxical for a most Universalist culture and people.

A people that observe, respect and work with the Truth of the world, nay cosmos, around. If we look around, there is a certain order in the universe: water flows, fire burns, wind whistles through the foliage. This is the Swadharma (स्वधर्म) of these elements – their innate tendencies.

Even among human beings, each being is unique, encapsulated in, and yet beyond, considerations of genetics. In ways that are societal; some are born with and some arise out of culturing. These tendencies are expressed in society, relative to others therein. The universe and society has a relational reality.

We, as human beings, exist, evolve and develop relative to each other, within society. In the Universe as well, fundamental particles work in synergy to create physical bodies. This synergy and unity is fundamental in the Universe, expressed along with the nature of all there is in the cosmos. The synergy of quarks makes hadrons, the synergy of atoms make molecules that create matter.

Protestors face the water cannon at a protest in the national capital. (Photo: Flickr)

In society, individuals engage and coordinate within society to create functional units. It is all about interactions and relations between entities, coupling and decoupling over time. Therefore, in society and politics, all that we express and understand is with respect to our perspectives, Swadharma and Samskara – संस्कार (impressions and dispositions that develop and accumulate deep within a person from perception, inference, choices, practice, interaction with others, thoughts, willful actions and such karma). We grow together; we live together. A certain oneness in humanity and the natural and honest compassion comes from such a realisation.

Having realised this, a political philosophy that maintains satya is that of a politics of compassion and welfare. This would be a politics that would work towards building a society where everyone can have a dignified existence, with their unique tendencies and capacities; a system that provides for opportunities and liberty for this multiplicity.

Not only at the level of abilities but also when it comes to comfort and desire in undertaking varied pursuits, every person is distinct. Only when this idea and reality is respected can society remain harmonious and efficient. In today’s age, we have a rush to pursue certain kinds of activities, due to factors such as remuneration and prestige, but this must be actively renegotiated with dignity of labour being a key component in this.

An academic’s son may become a farmer or blacksmith, and a blacksmith’s son may become an academic if both have the respective tendencies, capacities and interest in those pursuits. This will be a society where everyone, in essence, is equal, even though their human differences are acknowledged. There is no hierarchy, no class — just profession based on one’s Swadharma, and a society based on compassion and welfare.

So the next question has to be, how do you bring the two strands together? One that respects our relational reality and one that respects our Swadharma. In modern parlance, and looking at contemporary political thought, the question is: how does one balance liberty and equality, the Left and the Right?

I feel we can create a politics of Truth and balance by orienting every person’s Swadharma towards society’s relational reality.

This will be a politics that is based on the Truth of the Universe, which is more than elements and their attributes, processes and their characteristics. It has a transcendental reality. It has an inclusivist, nay pluralistic plinth. It invariably stands for equality and dignity of all.

This is what the Indic civilization has tried to align with, since times immemorial. It has also given some of the greatest thinkers of ancient, medieval and modern history. Gandhi and Gautama Buddha stand out in that array of luminaries. Gandhi’s Ahiṃsā And Buddha’s Madhyamāpratipada (मध्यमाप्रतिपदा) – the Middle Path, along with Dharmic values form the basis of this new way, which is a way that promotes a refuge in Truth (Satyashrama – सत्याश्रम) and alignment with Truth (Satyavad – सत्यवाद).

A buzzword in today’s age is liberation politics. Indic civilisations have always had the idea of liberating oneself from the burden of identities, which when taken to the spiritual plane translates into the idea of complete physical and spiritual liberation or Mukti.

Race, gender, nationality, class and colour may be important but must not encumber one’s existence and experiences. Universalism, both spiritual and secular, in the human experience is important to bridge ideological, philosophical, political and theological divides.

One has to work towards extracting key ideas, principles and values from contextualised experiences and policies, and strive towards a more universal application. This invariably also leads to a promotion of internationalism, which supports international cooperation as well as respects the national sovereignty of countries. Excessive nationalism is jingoistic and the drive to want to erase all nation-states is a pipe dream.

Balance is key.

Universal Welfare, Comprehensive Democracy And Decentralisation

A political philosophy of Satya is a politics of Karuṇā – करुणा (compassion) and Kalyāṇa – कल्याण (welfare). At the societal level, welfare is important and I stand for accessible and affordable basic amenities for all, with the ideal being free, universal basic amenities.

This will be particularly in education, healthcare, community housing, transportation, energy, and possibly a universal basic income, in the form of local currency convertible to a regular currency, based on the priorities of local administrative councils and communities.

Public distribution services need to be made robust and efficient. When it comes to organisation within society, I feel we must stand for political, economic and spiritual democracy for, by and of all. Political democracy would entail a representative democracy model, with direct democracy possibly employed for certain major decisions.

In the exercise of direct democracy, one must have independent experts who shall inform citizens about the options available to them, in a referendum or policy engagement. Economic democracy would mean greater role and participation of citizens in the public and private sector, with profit sharing, and cooperatives being key cornerstones of this. Protectionism for local businesses and initiatives must be established. We must also promote international monetary cooperation and reduction of financial inequalities between countries.

Lastly, for spiritual democracy, we must move away from a western definition of secularism towards a more holistic one that does not dissociate religion from things in life but rather leaves the possibility of infusing everything with faith and spirituality.

However, faith and politics are never intertwined, and the government and religious bodies are decoupled. Faith is a personal matter that actively discourages exclusivism. Within this paradigm, we must promote dialogue between faiths and communities, with the spirit of inclusivity and acceptance.

Since balance is key, although universal policies and measures are important, we must leave space for contextual measures, based on local conditions and realities. In this regard, we must stand for decentralised structures of administration and policy-making.

India’s top 1% of the population holds 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50%, the majority of the population, owns a mere 2.8% of the national wealth, as per an Oxfam report. (Photo:Well-Bred Kannan/Flickr)

Decentralisation will entail the primacy of local councils and federal structures in the democracy. These units will have the primary role in political and economic policies for the people constituting the administrative units.

Decentralisation ends with the individual and it is important to empower the individual and facilitate a dignified life for all. To this end, I feel we must stand for progressive taxation and a respectable living wage for all. Progressive taxation is one of the key ways to reduce economic inequalities in society and to maintain a more egalitarian society.

Taxes such as Corporate Tax and Inheritance Tax can be imposed as decided upon by the local councils. Also, I feel that personal taxation on income tax for individuals below the poverty threshold must be removed completely. When it comes to wages, the national government/authorities and local councils must decide on the wage-bracket, (with a minimum and maximum wage), for each kind of occupation, with additional bench marking levels being incentivised and awarded on completion, by wage-perks on a minimum amount, (that is decided by the council economic boards, based on the price of basic necessities and amenities besides those universally assured).

Workers must be valued and recognised for their unique contributions, and it must be optimised such that society benefits from every worker’s productivity and goodwill.

Accountability, Regulated Free Market And Profit-Sharing

When it comes to administering the people, it is important to have a clear idea of who does what, when it comes to administration. I think it is fundamentally important to stand for the separation of executive, legislative and judiciary powers, so that the country is not be subjected to undue political, legal or administrative pressures from any individual(s) or organisation(s).

Advisory bodies and bureaucrats have a key role to play in this, to promote more evidence-based policy-making, which is the only way dogmatic or ideological politics that does not evolve with, and reflect the realities, of the time, can be countered. Within this broader framework, we must stand for accountability by political and economic leaders, and lowering corruption in society.

Accountability is important in a functioning democracy. Be it spending caps in election campaigns or progress reports by public servants and representatives, every political, economic and even spiritual leader must be held accountable for their social and financial transactions.

We must also root out corruption of any kind in the system, by an independent ombudsman and a group of adjudicators, with powers to prosecute public servants if found guilty of corruption. Regular and timed public records of income and expenditure by companies, public figures and governments must be made available.

When it comes to economics and markets, I feel we must stand for a regulated free market and directing the liberty of the one towards the progress of the many. I feel we can obtain a lot by standing for the cooperative model of business and enterprise, building on the promise of economic democracy and profit-sharing, so that the workers and stakeholders have greater say in the functioning and profit of the enterprises.

In this model, I envision most businesses, particularly those producing essential requirements of subsistence, such as housing and agro-sectors, as operated as cooperatives. Businesses that are too small for cooperative management and that produce non-essential goods can be run as private enterprises, while very large-scale industries and key/strategic industries can be run as public utilities, with a primarily no-profit, no-loss basis.

Though the specific implementation can be varied, the principle of joint ownership by the people of businesses and enterprises is important, along with leaving space and freedom for individuals to express their liberty and freedom.

Demilitarisation, Environmentalism And Collaborative E-Governance

As market interests and political forces grow in strength, we face an increasingly hostile world. Neo-colonialism is more than just a catchy word and deterrents are just destructive weapons not yet in the wrong hands. I feel we really must stand for greater demilitarisation and environmentalism, with an eye towards world peace and climate justice.

This has to be using a balanced approach that does not require unilateralism in retracting deterrent but has international cooperation and world peace at the heart of the operation. War and industrial exploits have led to a lot of damage to our planet. Global warming and climate change are realities we are facing in almost every nation on Earth.

In such a scenario, if we have to get back from the brink of disaster, we must stand for proactive environmentalism and stronger policies for climate justice to address the reality of climate change. This would involve strict regulations on industries, more considerate international caps on carbon emissions based on the economic status of nations, incentivisation of best practices that promote a greener tomorrow, and an added push towards renewable sources of energy.

One of many climate strikes India’s schoolchildren held last year, to demand the government take climate action with immediate urgency.

To introduce an outlier but revolutionary concept, I feel collaboration, correlation and coordination are the three Cs that we need more of, moving forward. To this end, I feel collaborative e-governance and democracy — a system that mixes elements of representative and direct democracy, is the final frontier of innovation I would like to bring to the fore.

This would allow the common man to propose, formulate and stand by ideas and policies for the welfare of society. A system that involves the common man in the decision-making process, without compromising on the quality of the policies and decisions made. This is done through a tiered system that involves all the stakeholders: representatives, private sector, independent organizations and think-tanks, and the common man, coming together on a virtual platform.

Under this system, proposals for policy or law can be put forth by individuals or groups, vetted by experts (who also inform the masses and the representatives of the nuances of a suggested policy), and then voted in. In a direct democracy, each citizen would be required to vote on each policy issue each time.

This could overburden most people and not allow for the pursuit of activities and interests as per their Swadharma. Therefore in a truly Dharmic system, the citizens should be able to delegate responsibility to trusted representatives to vote on their behalf on those issues where they lack time and/or interest and/or knowledge and understanding. Though these representatives vote on the individual’s behalf, the final voting power must remain with the voter at the ground level.

In Conclusion

The politics of balance and Truth that I have discussed here is one that transcends dogma and ideologies. Today, people speak of Hindu nationalism and communal politicking in the same breath. Today, people talk of fascism and a culture that has always believed in tolerance and dignity of the individual since times immemorial, again, in the same breath. It is time for a change; for a meaningful change.

Change that respects the roots of Indian life, culture and society, and at the same time is at the very frontier of the modern age, in its conception and application. A politics of balance based on a refuge in truth or Satyashrama is not capitalist in that it has a fundamental aspect in its compassion for all. It is not communist for the liberty of the individual is maintained and respected. It is not even a social market economy since the private sector need not be forced to pay the welfare state.

It relies on the belief in the innate humanity of the individual, taken to a level where practically it becomes good and useful to feed back into the system. It relies on the belief that every person must have the dignity to life and opportunities to live a good life, a life based on their Swadharma. This is the politics that can be nuanced and multifaceted, and thereby comprehensive, in its outlook, scope and reach. This is the politics that can be contextual and yet universal.

Each of the specific policies and ideas mentioned can evolve over time, but the heart of this new order, this new kind of politics shall remain one of balance: between Swadharma and relational realities, between ideologies and ideas, and towards a better, more compassionate and yet more responsible world!

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons.
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