Home Forum The ‘Idea of India’ – It Remains

The ‘Idea of India’ – It Remains



If an idea is indeed sensible, it will eventually become just part of the accepted wisdom. Over the last few days, there has been so much going on in the country and the idea that is India is being brought up on various forums, because a reformative law is being implemented! Here, I am searching for a sensible idea of India after reading in the newspapers and listening and watching on television people talking about it. All achievements, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea, don’t they? Our duty is to encourage everyone in the struggle to live up to their highest idea and the same is true for a country. Everything begins with an idea, so as my basic understanding of the history of India tells me, the term ‘idea’ has been used to describe India because it has remained an ancient civilization at the same time as a ‘nation state’, which is very young, having taken birth in 1947 when British India was divided into India and Pakistan. It has been indeed difficult to describe it as a nation, therefore it has conveniently remained an idea! As far as I recognise the original ‘Idea of India’, it was established as a spiritual one based on Vedantic philosophy. This at least 5000-year-old tradition has survived because it has countered, learned from, and assimilated elements from the various traditions it came across, much later molded by the likes of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, C Rajagopalachari and many more —all iconic figures of India’s Independence movement, to fit the context of a modern nation state. In doing so it, both, built upon and deviated from tenets of the ancient civilisation. I think that this ‘Idea of India’ was the vision of a modern nation state superimposed on an ancient civilisation and it has been questioned all along as an alien, western, impractical notion for this ancient civilisation held by foreign educated, “English speaking Indians” who knew little of their country. This school argues that Indian civilisation is rooted in a tolerant spiritual and ethical tradition, the ‘Sanatan Dharma’ that is a way of life for all people. Kings rule by dharma, ethics. India has been invaded, but it has never invaded any other country because of this dharma. This tradition, which is predominantly cultural, is rooted in nature and gives space to all, including Muslims and Christians, to live in peace by accepting the universal ‘Indian values’. This ‘idea of India’ in fact has lasted so long and has given enough proof of its resilience. The basic idea of India and Indianness has emerged, I think, from ‘monism’ and it serves to chalk out a way of life. It is a belief in a supreme unity – call it Brahma. Matter, spirit, energy— all are part of Brahma. Each of us takes a unique path in this growth of awareness that ends in Brahma. It can be through work, through meditation, through self-awareness, reflection or some other way. If honestly pursued, they all lead to Moksha—union with Brahma. There is no uniformity, there is no obedience to an almighty God, there is no sin and no redemption. If one does evil, one has to pay for it, if not in this life then in a later one. If one has done good, one will be born to a station that is closer to Brahma. When perfection is attained, there is no rebirth. Thus, differences are short lived, and all can co- exist and live together. The Indian gesture of greeting, Namaskar, Namaste, says, the divine in me greets the divine in you. To me it is such a liberating idea for a country to follow. Isn’t it? We are like this only! As far as I am aware of this monism philosophy, I surmise it is quite different from that of other religions. It should not be treated as another religion, because it is not a religion. This philosophy has deep respect for nature and believes that humanity is part of nature. This kind of philosophy is not limited to India; it pervades much of Asia. Buddhism is part of this Great Tradition as is Jainism. And it is within this Great Tradition that little traditions have flowered all over India and its neighbourhood as well. This unity within diversity has remained an ‘idea of India’ as understood by the scholars of the world. Marx has written that every thesis has an anti-thesis. The anti-thesis of the monism philosophy and its ‘Idea of India’ has emerged in recent years. It is ‘Hindutva’ and it co-exists with an inequitable social structure. To this evolving Great Tradition, the ‘Idea of India’ that has emerged has added ‘democracy’, where all citizens are equal. Discriminatory practices of the caste system like untouchability, etc., have been abolished by law. Then came a ‘new Idea of India’ that encapsulates the dreams and hopes of those who created this modern, democratic, and above all secular state. The Idea is of a modern, educated, democratic, secular, technologically sophisticated society, with equality of opportunity, and gender equality, whose people enjoy a comfortable and healthy life. It offered, not just freedom of worship, but equal respect for all religions, gender, classes. Considering the ‘new idea’, a common civil code in law is a legitimate requirement away from a personal law. This ‘new idea of India’ includes within it a high level of economic growth and a growing economic inequality. Expectations have outstripped the ability of the governmental system to respond to reasonable demands. Growth alone is neither a necessary nor an effective condition to deal with issues of growing economic inequality. Surely economic growth will help if the economy expands, but measures will be needed ensure better redistribution and reforms than we have today. While the past is significant, so is the future. The forces unleashed by this ‘new Idea of India’ have to work themselves out. The old values can guide us, but the old values are now under question. How does one cope with such fundamental changes in people’s aspirations, dreams and attitudes? Where can one find the moral compass to navigate such change? And the future must consider the ambitions of more than a billion people. They are no longer content to do without the basic good things of life. Everyone wants education, health care, clean drinking water, food security, safe cities and so on. The task is so vast that we forget how much we have actually achieved. It is because of this achievement that we have realised how much more has to be done. To recognise the ‘new idea of India’ we need to have a thorough understanding of what’s going on in India. The citizen of this country must know that there are additional ideas that define the new India and they are equally embraced by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Dalits, Baniyas, etc. One important idea is the ability to achieve upward mobility in income and quality of living based on merit and ability, and not what your surname is or how highly posted your father is. Young people have their heroes and role models who have made it through sheer hard work and good performance, gone from modest origins to global halls of fame. The sporting heroes, IT czars, space scientists, astronauts, winners of India’s Got Talent and Indian Idol type of shows, etc. In the ‘new idea of India’, movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ find no place because ‘Swachchta’ is the new ‘Abhiyaan’. ‘Snake Charmers’ are consigned to oblivion and Chandrayaan-3 is in the mainstream. The ‘new idea of India’ seeks rising above religion, region, language, caste, culture, traditions and changing the constitution of India to improve ease of living for the common man, making changes in the judicial system by abolishing archaic rules so that it works faster to bring the guilty to books, bolstering and enhancing the military power so that no enemy will ever dare to look at India, enabling people of troubled states to breathe fresh air and live in peace and harmony so that they can contribute meaningfully to the economy of India, make sure that India gets a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council, eradicate from the root the curse of corruption from the country, see to it that there is no one poor by 2040, make in India and subsequently make our India self-sufficient and become an economic power to reckon with, ensure that attractive job opportunities and professional work environment is there for the talented youth of the nation, enable India to become most investment friendly nation and make India a safe, secure and terror free nation. The age old ‘idea of India’ has continuously evolved and shown so much of resilience over the centuries. It has withstood invasions, aggressions, rebellions, protests, riots, demonstrations, but it has remained. It has remained from that time of the ‘Upanishads’ to this time of ‘Artificial Intelligence’. It has remained.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher-Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)