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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Bharat as a Civilizational State: An idea whose time has come?

Over the last few years, the idea of the civilizational state has been gaining ground globally, more so with the entry of China as a contender for becoming a global superpower. Russia, Turkey, and Bharat are often named as aspirational civilizational states.

Ancient Bharatiya kingdoms which extended from Afghanistan to East Asia could be called civilizational states that grew around a common culture and a “way of life”. Unlike Christian and Islamist colonialism based on slavery, exploitation, and cultural genocide, the Bharatiya culture and Dharmic faiths spread through a give and take of ideas and a voluntary adoption of Dharmic practises by the rulers of many of these regions including current-day Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, among others.

Fast-forward to the current times: After partition, Bharat faces many obstacles to becoming a civilizational Dharmic state. Some such obstacles were discussed here and include the Nehruvian foundations on which post-independence Bharat was created; systematic deracination of generations through being brainwashed by distorted history texts and other “secular” content and narratives; and the Colonial hangover, more so by institutions of governance.

Of these, the Colonial hangover among institutions perhaps remains one of the main obstacles. The Constitution, and more so its hijacking and distortion by secular governments and judicial interpretations, is one such emblem of the Colonial hangover:

The colonial brainwashing led to the creation of a Constitution that was completely devoid of Dharmic elements of governance and instead borrowed governance concepts from colonizing western (Christian) nations.

Thus, the fundamental law of Bharat was mostly embodied on a series of statutes enacted by the British Parliament; the ideals mentioned in the Preamble of Equality, Liberty, Fraternity, come from the French Constitution; the concept of Five-Year Plans come from the Soviet Republic; and the concept of suspending fundamental rights during Emergency were borrowed from Germany.

The basic structure of the Constitution stands on the colonial era Government of India Act of 1935 and therefore preserves the basic tenets of British colonial rule which treated brown-skinned natives differently from the elite governing class. While Dharma emphasizes duty, responsibility, and righteousness, the Constitution we adopted is a rights-based one. A Constitution based on the concepts of Dharma (righteousness) and Adharma would have been far more suited to our Dharmic ethos than the one we have.

The Constitution is considered by many as a flawed ambiguous document that on one hand speaks of all genders and faiths being treated equally, and on the other hand, has discriminatory aspects leading to differential treatment of different communities and different sexes. The words “secular” and “socialist” added to the Preamble during the Emergency have yet not been deleted and have further muddied the waters.

The Colonial hangover ensures that we engage in constant self-flagellation. For example:

The Constitution, Justice Chandrachud said, “didn’t just transform us from colonial subjects to free citizens, but also undertook a massive challenge of confronting a polity that was plagued by oppressive systems of caste, patriarchy and communal violence.”

Worldwide Hinduphobia is partially an outcome of such self-loathing talk.

Lately, the Constitution is being touted as a sacred document equivalent to the Bhagwad Gita, which means that just like the recent Andhra Pradesh HC judgement that refused bail to those who criticized the judiciary, critiquing the Constitution may also soon be made an equivalent crime and a form of blasphemy.

The Constitution, which its own chief architect later rejected and which has seen numerous amendments, is now being projected as something that must be protected at all costs for the nebulous ‘Constitutional Idea of India’.

But while Bharat battles against forces that keep it from becoming a civilizational state, the civilizational state as a concept has been gaining ground as the potential goal and possible future for non-western cultures. Even African countries are waking up to reviving and reclaiming their own traditional spiritual systems.

Portuguese politician and political analyst Bruno Maçães explores the concept of civilizational states in an essay. On a visit to China, Maçães was told by one of its citizens that China is not a nation but a civilization. He opines that every country with its own unique culture need not be “assimilated into the Western model of political society.” When the state links itself to a civilization, then its task is to preserve a particular cultural tradition. Japan is another such country that has grown and progressed while remaining rooted in its culture.

In Bharat, the victory of a “Hindu nationalist” party signifies a beginning–in terms of an awakening of its citizens towards a civilizational state. Maçães mentions that the Modi government emphasized connecting with diaspora abroad. This step meant that civilizational ethos was put above nationality. Maçães comments:

By affirming that India is a civilization, the Modi administration is consigning the opposition — the Indian National Congress — to the perilous role of a Westernizing force intent on measuring Indian success by the yardstick of a foreign system. The ideas that Congress had presented as too obvious to need much defense — secularism and cosmopolitanism — are seen as cultural imports from which India has to free itself. Naipaul had spoken of India as a wounded civilization, and he may have had a point, but contemporary India is a wounded civilization reasserting itself. Nation-states are a Western invention, naturally vulnerable to Western influence. Civilizations are an alternative to the West.

He links the BJP’s massive victory with 303 seats in 2019 to the party’s and Modji’s affirmation of Bharat as a civilization. The vote BJP garnered was a vote that went against Anglicized elites and their contempt against Hindu Dharma.

The fact of the massive victory of a leader who has a “son of the soil” image implies that citizens have awakened to the concept of rejecting colonial narratives and norms. As we said in a previous post:

The Lutyens’ power elite still continue to exercise outsize influence on judiciary, media, policy think-tanks and academia. However, it is true that Bharat is experiencing a cultural renaissance of a kind and massive election victories of the BJP/NDA in 2014 and 2019 can be attributed to this resurgence.

Maçães contends that Western liberal values previously went unchallenged with the “third world” almost fully subscribing to them. This has now changed:

The shift now taking place is arguably deeper and more radical. By accusing Western political ideas of being a sham, of masking their origin under the veneer of supposedly neutral principles, the defenders of the civilization-state are saying that the search for universal values is over, that all of us must accept that we speak only for ourselves and our societies.

Asserting that the civilizational state is the “natural political world,” Maçães says that such a state develops around a “way of life” and a way of viewing the world, making the state “coextensive with civilizations and subordinate to the civilizational form.”

What western societies tried to achieve was not natural as they wanted their political values to be universally accepted devoid of a common cultural thread. Maçães says Western civilizations offered an operating system devoid of traditions and customs, an “abstract framework” that defined procedures for deciding on issues. The West promoted its own set of values as universal values, but what these values stood for was for negating the civilization state. Such values:

… affirmed the freedom to experiment with different ways of life. But if widely accepted, they could help build global institutions and rules, reducing the likelihood of state conflict. Over the last few decades, a world-state remained a utopia, but a world society seemed to advance.

Now, the civilizational states are striking back because of their reluctance to give up what Maçães calls cultural independence. Is it essential to imitate Western nations to acquire the benefits of a modern society, is the doubt that is now being expressed. Many countries of East Asia have indeed progressed without completely embracing western political models of development. These include Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan among others. Christian conversion in these and other East Asian countries is another matter, but their political systems carry cultural rootedness. Maçães is speaking of political systems and political independence, and not of religious beliefs. He says:

It is remarkable, when one thinks about it, that every controversial issue being decided in a successful democracy such as India should be subject to a final determination of its legitimacy by Western political and intellectual authorities.

The concept of the world civilization or universal civilization that the West aimed for has collapsed. American political analyst Samuel Huntington says that the West gets to justify its cultural domination over other societies/cultures by claiming that western values (western civilization) are universal values (universal civilization). Through this “Universalism” ideology, the West makes other societies ape their practises and institutions. Huntington believes that other cultures must regard “Universalism” as a threat.

The West has already sacrificed its own diverse cultural traditions and created a “universal project” to set up modern societies in the Americas and Europe. Maçães argues that if the West justifies spreading its vision of the western civilization through any means (including military power), then so can other cultures and political systems (and this can put western civilizations on the back foot).

Communist regimes and Islam are already doing this by trying to overtly or covertly impose their world view on the rest of the world.

Coming back to Bharat and its journey to becoming a civilizational Dharmic state, despite the resurgence among citizens, it looks like a distant dream as long as people from the various pillars of governance remain brainwashed by the fallacy that the Constitution cannot be modified into an unambiguous and more relevant non-Colonial document.

(Featured Image Source: rashtram.org)

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