Explained: What Integral Humanism Is And Why India Needs It

Explained: What Integral Humanism Is And Why India Needs ItPandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya
  • Why integral humanism is the answer to contemporary political, social, economic and religious challenges.

Year-long centenary celebrations of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya have been observed by the country with its formal inauguration at Kozhikode on 24 September 2016. While it is important to recount Upadhyaya’s personal history, especially so in a country where dynastic politics and focus on individual characteristics has usually dominated the political discourse, it is also equally important to understand as to why we are celebrating his thoughts and teachings at all. Only then do these celebrations for this great thinker, practitioner and leader begin to hold any meaning or relevance for us.

Upadhyaya, a meritorious scholar, chose to dedicate his life to practice and preach the ideology of “integral humanism”. Many may have remotely heard about it while others might have seen it only through a political lens, as it stands to be the official doctrine for earlier the Jan Sangh and now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the essence of the philosophy goes way deeper. And to understand why it is being talked about or why it was advocated by Upadhyaya, one needs to go back to the context where it was given its present shape – even though its origins could be traced to the timeless traditions of Indian culture and “Bharatiya” consciousness.

We are talking of a time when India had recently gained independence. Though politically free, developing nations in the rest of Asia and Africa were still struggling to free themselves from the clutches of intellectual colonisation. Dichotomy between Western notions of socialism vs capitalism, humanism vs nationalism, individualism vs collectivism was already being contested. And these dichotomies had crept into the policy space as well. Nehruvian ideas of socialism had in effect meant that there was an undue focus on statist monopolies, Licence Raj, appeasement politics leading to fissiparous tendencies and an inferiority complex towards everything that was “old” or “Bhartaiya” in origin.

It was in wake of these, that Upadhyaya presented an alternative vision. Tracing its origins to the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, integral humanism propagated the oneness of various souls, be it of human, animal or plant origin. Rejecting the intrinsic diversity based on race, colour, caste or religion, it identified all human beings as part of this one organic whole, sharing a common consciousness of national thought. And putting this into a political perspective, either then or now, it meant that Hindus, Muslims, Christians and the people of all other faiths and sects are essentially one and that their intrinsic unity should be based on this common consciousness of “Rashtriyata”.

He opposed how the Congress party and those pandering to “appeasement politics” had ripped up the differences between Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims solely on the basis of their religious identities, only to carve out a separate nation later. Thus, instead of identifying the two communities as a product of a single “Bharatiya” thought, their religious differences were used by the so-called socialist parties to drive a deep wedge between the two communities, the seeds of which later went on to give rise to communal hatred, failures in national security and terrorism.

Usually, writers and columnists take the liberty of painting a biased picture in the memories of the reader, one that suits them and their political leanings. This is pretty much how our Indian history has been systematically distorted to suit the likes of Western sceptics and radical socialists. Hence, I will choose to rely purely on evidence to help you and me come to a common conclusion on whether or not this philosophy is of any relevance to the current political, social, and economic context.

Starting with the political context, we have already seen how the dominant discourse based on divisive and identity-based politics has carried out an incessant appeasement of the minorities at the cost of national integration. The word “secular” is such an oxymoron in our country that in the name of “secular politics, a deep communal divide has been established between the majority and minority communities. This has also led to a peculiar brand of national security policy wherein wooing vote banks based on religious identities takes a priority over national interest. In some cases, this freehand to nihilistic forces has also resulted in mushrooming of in-house red corridors or cross border terrorism, all thriving on black economy generated through the illegal sales of arms, counterfeit notes and drug trade.

Having adopted a “slave morality” (as described by Nietzsche) we even stalled all our efforts towards achieving a just bilateral agreement with Pakistan, thanks to the ‘excellent’ statesmanship displayed while taking the Kashmir issue all the way to United Nations. Forget Kashmir, Upadhyaya’s teachings are even more relevant in the current context of domestic politics – where for a majority of state political parties, their only achievement until now has been their ability to calculate a “winning formula” amongst their voters. And the most ironical part amongst all – is that these political parties have only paid lip service to the cause of disadvantaged social communities. Insights from political science show how for caste-based political parties, merely winning an election based on caste and social identities becomes an end in itself. The only contribution such political parties make is giving to its people the psychological security of having formed a vote bank. Ultimately, for these state governments, providing any real development opportunities to those who are really socially disadvantaged never becomes a priority. This is because the day such caste-based political parties are elected to power, the end goal of winning the elections with some social engineering has already been achieved.

Thus, development never ends up becoming a parameter to evaluate their performance, while those who have been socially and historically marginalised get embroiled even deeper into identity wars.

In the social context, Upadhyaya opined that there is only one nation. Thus, there isn’t any minority in this nation. Just like how the human body has one nose and two eyes, but that does not relegate the nose to the position of a minority. Similarly various religious and social communities were to exist as an organic whole, very much like the parts of the same body. Western media, without understanding the deeper meaning behind this organicist thought, likes to conveniently paint this as a ghar vapsi or a re-conversion agenda. Upadhyaya in his own words said that ‘do not reward/appease (puraskrit) Muslims; do not shun (tiraskrit) them but purify (parishkar)’. And this purification lies in the generation of a common national consciousness and not solely religious conversion as has been made out by the Western media. Just as how “if the country has been divided because of the lack of feeling of unity, the restoration of that feeling will make it united again”.

On the other hand, Upadhyaya states, “the Congress made its efforts for Hindu-Muslim unity on a wrong basis. Instead of sharing the experience of real unity of nation and culture which has gone on ceaselessly from time immemorial, the Congress followed the suicidal policy of fuelling separation. It tried to bring a number of diverse people artificially together through political bargaining. Such efforts can never succeed. Nationalism and anti-nationalism can never coexist in harmony”. Hence Upadhyaya advocated for an alternative idea of India where we all belong to only one culture, which is neither the Hindu, Muslim or Christian culture but the Indian or “Bharatiya” culture. According to him, “culture is not related to mode of worship or sect; instead it is related to the country’s tradition. Kabir, Jayasi and Raskhan should serve as models for Muslims.”

Third, let us now analyse how the dichotomy between the Western notions of socialism and capitalism have played out in the economic context. With the dawn of the Cold War politics, a strong ideological war divided the world into two capitalistic and socialistic blocks. We saw how the inherently flawed model of socialism led to concentration of power in the hands of a few elite thus giving rise to one of the worst dictators of all times. This in effect completely devastated the economies of the so-called socialist states, making them ultimately fall to their own knees with the fall of the so-called great “wall” between the East and West Germany in 1990. On the other hand, we have had these capitalist states, where unabated consumerism and individualistic thinking has led to glaring inequalities, demise of collective thinking and family values, evasion of safety nets – all ultimately leading up to the global crisis of 2008. Similar was the case of India whose foundations were laid on the ill-suited Western notions of development. And what did this result into?

State monopolies with Licence Raj stifling up the vigour of personal entrepreneurship, thus feeding into corrupt political and bureaucratic systems. In fact, five-year planning models almost ignored the need for mass employment generation, self-sustaining agricultural production, skill based and vernacular education and rural development.

Upadhyaya rejected this Western model of statism and celebrated liberal notions of individual liberty within the broader realm of collective moral responsibility. Just as how economists are now advocating for a public private partnership (PPP) model worldwide, similarly, Upadhya conceived the idea of a “national sector”, where right to work and safety net for the disadvantaged went hand in hand with economic entrepreneurship. And this was a principled stand. Upadhyaya himself showed door to seven MLAs from Jan Sangh who opposed the abolition of Zamindari system in Rajasthan. To give another instance of his practical economic logic, he opposed the centralisation of ownership which leads to corruption and hoarding of commodities.

In very simple terms, Upadhyaya wanted self-sustenance in agricultural production but was dead against unnecessary hoarding of stocks that lead to the distortion of market, artificial inflation in prices and generation of black money. The move by the Food Corporation of India to rationalise the stocks that it had been hoarding in the previous regimes, speaks volumes of the practical applications for this philosophy even in the current era.

Finally, in the religious context, Upadhyaya’s idea of a ‘Ramarajya’ is where the notions of unity based on a common binding force called ‘Dharma’ is together celebrated with the principles of political and economic decentralisation. And for all the sceptics, out there, the notion of ‘Dharma’ is very different from the Western understanding of “religion”. Interestingly, Dharma or Ramarajya both have a very “secular” (so called) interpretation. Dharma is like a moral compass, which unifies the national polity, economy and society. Thus, the philosophy of integral humanism imagines this common thread called “Dharma” to act like an intrinsic guiding principle for the state, which leads to political and social empowerment of all and penetration of economic benefits up unto the last man/woman standing (antyodya).

So, rather than branding philosophies like integral humanism as fascist and outdated, let us at least begin by intellectually exposing ourselves to these means of alternative thinking. Moreover, the philosophy of integral humanism and Upadhyaya’s teachings are perfectly compliant with the modern notions of democracy, social equality and human rights. The only difference is that this philosophy hinges less on rhetoric and does not regard the Western model of development as the only model for development. Though being true followers of Indian thought, we are sure to assimilate what best the West has to offer like the use of IT, industrial expertise and dignity of labour.

Hence as honest readers and citizens of this country, let us learn to appreciate the practical usefulness of applying original Bharatiya thought to address some of the contemporary political, social and economic challenges. Evidence from recent history, as highlighted above, have already exemplified the power of relying on indigenous knowledge.

Conclusively, integral humanism builds on an organic thought, where it imagines an Indian nation, which is guided by common principles of moral order. A nation, where all citizens identify themselves as a part of the same Indian ethos, where we modernise but do not Westernise, where we have individual economic liberty but that which is coupled with social safety net, and lastly, where we transcend group consciousness as members of different religious and social communities to develop a common national consciousness.


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