Blueprint for a Modern India

Babri Masjid and Beyond

The demolition of Babri Masjid marks a poignant moment in the history of the Indian subcontinent. One sees in this destruction not the large hand of Shiva which cleans the slate for a new beginning, but rather, the petty whirl of a dark and opportunistic eddy. Yet the forces underlying this event are deep and have now surfaced. They cannot be ignored nor suppressed. Whereas development of the subcontinent into a strong, modern and civilised polity at one time seemed natural, this was sabotaged repeatedly throughout this century, both before and after independence, by shrewd colonialists and by misguided leaders. The path appeared to be one of coming abreast of the world technologically, economically, ideologically, and then leading it forward culturally and spiritually. Yet we have arrived at a pass where the largeness of the spirit has been lost and the boldness of the brave has been buried.

Whatever be the anatomy of this development, its prognosis—fraught now with pain—is what we should seek to explore. That Hinduism needs to destroy in order to assert is an antithesis. That the truth-vision which proclaimed Sanatana Dharma, the sempiternal nature and law of all existence, seeks truth in non-existence, that too of a physical structure, is an antithesis. And yet we are witness to a descent into narrow claims in the name of Hinduism. Is there then any truth in this movement, however warped and negative its expression, that seeks to emerge? Is there a deeper harmony in the midst of this strife that seeks play? If there is none, then this is for Hinduism the knell of relegation to mere religion. But there is a subcutaneous force in India’s dormant and wounded body, erupting through her epithelial crust, that alone shall heal her gulfs and be a soothing balm to the world. There is a high principle of harmony beneath her upheavals that is actively moulding India’s future. This force and harmony seem to falter in manifestation for they can rely only on ill-formed instruments for action. If strong and noble and wise persons can harbour inspiration from that force and harmony, then surely the work will be accomplished with finesse and speed. Furthermore, in India alone can it achieve its work of auguring a new harmony and thus taking the world beyond the current stasis, for India is uniquely capable of discovering this harmony and balance.

Society today has envisioned man as a rational being in pursuit of happiness largely determined in material terms. Such institutions as safeguard and promote this aim have arisen and flourished—state and commerce, for example. Ideally, the state ensures liberty and equality of its citizens while commerce provides them with conveniences that enhance, even define happiness. Fraternity, another yearning of mankind, is assiduously separated from the organised apparatus of modern society. While family and friends form a natural fraternity, the stress of liberty wears them thin. Organised religion seeks to provide another fraternity. However this fraternity is devoid of liberty as well as equality. Thus, a stable rational society moves towards a citizenry endowed with liberty in an atmosphere of state-ensured equality, garnering comforts and material happiness. Yet this rings hollow, for man is not a rational being alone. Beyond his rationality and his rationalisations there is a spiritual possibility. Freedom, unity, godhood are the soul-principles of the modern yearning for liberty, equality and fraternity—freedom of his soul from worldly bonds, unity of his soul with those of others, and godhood of his soul’s identification with the All-soul. Modern society needs to express tangibly the balance between liberty, equality and fraternity. Modern society needs to reorganise to reflect these soul-principles. But today’s rational society, bound by the compact of polity and commerce, cannot easily incorporate an alien principle. The soul-seeds have to be sown at the inception of a nation-building effort, and irrigated by the consciousness of a spiritually open populace. India is uniquely capable of discovering this harmony and balance.

Spiritual Humanism

Religions emerge out of substantial mystic and practical traditions that mould the character of the messenger, the message and the laity. Though the messenger could break the mould, the tone of the religion is largely set by the other two. Fundamentally, Judaism, Christianity and Islam proclaim that there is one transcendent god not involved in the world. Fundamentally, Hinduism proclaims that there is a transcendent god who is also involved in this world and evolves out in myriad forms.

The basic issue faced by religions has been the dichotomy between this-worldliness and other-worldliness. This has resulted in various responses—from heavens and hells to escapist fatalism. Modern science has posed the most potent challenge in this regard. In the Judaeic, Christian and Islamic faiths, in the face of science, you have to remake or break with your faith. European Christianity has in the large chosen to break with the faith and has evolved secular humanism which modern Christianity adopts and imposes. This is because western Europe consists mainly of practical people driven by commerce. What Christianity has faced since Galileo, both Islam and Hinduism have to face today. It remains to be seen how Islam will respond to the challenge of modernity. Under the pressure of progress and science and secular humanism it must admit tolerance, while under the influence of spirituality we may see a mystic revival as of Sufism. It must break with its extreme positions and fanatic proponents or face potent adversaries.

But Hinduism has already crossed many thresholds in its deep, wide, lofty and rich spiritual development. The path for Hinduism is to shirk off inertia and fatalism, broaden its ideology and press forward with science, thus to prosperity. In this regard, we must oppose fundamentalists who narrow the scope of Hinduism rather than broaden it. This broadening has been the traditional response of Hinduism to challenges from diversity. This broadening of its world-view is possible since in its axiomatisation god is involved in this world and evolves out in different forms. Thus, Hinduism does not have a make or break choice before it; rather, with a synthesis of matter and spirit, it shall enter rejuvenated into a fresh cycle of human civilisation.

The key to the lock on mankind’s future is this synthesis and the ensuing spiritual humanism which results from a deep understanding and a broad incorporation of diversity within itself. In this regard, spiritual humanism is different from secular humanism. Certainly, secular humanism houses genuine and catholic principles, those of freedom in religious pursuation for the individual and the freedom from the same for the organised collective; it expresses the ideals of human rights and dignity, an illumined vision of the human condition. But from a deeper perspective, secular humanism is not much more than a glorified version of animal rights. Clearly, in as much as we are social animals, and in as much as we behave only as such, secular humanism is required as a baseline of social conduct. But secular humanism is a mechanical and moralistic blend of the principles of liberty and equality; lifeless and soulless, it is an arid shell of a deeper necessity. A third principle, that of fraternity, is ineluctable in any stable world order. The only lasting fraternal principle is that of the unity of the human spirit. Man is not a social animal alone, nor is society a mere mechanism. The individual and the collective both house an innate spirit and ever seek its full expression, individually and collectively. The call of spiritual humanism is freedom, unity, godhood.

Identity, Dynamism, Harmony

The first harvest of India’s nation-building has been roundly squandered. The field has lain fallow in the famine of bureaucratic apathy and collective pettiness. The goal is clear: to build a dynamic, modern society, technologically and economically advanced, not soulless and hollow, but brimming with a deep and subtle afflatus and inviting the world to sip. This afflatus seeks strong and noble and wise instruments amongst us. The path forward is also clear: to establish institutions that engender first prosperity, even more, a culture that embracing rationality exceeds it, ever affirming and pliantly accommodating deeper possibilities. India is the crucible in which shall evolve a dominating paradigm for a future world, and we are its visionary scientists. The call is strident.

There are three principles on which the blueprint for a modern India, and indeed for all nations in a new world, must be based—identity, dynamism and harmony. India’s identity houses her central national character, a rich and multifaceted diversity that presses on itself forming a broad and deep stream of culture, history, traditions and spirituality—an identity whose subtle form is worshipped as Mother India and whose outward form is the political nation-state. India’s dynamism is her innate creative power of supreme spiritual aspiration, of experimentation in human individual and collective organisation and of exteriorisation of a myriad material and cultural forms. India’s harmony is of an inclusive synthesis of matter and spirit, of a harmonious interaction between each individual and the social and physical environment on the basis of spiritual humanism.

The principles of identity, dynamism and harmony have for India the conjugate pragmatic counterparts of nationalism, decentralisation and community. India’s nationalism is a congealed amalgam of her many languages and cultures and religions and traditions and accomplishments, of her history and geography, of her spirituality and her aspirations and goals. It is not a vapid homogeneity nor an inert or revisionist obduracy, but a multifarious expression of an innate freedom, unity and godhood. The idea of national identity and character entails a certain concentration of power in the central government for the purpose of India’s representation in the comity of world nations and in multilateral political and economic fora, and for the purpose of India’s physical and economic security. This necessity of centralisation, however, cannot justify excessive centralisation of power, for it dampens the economic, social and cultural dynamism of our peoples. Individuals and industry unfettered from bureaucracy and socialism shall fuel India’s growth and expand her economic and technological frontiers. Finally, amidst this identity and dynamism, we need a community consensus, independent of political partisanship, breaking the inert and retrograde feudal cycle of society and expanding the exclusively rational approach of development, to usher the forward-looking and integrated harmony of spiritual humanism. In this blueprint, the state must pursue rational and secular practices but it must not deny India’s cultural and spiritual heritage. It is the community of India that blossoms into spiritual humanism. With an identity expressed in a genuine national voice undistorted by petty revisionism and faithfully represented by the government, with dynamism in business, technology, education, culture and society engendered by decentralisation of opportunity and power, and with a harmonious community founded on spiritual humanism promoting freedom and unity, India shall not only harmonise the subcontinent but also compel the world.

These are the principles that should guide the charting of India’s course. What policies must we then derive from these principles and pursue in our present circumstances? A clear lesson from India’s history is the repeated breaching of our national security, and hence a strong role by the central government in ensuring India’s integrity is paramount. Participation by the central government in international councils such as United Nations, trade groups, security blocs, human rights organisations, must be consistent and aggressive and on equal terms strategically suitable to India. India should guide these organisations forward based on her vision of humanity’s future, and promulgate new fora where the present ones are inadequate for her mission of spiritual humanism for the world. By her message of freedom and unity, she must encourage internationalism in individuals through multilateral citizenships and invite all persons of Indian descent or propensity to participate in her development. Further, the central government by necessity sets the broad tone and approach regarding the conduct of society, and must abide by rational and secular practices that guarantee a minimum standard of social conduct—equal protection, modern economic policies, pursuit of science and technology, and liberty and equality for the populace. But it should not deny nor suppress the spiritual possibilities of India. The concentration of power in the central government must be reduced sharply where it curtails the dynamism of India without promoting her security. In fact, it is by devolution of opportunity and power to local communities that India’s security and dynamism shall be enhanced. Devolution of opportunity consists of further economic liberalisation through privatisation and competition in mass communication media such as television, radio, telephones, and computer networks, transportation industries such as airlines, railways, roadways, and shipping, infrastructure industries such as power and utilities, and municipal functions. Devolution of power consists of further political liberalisation through decentralisation of government to state and local organisations and to organic communities, through regular and open access by professional news organisations as well as by common citizens to law-makers and to the process of law-making and policy formulation at all levels of government, and through voluntary term limits by politicians. The absence of this devolution of power can be traced as the source of our present factional violence. Finally, consensus-building mechanisms shall emerge organically within India independent of partisan politics and of the government. Effect of the individual’s and the community’s voice and control over their own governance will be apparent to them due to devolution of political power, and this realisation will encourage commitment and participation in India’s mainstream. Unfettered access to channels of personal and social communication shall spur the development and expression of new cultures and their commingling and synthesis. The action of fissiparous and demagogical voices will get countered by conservative forces from the business, scientific, cultural, religious and community leadership, all in the arena of ideas rather than the field of violent social confrontation. This shall lead to a rich and multifaceted bond of our national character, for our inherent culture is not a divisive force but rather a harmonising and integrating one. Expanding economic power shall then give weight to the projection of this harmony onto the world. The test of this approach is when we shall have free movement, with necessary safeguards, of people, goods, trade, investment, technology, ideas and culture amongst all countries of the Indian subcontinent, for if this paradigm of spiritual humanism can harmonise the Indian subcontinent, then it shall also carry the world beyond its current stasis.

Social and economic development through free interaction between local organic communities is the key to India’s future. Certainly, some global economies of scale must be pursued for efficient utilisation of resources. But an exclusive emphasis on economies of scale alone leads to specialisation of individuals and concentration of resources. In particular, individuals finally become so specialised as to lose their innate holistic balance. Alongside economies of scale we must also pursue economies of scope wherein individuals and industries participate in several complementary and interlinked activities, giving them a wholeness. This is in essence a community-based approach. The size of a local organic community is influenced substantially by the technologies available, and with modern telecommunications and transportation, India is no longer situated in small villages but in midsize towns and large cities. What we need is not a show-cased city such as Delhi but a multitude of vibrant communities. Let us then combine these principles and policies and commence a project that shall inexorably define India’s future.

Let us visualise a hundred communities spread all over India, linked by private radio, television, telephone, cable, satellite and computer networks; connected by highways and railways, each with an international airport; with education and technology at once in close contact with India’s needs yet solving the world’s larger problems; with production and trade and commerce linked to international financial and distribution networks; with parks and gardens and natural environments, with well-designed power and water supply, modern waste and sewage disposal and other municipal functions; each with an integrated population of two million to five million persons welcome from all regions and strata of India and the world, all richly weaving the fabric of India’s character and the world’s through a creative outflow and interchange of multidimensional culture. Within the overarching framework of a robust national identity and dynamic decentralisation promulgated by the central and state governments, each community governs itself through local councils responsive to local conditions, maintaining self-regulating mechanisms, ensuring a stable population and a harmonious and organic environment. This project should be funded not through loans from international agencies but rather through direct internal and international investment, perhaps each community linked, based on its natural affinity, to a sister community elsewhere in the world. Such a project shall rivet the model of India’s development, with states and larger cities as well as smaller communities completing the span of the community of India, thereby to integrate on its anvil other communities of the subcontinent. Free yet coherent, diverse yet united, organic yet efficient, such an environment shall evoke once more the unique and enduring genius of the people of India—a spiritual harmony of life and existence, a lofty subtle afflatus animating all the modes of society.

1992

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3 thoughts on “Blueprint for a Modern India

  1. economy of scope vs economy of scale is a good concept. But selfishness and greed can spoil everything, which is where policies of socialim, ceilings, protectionism, subsidies, etc. bring in forces of moderation. although i am sure these come with the baggage of beaurocracy. well, india tried the middle ground of mixed economy which was pretty much thrown in the dustbin in 1991 with the IMF and WB arm twisting third world countries. certainly we have move farther from fraternity with the rich getting richer and the poor being stuck in their well.

    as for your idea of compact communities, would Pondy qualify? Corruption has made it mostly a stagnant society and our democracy is vastly a movement to woo votes – playing in tune with the cheapest emotions such as sectarianism.
    Maybe you have changed some of your ideas since writing these articles. But it is visionary and i like it very much.

    of what i heard of Satya Sai Baba’s community, it sounds like he has achieved quite a fraternal system that is working well on the practical level of community outreach – through the concept of seva.

    i was also thinking of how a new renaissance in india could take shape – just like the one which brought the Brahmo Samaj, SA, Vivekananda, etc.

  2. What I am asking for is a system of economy of scope which is more efficient than economy of scale while having all of the same frailties such as greed, selfishness, etc.

    In economy of scale, a given resource (say a person or a shop floor or a farm) is used for a single purpose at a high scale. Can the resource be used more fungibly, for more purposes, and have the aggregate output with the same resources be higher because each resource is engaged in multiple dimensions, holistically?

    The ceilings, protections, and socialism you mention were to counteract the wealth-concentrating effects of economy of scale; they did not introduce nor were they intended to introduce scope economy. Essentially they were a distortionary tax that depressed incentives and efficiency.

    I am not sure what you mean by will Pondy qualify – it’s just another town in India. If you mean the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community, then to some extent yes – since resources are treated holistically and given full range to develop in multiple dimensions. But this community, as well as the Sai Baba operation you mention, are not full economic systems – they run in the main on charitable contributions. The quest goes back to a complete economic system of scope that is more productive than of scale.

    Do point out your ideas and articles on these topics.

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