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Integral Humanism Of Deendayal Upadhyaya

Integral Humanism of Deendayal Upadhyaya

It is a testament to Deendayal Upadhyaya’s foresight that much of what he suggested fifty years ago may seem unsurprising to many since it is now part of the established discourse of Hindutva. His four lectures on Integral Humanism sought to examine existing socio-political and economic ideas and systems and posit an alternative mode of living based on the traditions of Sanatana Dharma.

In some ways, his endeavour can be regarded as a research agenda with clear markers for various lines of enquiry rather than a complete policy agenda. And it is the pioneering nature of his ontological foresight that is significant since the practical underpinnings of an alternative vision were only outlined broadly.

He reviews the evolution of Indian society following independence in 1947 and notes its descent into political opportunism, which replaced the antecedent idealism of nationalism itself. In the first two lectures he questions the applicability of the existing social and economic arrangements under Western capitalism and communism and proposes the alternative of Integral Humanism, based on the immanent values of Sanatana dharma.

However, in engaging with contemporary Western ideas and socialist alternatives for society and questioning their validity he does not espouse, in their place, the idea of an inviolable Indic tradition that would restore some mythical golden age. Indeed he explicitly rejected such a possibility on the grounds that adaptation to changed circumstances was both a necessity and acknowledged foundation of Sanatana Dharma. This is the great strength of the living tradition of Sanatana Dharma that inspired Deendayal Upadhyaya.

“..neither possible nor wise to adopt foreign -Isms in our country in the original form in toto” but also counsels that “to ignore altogether the developments in other societies, past or present is certainly unwise.”

In the aftermath of the independence struggle, which had witnessed relative political unity, with the exception of the communists who remained outside the mainstream, differences soon surfaced between political groups. The Congress itself contained many competing views, from ardent capitalist to socialists and diehard communists. In his words: “no definite principles, no single direction in Congress”. This early phase was soon followed rampant political opportunism whose purpose was to gain power without discernible principle. Deendayal Upadhyaya was commenting on the 1950s and 60s, presciently recognizing the dire socio-political outcomes that eventually ended with the veritable implosion under the UPA in May 2014.

It is also no accident that Nehruvian school textbooks blatantly denounced Chhatrapati Shivaji as a bandit and also unashamedly denounced Guru Gobind Singh.

Deendayal Upadhyaya attributed the resulting national drift and disenchantment evident in India to“confusion about our goal and the direction”. In his view, the malaise and political opportunism had arisen owing to an absence of a sense of national identity. It may be inferred that the very idea of national identity was anathema to India’s dominant ruling elites who sought to avoid controversy.

Quite clearly, defining a national identity would have had to be anchored in the history of India and the role prominent personalities played in it. It would have inevitably meant identifying and denouncing foreign invaders and applauding those who resisted them.

The Nehurvian Congress elites who dictated policy were loath to recognize anything that would celebrate India’s Hindu identity and past, only allowing generalized and meaningless banalities. It is also no accident that Nehruvian school textbooks blatantly denounced Chhatrapati Shivaji as a bandit and also unashamedly denounced Guru Gobind Singh. They were unwilling to offend Muslims whose sense of belonging to India, rather than sectarian Pakistan, they thought should be cultivated at any cost. The eventual outcome was to pronounce Indian secularism by Constitutional decree and allow the ascription to descend to triviality and then appeasement of any and every wrong-doing in the name of communal harmony.

While Deendayal Upadhyaya did not advocate a return to some golden age before the Islamic invasions, since so much had changed in the intervening period, he was conscious that British rule subtly induced self-doubt and distaste for Bharat’s own culture and identity in the educated elite. Yet he sought to differentiate between Western science and Western ‘way of life’. Like the leaders of the 1868 Meiji restoration in Japan, he advocated adoption of the former rather than the latter, but rejected a narrow nationalism, a conception in accord with that of Swami Vivekananda.

Deendayal Upadhyaya offers a critique of Western economic and political and doctrines and questions their suitability for Bharata. He rightly acknowledges the critical advance of democracy alongside nationalism and socialism and provides a brief sketch of socialist protest against exploitation and the huge impact of Karl Marx. His principal difficulty with Western doctrines was the historically demonstrated contradictions and inconsistencies between their various aspirational components.

For example, he is conscious that democracy does not overcome either class conflict or resolve the problem of inequality under capitalism. Recent work by Thomas Piketty has posed a significant query about the propensity of capitalist markets to habitually create major economic divides.

Deendayal Upadhyaya also argues that the values of the West are somewhat specific to their circumstances and history and they too, he points out, have abandoned some certainties. In the case of the insuperable difficulties faced by Marxism he is prophetic. He sensibly avows about way forward ideas:

 “ones that originated in our midst have to be clarified and adapted to changed times and those that we take from other societies have to be adapted to our conditions.”

Not only did Russia implode as a polity, society and economy, a condition from which it is yet to recover, a moral vacuum emerged with its collapse after 1990.The notion of tabula rasa and a beginning that largely eschews the past was tried in post-revolutionary Russia by a group of ruthless and extraordinarily gifted intellectuals. But their efforts ended in total failure.

The brutal erasure during seventy years of communist rule of much of its antecedent culture led to a sectarian and intolerant religiosity and amoral, nihilistic criminality that recognized no social or moral boundaries once communism collapsed.It is this phenomenon, in a lesser manifestation that Upadhyaya identified in the trajectory of independent India.

“If culture does not form the basis of independence then the political movement for independence would reduce simply to a scramble by selfish and power seeking persons.”

In speaking about the Bharatiya culture, from which society needs to draw inspiration and formulate policy, he poses an ontological contrast with key Western ideas, as represented by Hegel, Marx and Darwin. He posits the notion of society as an integrated whole rather than relationships and interaction of isolated individuals and innately conflictual elements.

This notion of an integrated whole is imputed by Upadhyaya to collective as well as individual life and their well-being. He proposed that needs of the individual were a composite whole that could be satisfied by what he described as ‘integral humanism’.

“We have thought of life as Integrated not only in the case of collective or social life but also in the individual life.”

He regards conflict as instances of breakdown and co-operation as abundant as competition and discord. This may be contested on empirical grounds,but the endeavour to achieve the co-operation is surely an undeniable aspiration of societies. And, in his view, central to Bharatiya thought and culture is:

“Unity in diversity and the expression of unity in various forms”

Upadhyaya asserts that the way to achieve the harmony for an integrated and satisfying life is to follow the ancient ethics of Bharatiya culture. He suggests the absence of an integrated whole (body, mind, intellect and soul) leads to trade- offs between these multifaceted dimensions required for the ‘good life’, examples of which most western societies highlight. Implicit in his argument is individual transformation from within, which contrasts with the established sociological notion that the social structure essentially create the individual.

It might be noted that this is the major contrast between religious ontology and the interpretation of social science. It could be argued that the interaction of these two levels of causality could be in equilibrium if established societal structures allowed the individual to exercise, what modern social science describes as ‘agency’ and genuinely so, i.e. societal arrangements that facilitate conscience and morality rather than prompting perpetual efforts to gain short-term advantage.

Deendayal Upadhyaya considers Dharma the overarching principle that should govern all social, political and personal life. For him, it regulates Artha, Kama and Moksha, the latter the outcome of selfless conduct in accord with Dharma. It also regulates the conduct of economic affairs, implementation of justice and governance. On governance, he considers undue accumulation of political and economic power as contrary to Dharma, implicitly criticizing communist regimes and could be regarded as querying the impulses of state-dominated, democratic socialism as well. In general, Upadhyaya associates the preponderance of power, including economic monopolies, as a source of corrupt and adharmic misconduct.

In his third lecture, Deendayal Upadhyaya discusses the dynamics of how societies form and function. He disputes the notion that society is the sum total of its individuals, created by some sort of social contract. He asserts that

“nations do not come into existence by a mere cohabitation”.

Society, in the view of Upadhyaya, has an autonomous ontology and is also not necessarily coterminous with geographical space. He makes an interesting contrast between personal morality and that which arises from social dynamics. He recognizes that individuals, who are moral in their personal life,can be immoral in their behaviour towards society and vice versa, Indians often being an example. Deendayal Upadhyaya defines the nation as more substantial then the individuals comprising it, deriving from an ideal connected to a motherland and, presumably, its culture and historic memories. The values that constitute the nation he defines as ‘Chiti’, commendable attributes recognized as meritorious. He almost posits an a priori constitutive morality for personhood.

To elaborate: “Chiti is the touchstone on which each action, each attitude is tested, and determined to be acceptable or otherwise.’Chiti’ is the soul of the nation. On the strength of this ‘Chiti’, a nation arises, strong and virile if it is this ‘Chiti’ that is demonstrated in the actions of every great man of a nation.”

Quite crucially, Upadhyaya’s conception of the nation and society is different from the view German romanticism that counter-posed itself to the Enlightenment and espoused exclusivism and innate ethnic and national superiority:

“Not only have [the Aufklärer] failed to educate the public: they have also suppressed the few seeds of culture that lie within them. They have criticized folk poetry, myth, and music as so much superstition and vulgarity, and they have elevated the artificial dramas of the French court into absolute norms. Even worse, by preaching their new gospel of the cosmopolitan individual, they have made people ashamed of their national identity. People no longer feel that they belong anywhere, because they are told they should belong everywhere. The result: the people are alienated from the living sources of their own culture, their national traditions, language, and history. Now, thanks to the Age of Enlightenment, people will become perfectly alike, the pale ethereal embodiments of a single universal nature. The Aufklärer preach tolerance only because they believe everyone shares in this abstract humanity. Never do they value cultural differences for their own sake.“

By contrast, Upadhyaya conceives of the individual as representing himself, the soul of the nation as well as wider ‘mankind’ in a spirit of cooperation and unity. He stresses the complementarity of the individual with society and his plural persons with other layers of human organisation:

“The groups larger than nation such as “mankind” are also represented by him. In short, an individual has a multitude of aspect, but they are not conflicting; there is co-operation. Unity and harmony in them.”

He also repudiates the idea that conflict between the state and the individual and between classes is a natural occurrence. Underlying his conception of society is the need for various components that comprise it to function in an integrated, harmonious way. He decries that idea that the State should be overpowering and possess absolute primacy over other institutions of society, perceiving in it the cause of the decline of other societal organisations essential for its healthy operation.

Upadhyaya makes the interesting point that historic Hindu society survived and continued to function because it was not synonymous with State organisation though also calamitously affected by the capture of their State by invaders:

“Those nations whose life centred in the state, were finished with the end of the state. On the other hand, where state was not believed central to its life, the nation survived the transfer of political power.”

The characteristic of the resilience of self-governing Hindu communities, identified by Deendayal Upadhyaya, may be contrasted with the collapse of Buddhist communities in past centuries. Power in Buddhist communities was centralised and lower levels of organisation dependent on State patronage from above in order to function. In the aftermath of foreign conquest, collapse radiated to all levels quickly.

However, Upadhyaya also recognizes the importance of the State, which historical Hindu society, robust at other levels, may have failed to reinforce sufficiently, a possible reason for it succumbing to invaders.

“Dharma wields its own power. Dharma is important in life. Shri Ramdas would as well have preached to Shivaji to become a mendicant and spread Dharma following his own example. But on the contrary, he inspired Shivaji to extend his rule, because state too, is an important institution of the society.”

At the same time, Dharma, according to Upadhyaya, is not confined to places of worship nor is it synonymous with religion. He argues it is much broader, the basis for sustaining society and the universe itself, varying in time and place, depending on circumstances and need.

“The complete treatise on the rules in general and their philosophical basis is the meaning of Dharma. These rules cannot be arbitrary. They should be such as to sustain and further existence and progress of the entity which they serve.”

Deendayal Upadhyaya is critical of India’s federal constitution and the enshrining of special privileges based on attributes like caste, religion, language and province. In his opinion, they are contrary to the principles of Dharma, which enjoin the essential equality and unity of all citizens. He favours a unitary Constitution though with the devolution of executive and decision-making authority to lower levels of societal organisation, from regional states to village panchayats.

The profound defects of the Indian Constitution are rarely acknowledged by Indians, its framers sanctified as infallible. The Indian Constitution adopted a Westminster style parliamentary system that has conspired to articulate every active and dormant social, political, linguistic, religious and supposed ethnic fissure and division in India and magnify them manifold. A Presidential system of governance, with appropriate safeguards and decentralisation, would have mitigated these dangers, which, instead, are being mobilised by the adversaries of Sanatan Dharma and Bharat to undermine it, as a prelude for much worse.

Upadhyaya then proceeds to define Dharma as a form of natural law, ‘innate’, but not theocratic, the latter being the absolute rule of an individual or his supposed inviolable, scripturally-derived ideas. In his view, all actions, even of the gods, must conform to Dharma. This strong assertion needs much more sustained discussion of the sources and precise character of Dharma since it is also changeable with circumstances. He suggests Dharma is regulated action as opposed to unrestrained behaviour, a formulation that may not be regarded as adequate to the weight of authority Dharma must assume as the guide for action.

However, much of what Upadhyaya posits is underpinned by prioritising human reason. It may also be reasonably argued that although the Sanatan Dharma tradition accords a privileged place to the wisdom of sages, it does not insist on its immutability. Reasoned argument allows questioning and changed Dharmic certainties (like paradigms), a process the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn regards as the product of ‘inter-subjective consensus’.

On the specific issue of religious freedom in the rule of Dharma Upadhyaya affirms it must be circumscribed when it encroaches on the freedom of others not of that particular faith.The implications for exclusivist monotheisms are clear and the imperative for decisive action against their aggressive encroachment. He correctly points out secularism in India was defined in opposition to theocracy and Dharma wrongly assimilated to the latter. Of course it has descended into complete intellectual banality and political absurdity, merely an instrument for justifying monotheistic aggression. He challenges this error:

“There is some misunderstanding arising out of this. Religion was equated with Dharma and then secular state was meant to be a state without Dharma. Some said ours is a state (without Dharma), whereas others trying to find a better sounding word, called it Dharmanikshepa (indifferent to Dharma state).”

Author: Dr. Gautam Sen  

Published: Sept 02, 2015

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