In 1991 India changed. We opened up. We started becoming part of the global economy. Globalisation had finally engulfed us. Slowly some disturbing signs started emerging. In 1996 we at SIDH organized a week long seminar on “Re-thinking the New Economic Order: Gandhi & Beyond”. It was not a typical seminar in which speakers come, read their papers and often do not even listen to others. Here the idea was to honestly deliberate in a sellf reflective manner, explore, contemplate and question – not neccessarily to provide answers. It was a wonderful experience for all 25 odd participants, opening new doors of perception. Among others one of the main speakers was Kishen Patnaik. Kishen jee was a socialist. A politician – but of a rare variety. He was authentic, a deep and original thinker, not stuck in his views, but ever willing to change them if he was convinced otherwise. On the third or the fourth day of the seminar, Kishen jee commenting on Mahatma Gandhi admitted that people like him (the socialists, the leftists, but I think it applies to most people) did not understand or rather rubbished Gandhi’s spiritual or religious aspect. They felt that Gandhi used this as ruse to entice and allure the common Indian. But now (in 1996) he admitted that perhaps they had made a mistake in understanding Gandhi and that now he feels that spirituality is as fundamental a need of a human being as “roti, kapda aur makaan”. This was a major statement coming from a hard core socialist. All of us who knew Kishen jee were surprised and it made us think deeply about the meaning of spirituality.
Even though I am not a Gandhian but Gandhi has helped me understand many things – the question of civilization, the inherent goodness and wisdom of the ordinary Indian, the beauty of the Ordinary and the potential strength of Indian civilization and last but not the least the modern civilization and its systems, etc – and I am indebted to him (as I am to many others) for this. I also find that in modern times he was perhaps the only mass leader who spoke about the importance (actually more than that, he spoke of the dire necessity) of dharma in politics. He was not secular. He saw the greatness of India - in its civilisational understanding of existence, its values and in the ways of and in the mindset of the ordinary peoples of India. He was not a materialist even though he understood the value of material needs. It is worth reading his speech given in Muir College (now Allahabad University) in a seminar on “Is Economic Progress the Real Progress” on December 22, 1916.
The dominant politics in India, cutting across different political parties and other political movements (e.g. Narmada Bachao, the JP movement etc.), have by and large, been secular and focused mainly on materialism - demanding or protesting against something to do only with material concerns. A few leaders spoke of morality in politics but they too refrained from speaking about dharma. Morality too mostly got restricted to honesty in material terms and hardly went beyond that.
The focus of modern politics has largely been confined to material concerns but a human being is far more than just the body and its needs. Respect, confidence, trust, are some of the basic needs of a human being. He has an inherent sense of nyaya (justice), of fairness even though he may behave and act otherwise. All this is inherent in the Being of human being. Fear, inferiority, sense of shame, anger, angst, frustration, etc are the other side which human nature likes to avoid, dislikes and abhors. This too is part of the Beingness or the Isness. This is Truth. This is reality for anyone to see and experience. It is beyond logic. It is self evident.
India is wounded. Naipaul called it “a wounded civilization”. It has been inflicted with violence and terror, sense of shame during the Islamic regime and even more so under the British rule. The wound is deep and it has been ignored and left to rot manifesting sometimes in cowardice, hypocrisy, self consciousness, imitation, pettiness, myopia and sometimes in vulgarity, small time violent, aggressive and abusive behavior, etc.
Mahatma Gandhi being an extremely sensitive person and being an introvert understood this malaise first through his personal experience and then through observation and incisive insight that he had. Therefore his politics was not confined to political freedom only but he was trying to address the issue of healing the people of India by giving them a sense of pride, confidence, respect and trust in their own ways (of doing and looking/ perceiving). He also understood not only the values embedded in Indian civilization but the damage (at the level of the mind and psyche) done by modernity and therefore in “Hind Swaraj” while critiquing Modern civilization and its systems he also tried to show the beauty inherent in Indian civilization.
This is not being written to eulogies Mahatma Gandhi but only to set the context to what needs to be elaborated. Today in the times of Corona crises the world seems to have slowed down. Whether the crisis was man-made or was an act of nature, nevertheless it has shaken people like no other crises perhaps since the Second World War. If it hasn’t already, it should make the entire world and in particular us, Indians, to think deeply, introspect and reflect. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. It should be quite obvious that the general direction of “development”, “progress” and “growth” taken by the countries of the world is not only unsustainable but violent and discriminating. It is time to boldly review and make a course correction, even if it requires taking a U- turn.
India has been in deep trouble in more ways than one. Basic necessities of millions of people are yet to be met, disparities of all kinds are increasing by leaps and bounds, the villages are under deep neglect, migration is rampant, the traditional and adivasi life itself is under severe threat, etc etc. We need not elaborate. We have seen different political parties – old ones, new ones – doing the same things which have been done in the past. Following the same path of “development” and playing the same old “dirty” tricks to remain in power. It is déjà vu every time. It is high time we came to the conclusion that the answer does not lie in the kind of system, the paradigm, we have adopted and we have been trained into believing - would deliver. We need to look into how the human mind has been indoctrinated by Modernity. This needs to be understood before we can start thinking in a fundamentally different and right direction. Patch work solutions will not work. Modern systems have the capacity to absorb and digest even righteous dissent. It gobbles up (without even a burp) anything coming from within the same paradigm (even dissent) which many times is propped up by its own design. It has the capacity to absorb and sometimes even promote opposition and lend support to both sides like the Democrats and the Republicans, the Congress (and its various allies including the communists) and the BJP etc. It can support both the establishment and the anti-establishment forces at the same time. It has refined the art of management and manipulation of the human mind to a very high degree through media, research, education, NGOs, institutions giving awards and organizing lecture tours, the academia and the intellectuals. It works invisibly, remotely and it is almost omnipresent. The modern GOD!
We need to wonder at the present day contradictions: Communists China and its capitalist/imperialistic ways; Capitalist America and its institutions supporting and nurturing the liberals, the leftists etc.. These contradictions should wake us up and make us wonder and be in awe of the power of Modernity and its ways. Only then can we objectively understand its core. Contemplation on contradictions and paradoxes has the potential to reveal. We also need to connect seemingly disjointed events and happenings to see the design.
Modernity stands on falsity, individualism, comparison and competition. It does not distinguish, deliberately perhaps, between fact and truth and between perception and truth. Hence the biggest falsehood it has been successful in propagating - supported by the lure of individual FREEDOM - is that “there is no (absolute) Truth; that each one defines their own truth (सब का अपना अपना सच होता है)”. Whereas in actuality, each one has their own perception (as different from Truth) (सबकी अपनी अपनी दृष्टि होती है). Truth is Universal (सच तो एक है, सबके लिए). In one stroke it has blurred the sharp and important distinction between Truth and perception, between truth and information, between knowledge and information. In fact so much so that now information is perceived to be knowledge. And opinions are taken as Truth. So freedom becomes individual’s choice, to be defined by him (as he or she likes). Consequence is morality and ethics get thrown out of the window; they are a hindrance to individual freedom. Morality becomes an imposition. Individual freedom is the new value.
Morality and Ethics need to be grounded in Truth. Truth, ethics and morality go hand in hand. Morality can only be derived from Universal principles – Truth, the sanatana (eternal). If we do not accept (forget understanding) that there is Truth, which is universal, beyond time and space (सनातन), then there cannot be an agreement on the question of ethics or morality. We need to come to a shared understanding on universal truth followed by an agreement on morality and ethics.
Modernity talks of objectivity but confines it only to the material, the manifested world. But the fundamental reality is of the unmanifested, the unseen, the felt, the experienced, the known and not of the manifested and sensorial, which is changing all the time. The world of Meaning and the world of the Word are two different realms, inter-connected but different. The reality is that the world of Word is dependent and indicative of the world of Meaning, which is fundamental and which is beyond language, which IS - whether one understand it (the meaning) or not. Words can be learnt but meanings have to be understood and ultimately experienced. Modernity tries to objectify the manifested (which is changing all the time) and subjectify that which is fundamental, constant and needs to be felt, experienced and understood, all within. This is topsy-turvy. But modernity ignores this reality and lays emphasis only on the manifested, the material, the sensorial, the measurable. This is the modern paradigm. This breeds comparison, competition, and individualism pushing everyone into running the same race – globalization, uniformity and homogenization – different names in different contexts but all emanating from the same source. Both freedom and equality the two great values of modern times are perceived in the manifested world without bothering about developing any understanding of their true meaning. In reality, in Truth both freedom and equality belong to the paradigm of meaning and not to the paradigm of word.
Most political movements base their ideas on alleviating the plight of the common man. They do not take into account either the wound of the common man or the inherent faith and values of the common man. If at all it is taken into consideration, it is only to exploit. The common man of this country despite the corruption and indoctrination through modern education and media, still believes in ethics, believes in morality believes in the sanatana. The common man is caught in between – the rat race to/for “development” (the race which the modern paradigm ensures every one must run) and the sanskaras of ethics, values and sanatana. The common man is caught in between and somehow hanging on to the values while trying hard to run the race.
All political movements (with the exception of the efforts made by Mahatma Gandhi but hardly understood by his followers) have been grounded in the modern paradigm. They have been led by people who hardly had any issues with the modern paradigm. They were themselves caught in individualism and were caught in the images of their own personal identity (either/or create consciously by them or got created by others). I am not trying to deride or demean the entire political class. Some of them were great and worth admiring. But the point is about the general trend which politics has been taking. Except Mahatma Gandhi most political leaders were certainly impacted by modern education and did come under its influence to a smaller of lager degree. In this context it is worth reading the speech given by the Mahatma on March 17, 1918 at Sabarmati Ashram on the day he decides to sit on fast unto death in support of the demands of the Mill workers of Ahmedabad.
The present paradigm is solely a materialistic paradigm which promotes individualism (in alignment with the idea of personal freedom). And individualism breeds violence. It encourages comparison and jealousy. But the idea of individual freedom (never defined hence it translates into ‘do what you please’) is alluring to the political class. They never understood the deep synergy between the exploitative results of the paradigm they were trying to challenge and the idea of individual freedom, individual Right, comparison, competition, the market economy and modern State - each supporting the other.
The modern state abhors society (samaaj is a better word, nonetheless) as the samaaj is comparatively speaking more self reliant (and not just in material terms), believes in more or less the same values and code of conduct and hence has the strength to pose a challenge to the State. Samaaj also discourages vulgar or excessive consumption and display of wealth. Therefore it is in the interest of both the State and the market (economy) to disintegrate the samaaj and promote individualism. Modern education and media are the two most effective instruments in this game.
Colonial education had been successful in building a false narrative around our traditions and therefore spirituality, religion, ethics and morality all were clubbed together and thrown out of the window as useless, retrograde, and seeped in ignorance and superstition etc. Secularism was fashionable, alluring and modern. But it has no basis (in Truth). The blurring of the distinction between fact and Truth helped the spread of secularism.
So a new political movement will have to be grounded in Truth (the sanatana), followed by ethics and morality. It will have to develop a clear understanding of swa-tantr-ta (in alignment with Truth, the existential reality) and swa-raj as different from modern concept of freedom and independence. It will have to have a very clear understanding of the distinction between Needs and Wants, between the fundamental and the manifested (the meaning and the word; the Being and the Doing or appearing etc.). To summarise the new politics will have to be grounded in hard core spirituality, Truth (eternal, sanaatan).
April 19, 2020
Pawan Kumar Gupta