Indian pluralism and a pluralistic India for a Brighter Future of Humanity

Recently, after my speech at the Leicester Vichar Manthan on how a truly Dharmic society promotes the idea of unity in diversity, a Bangladeshi friend was surprised when I said I have had a lot of close Muslim friends since my childhood. The latter was probably a direct questioning of the former (and of someone who could adhere to such an orientation) that may have had its doubters in the audience at Leicester as well. In an age of hard-Right ultra-nationalism in many parts of the world and the rise of certain radical elements from the fringe Right in India, it is understandable to disregard the fact that India has always been about a coming-together of disparate identities and ideas, not only post 1947 but for millennia. In this context, it was surprising when one middle-eastern friend went so far as to categorize the entire nation of India as `bigoted’ to my great dismay and protest. It is easy for people to homogenize a nation’s thoughts and orientations and, in doing so, being unfair to its people. For him and for various others, I am sure it is tough to understand how a modern `Hindu’ and an Indian could argue on the nuanced point that Indian pluralism is non-negotiable, given what they see as a recent surge of Hindu-identity politics in India. It is exactly because being Hindu and an Indian naturally makes you inclusive and pluralistic…if you are true to the foundational ideas of India and even what can be regarded as `Hinduism’, which I argue is a highly recent and amorphous term.

Before moving any further, I would just like to highlight some subtle differences in my usage of terms from what is regarded as conventional. When I just speak of Dharma, it is not in the religious context but rather as more – as the natural order and balance in society, sustained by values that uphold the multiplicity of voices and perspectives within it. When I speak of what we usually call Hinduism, I would rather call those sets of values and ideas broadly Vaidika Dharma or Sanatana Dharma, a way of life and not quite a modern religion even, since there was no one homogeneous religion called Hinduism before the eighteenth and nineteenth century and all there was were sects and schools of philosophy. If the Persians are to be believed, Hindus are those living to the east of the Indus river, and therefore as some would say, it almost signifies a cultural or even civilization connotation for the Indian subcontinent. But that debate is for later. In this article, I would rather not delve on that.

Having got that out of the way, let us look at the foundations of India.

Let us look at the idea of India. Continue reading “Indian pluralism and a pluralistic India for a Brighter Future of Humanity”


For a Dharmic Brexit and Unity in Diversity

(This reflection-piece was written for an event where I was called as a speaker by Vichaar Manthan – UK in Leicester on `The Role of Dharma in the Post-Brexit Indo-British Relationship’. It looks at the spirit of India, and how the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ has been ingrained in its core, and what UK could obtain from this understanding in a post-Brexit world)

Jaimini, the author of the celebrated Purvamimamsa and Uthara Mimamsa, explains ‘Dharma’ thus `Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good’. Dharma comes from the word ‘Dhr’ and related to that which upholds equilibrium and balance in society and the Universe. Dharma is a term that appears in a very fluid manner in the ancient and medieval texts of Indi, particularly the itihas or epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Krishna and Rama, however, do share the commonality of not just the speaking of and on Dharma but living Dharma. And it is this that ancient Indian philosophy embodies. Not just saying or doing things, for these are but temporary flutterings on the cosmos, but rather orienting one’s existence so that that which balances, that which equilibriates and that which respects the inherent unity that the oriental traditions may see in the Brahman or Tao while the occidental, contemporary, scientific tradition may see as products of the singularity that exploded into form with the Big Bang.

So, in a world full of polarities, dualities, multiplicities and differences what can be regarded as the equilibrium, as the balance and the balanced, as Dharmic? When relativistic physics tells us that space (and its associated dimensions), along with time, is frame dependent and has no absolute aspect while quantum physics talks of an even more fuzzy reality, whose evolution depends on its observation, surely such a balance is tricky to demarcate or highlight. The Dharmic tradition therefore does a highly sensible thing in the process: it decentralizes the resolution of this dilemma. It makes Dharma the operational balance of elements in the Universe as determined by their innate tendencies and natures, or Swadharma. Gandhi may have called this Swaraj (or self-rule) as did Bal Gangadhar Tilak but the idea itself has its roots in the Vedas and Upanishads of India. This is turn neatly comes from the concept of Rta, the natural order of things in the Universe. Just like fire burns, water flows, snakes slither and so on. The more relative truths of these tendencies build up the relational reality of our universe. Currently I am studying the possibility of unifying physics as we know it using a relational reality as the basis. Regardless of the result of this research pursuit with Prof. Brian Josephson (Emeritus Professor, Cavendish Laboratory and Nobel Laureate 1973) at Cambridge, at a human level this presents a more accessible and equally universal gem of wisdom: unity in diversity.

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Manifesto Musings

The Indian General Election season is here!

Will it be ‘Abki baar (phir) Modi sarkaar’ (‘this time (again) it is time for a Modi government’) or ‘Jaat par na pat par, mohar lagega haath par’ (‘neither based on caste nor on creed, my vote will be on the hand’; the hand is the symbol of the Indian National Congress)? Will India finally vote for a regime mainly on development issues or are we still some way off from such a scenario? How important will caste dynamics be? Will communal and sectarian politics play a role?

These are all questions that shall matter immensely as the country gears up for the General Elections 2019, beginning from 11 April 2019.

The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, have now been released. Both parties have looked into various aspects of life and society in their respective manifestos, right from the economy and jobs to foreign affairs and defense.  While one focuses on its leader (the BJP’s with the focus being on Narendra Modi), the other seems to focus on people, in general. One talks of resolutions (‘Sankalp‘) while the other talks of its ability to deliver (the Indian National Congress).

As the country gears up to vote, I would like to look at the key points that are covered (or not covered) in the manifestos, in a series of articles called #ManifestoMusings. As both parties pitch their manifestos for claiming power in 2019, let us see what the two parties have to say on this.