Book Excerpt: Dharma Of Legacy And The Legacy Of Dharma

Swarajya Staff

Jun 16, 2024, 05:51 PM | Updated 05:51 PM IST

Book cover: Power Within: The Leadership Legacy of Narendra Modi
Book cover: Power Within: The Leadership Legacy of Narendra Modi
  • The Indian model of leadership was never beholden to extremes. Dharma is the thermostat, the harmonising principle.
  • Power Within: The Leadership Legacy of Narendra Modi. R. Balasubramaniam. Penguin. Pages 376. Rs 636.

    The mega-political institutions are breaking down and the world is being pulled into two opposite directions — the sovereign Individual and the surveillance state.

    The sovereign Individual is the liberty-seeking, ‘technological somnambulist’ of a radically networked global village. The ideas of nationalism, local bonds and constraints do not register in this conscience. This has put the nation-state structure under tremendous strain. Digital rights, privacy, artificial intelligence and singularity are the campfire that the global collection of sovereign individuals meets.

    On the other hand, the state’s response is to protect and entrench itself, aiming to harness the unprecedented power and predictive capabilities provided by technology to discipline society into a specific order. This approach is ‘Seeing like a State' on steroids. Social credits, digital IDs and surveillance technology have become the deities of this new paradigm.

    This represents uncharted territory for the world, as existing models of leadership are ill-equipped to address this vertical split. The last significant shift of this magnitude occurred during the European Renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During that era, the dominant mega political institutions of the church and nobility succumbed to the pressures of enlightenment thinking, which paved the way for the emergence of the ‘nation-state’ paradigm.

    Political scientists today are analysing the emerging contours of this phenomenon. We hear of the ‘civilizational state,’ the ‘global state’ and even the ‘networked state’. We cannot predict where the chips will land but the stress on the ‘nation-state’ and the prevailing liberal democratic consensus is visible.

    It is against this backdrop that we should understand what Narendra Damodardas Modi stands for as a leader. As a representative of nearly one-sixth of humanity and the country with the largest youth population, his idea of the four P's — planet, people, peace and prosperity combined with state innovation — is the paradigm of the future.

    This framework demands urgent attention from the global community as it shapes our collective future. It uniquely marries individual autonomy with state resilience, redefining the traditional power dynamics by acknowledging the inherent goodness in humans.

    Public policy is rooted in institutional design, which, in turn, is informed by political and social philosophy. This philosophical foundation draws from the metaphysics of the ‘self,’ a concept deeply intertwined with our understanding of the state and polity.

    For the past 500 years, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ depiction of life as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish' in his Leviathan model has influenced the construction of governance, states and institutions, framing human nature as a battle against both nature and society.

    In stark contrast, Modi’s leadership shifts the narrative from the Leviathan’s bleak outlook to one of ‘sat–chit–ananda’ — truth, consciousness, bliss.

    This shift embodies the belief in the divine potential of humans, positing the state as a facilitator in individuals’ journey towards realising their true essence and purpose. This vision of governance, where the state supports the personal growth and fulfilment of its citizens, represents a sustainable model for the future.

    As we’ve tried to highlight through this book, it is not an accident that this paradigm, this epoch of Dharma leadership is coming from the ancient land of India that Modi embodies.

    The Indian model of leadership was never beholden to extremes. Dharma is the thermostat, the harmonising principle. Millennia ago, Chanakya captured this in his seminal treatise, the Arthashastra, which combines statecraft, economic theory and, most critically, public leadership.

    His core vision and formulation of Rajadharma are captured in the following sutra from the Arthashastra:

    It translates as: The basis of sukha or all true pleasantness is Dharma. The basis of all Dharma is artha or wealth. The basis of all artha is rajya or the state. The basis for the stability of the state lies in control over the indriya or sense faculties providing pleasure.

    This can be represented as a hierarchy beginning with the ‘indriya vijaya’ of the leader and culminating in sukha of the entire population.

    In one magnetic sweep, Kautilya captures the entire essence of nation-building, when he clarifies the inextricable link between a leader’s integrity and the values enshrined in society. He exhorts that the state (or king) should draw legitimacy only from the pursuit of Yogakshema of its people, and only a leadership that has gained control over its senses, termed by Kautilya as indriya vijayi, can afford to stake a claim to power.

    The pinnacle of human aspiration is sukham, or joy, achievable only through Dharma — righteous actions aligned with the cosmic order. However, Dharma thrives on the foundation of artha, economic prosperity. This prosperity, in turn, depends on the effective functioning of the ‘country,’ which is contingent upon leadership that has achieved mastery over the senses.

    In the West, the philosophical discourse has often oscillated between deontology and consequentialism, focusing on the moral integrity of actions versus their outcomes. From an Indian civilizational worldview, we can trace the roots of this predicament to a fundamental rupture between the material and the sacred. The object and the subject. The central idea of dharma combines the universal, the contextual and, most critically, the ‘consciousness’ of the actor. It is through yoking oneself with this sacred core, that the ability to bridge divergences and forge commonality emerges.

    Modi’s leadership brings this ability to fuse the binaries, eschew the extremes and harmonise divergence. As we collectively face a convergence of destinies yet a divergence of intentions, this is a paradigm for our times and for the future of an integrated world. He has, in fact, given the clue in how he thinks about these poles — his idea of the four P’s: planet, people, peace and prosperity.

    Whereas the previous paradigm promoted wanton exploitation of resources for an anthropocentric world, nature has sobered those aggressive instincts. With the real challenge of climate change upon the world, the reorientation of the leadership instinct from local to global, from nation to planet, all while upholding sovereignty, has been a positive impact ushered in by Modi. The Initiatives such as the Voice of Global South Summit, financing climate resilient infrastructure through multilateral development banks and more have been testament to that.

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