(This reflection-piece was written for an event where I was called as a speaker by Vichaar Manthan – UK in Leicester on `The Role of Dharma in the Post-Brexit Indo-British Relationship’. It looks at the spirit of India, and how the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ has been ingrained in its core, and what UK could obtain from this understanding in a post-Brexit world)

Jaimini, the author of the celebrated Purvamimamsa and Uthara Mimamsa, explains ‘Dharma’ thus `Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good’. Dharma comes from the word ‘Dhr’ and related to that which upholds equilibrium and balance in society and the Universe. Dharma is a term that appears in a very fluid manner in the ancient and medieval texts of Indi, particularly the itihas or epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Krishna and Rama, however, do share the commonality of not just the speaking of and on Dharma but living Dharma. And it is this that ancient Indian philosophy embodies. Not just saying or doing things, for these are but temporary flutterings on the cosmos, but rather orienting one’s existence so that that which balances, that which equilibriates and that which respects the inherent unity that the oriental traditions may see in the Brahman or Tao while the occidental, contemporary, scientific tradition may see as products of the singularity that exploded into form with the Big Bang.

So, in a world full of polarities, dualities, multiplicities and differences what can be regarded as the equilibrium, as the balance and the balanced, as Dharmic? When relativistic physics tells us that space (and its associated dimensions), along with time, is frame dependent and has no absolute aspect while quantum physics talks of an even more fuzzy reality, whose evolution depends on its observation, surely such a balance is tricky to demarcate or highlight. The Dharmic tradition therefore does a highly sensible thing in the process: it decentralizes the resolution of this dilemma. It makes Dharma the operational balance of elements in the Universe as determined by their innate tendencies and natures, or Swadharma. Gandhi may have called this Swaraj (or self-rule) as did Bal Gangadhar Tilak but the idea itself has its roots in the Vedas and Upanishads of India. This is turn neatly comes from the concept of Rta, the natural order of things in the Universe. Just like fire burns, water flows, snakes slither and so on. The more relative truths of these tendencies build up the relational reality of our universe. Currently I am studying the possibility of unifying physics as we know it using a relational reality as the basis. Regardless of the result of this research pursuit with Prof. Brian Josephson (Emeritus Professor, Cavendish Laboratory and Nobel Laureate 1973) at Cambridge, at a human level this presents a more accessible and equally universal gem of wisdom: unity in diversity.

Whether you validate this using a Vedantic strand of thought or a more naturalist approach involving reductionism to constituents such as quarks and gluons, the application of this idea has been India’s treasure for millenia. No wonder Indians have 33 crore gods and goddesses. In fact, we even have an atheistic sect known as the Carvaka that is Dharmic. Cutting the long story short, the Indian people arise from a tradition that provides for an respect the diversity of people, their experiences, their thoughts and lives. It is this that Britain can learn from India post-Brexit. The principle of tolerance and inclusivity that is not just tokenistic or superficially imposed but personalized and arising from the identification of the truth in the inherent unity of mankind that transcends regionalism, class, gender, religion and race. You may say that nation states are the reality of the contemporary world and there is no logical alternative. With nation states comes nationalism and the need to safeguard the interest of the nation and its people. No one is denying that. Much like what I believe is a way to negotiate the political left-right divide, it is all about balance. And yet a tenuous balance it is. Much like personal liberty and the egalitarian dream of Marx and Engels is constantly at loggerheads, the dream of internationalism and the safeguarding of access to opportunities and resources in a country to its citizen is a tricky topic, if not an inherently irreconcilable one on certain levels.

I campaigned for the Remain side in Cambridge, where 73.8% voters wanted to Remain. I did so since I felt that the arrangement (that was in place since 1973) would be an arrangement of systemic balance, contingent on certain reforms on the EU front. Now that the axe has fallen, probably somewhere on the English channel dividing UK and most of Europe, or shall fall if and when Westminster can make up its mind about the arrangements for Brexit, we have to work with what we have. The crux of the Dharmic standpoint is the multiplicity of possibilities in society and the universe. Multiplicity of voices, ideas, positions. That which is Dharmic accepts, respects and incorporates disparate voices in to one. Dharma of any society, be it British or otherwise, is to try and represent, nay reflect, the diversity of people’s reasons for wanting to leave and (not or) remain. Today the referendum seems to have broken the country through the middle. Voices of compromise and reconciliation are sorely needed. Voices of reason. Dharmic voices. We need to maintain goodwill of those we oppose and hear their side of the story too. The fact that Scotland seeks closer ties with Europe but cannot under the current geopolitics of the UK should not be a reason for it to seek independence. The fact that a Brexit party has been formed in the UK for the sole purpose of seeing through the entire Brexit process should not be a cause for them to be closeted as unthinking hardline right-wingers. It is time for us to engage, to know their side, to see why we are where we are and what can be done with this.

For a long time, the UK remained a key player and cooperative player in European geopolitics without being part of the European Union in any way, post-Second-World-War. I do not see why such a globally-conscious, liberal and tolerant UK cannot be this way today – cooperative and open to international interactions. Who knows – Brexit may begin a dialogue on the European front on the balance of national interests of, and international cooperation by, member states and associates of the EU. Who knows – Brexit may fundamentally transform and help the European project, not be the first in a chain of falling dominoes. People’s voices and will matters. Voices of those who voted Remain. Voices of those who voted Leave. Voice of those who did not vote. I would love to see a confirmatory vote on the arrangement the parliamentarians decide upon due to this. That is the Dharmic and right thing to do. The UK needs to go forward embracing the multiplicity of voices and perspectives within it. And in doing so, UK and the EU may rise from this mess, like a phoenix, truly building on Dharma.

The speech at the Leicester Vichar Manthan is as follows:

The Taiteriya Aranyak says `धर्मे सर्वं प्रतिष्ठितं तस्मात् धर्मं परमं वदन्ति।’ which means `Everything is dependent upon Dharma and that is why Dharma is said to be Supreme’.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen!

Today I stand here to address a highly relevant and nuanced point of interest: `Can An Emerging India Save A Declining Britain?’

Britain is poised to leave the largest trading zone in the world. Inflation up 1.7% points, national British income reduced by between 0.6% and 1.3%, and, not to forget, an employment across the country reduced by 1.5% points. This is the precarious position that the UK, which once dominated world politics and administered a quarter of the world, was left in after the Brexit referendum. I would like to posit that besides and beyond the terrible economic repercussions of this momentous political exercise were the social aspects of such a move. Britain is as divided as it has ever been. The Scots are not entirely happy. Many Remainers want a second referendum. Friendships have been lost and relationships broken over Brexit. As per one survey, more than a third of those who wish to remain in the EU would be upset if a close relative married a strong leave supporter.

There is a clash of values, a tussle of cultures almost.

Britain is on the decline.

On the other hand, India just had its general elections, the largest political exercise in the world, and after 48 years has provided an incumbent Prime Minister with an increased majority.

Brahmins or Pasi Dalits, Jatav man or Muslim woman, a Bengali artisan or a Purvanchali labourer or a Mumbaikar millionairre, alike exercised their electoral power. Cutting across identities, the country breathed and lived as one.

Home to at least 9 recognized religions (and birthplace of 4), 1635 languages, 5 major physiographic regions, and numerous kinds of foods and dresses and dances, India is a unique specimen when it comes to countries, and yet the perfect recipe for an implosion.

So what keeps the country and its people together, as one?

I believe it is the spirit of India that builds on the Dharmic principle.

Dharma comes from the word ‘Dhr’ and is related to that which upholds equilibrium and balance in society and the Universe.

In a world full of polarities, dualities, multiplicities and differences what can be regarded as the equilibrium, as the balance and the balanced, as Dharmic? When empiricism, at the quantum level, and philosophy alike hint to us that reality itself may not have an absolute meaning, then how does one demarcate the point of balance, the pivot of Dharma?

To resolve this conundrum, The Dharmic tradition does a highly sensible thing in the process: it decentralizes the resolution of this dilemma.

It makes Dharma the operational balance of elements in the Universe as determined by their innate tendencies and natures, or Swadharma. Just like fire burns, water flows, snakes slither and so on.

The more relative truths of these tendencies build up the relational reality of our universe. At a human level this presents a more accessible and equally universal gem of wisdom: unity in diversity.

The application of this idea has been India’s treasure for millenia.

No wonder Indians have 33 crore gods and goddesses!

Ours is a tradition that provides for a respect for the diversity of people, their experiences, their thoughts and lives.

It is this that Britain can learn from India post-Brexit.

The principle of tolerance and inclusivity that is not just tokenistic or superficially imposed but personalized and arising from the identification of the truth in the inherent unity of mankind that transcends regionalism, class, gender, religion and race.

When it comes to the topics of nationalism and how best to safeguard interests of a nation’s citizen without forsaking the spirit of internationalism, it is all about balance. And yet a tenuous balance it is.

The crux of the Dharmic standpoint is the multiplicity of possibilities in society and the universe.

Multiplicity of voices, perspectives, ideas and positions.

That which is Dharmic accepts and respects and incorporates disparate voices in to one.

Dharma of any society, be it British or otherwise, is to try and represent, nay reflect, the diversity of people’s reasons for wanting to leave and (not or) remain.

Today the referendum seems to have broken the country through the middle.

Voices of compromise and reconciliation are sorely needed.

Voices of reason.

Dharmic voices.

We need to maintain goodwill of those we oppose and hear their side of the story too.

The fact that Scotland seeks closer ties with Europe but cannot under the current geopolitics of the UK should not be a reason for it to seek independence.

The fact that a Brexit party has been formed in the UK for the sole purpose of seeing through the entire Brexit process should not be a cause for them to be closeted as unthinking hardline right-wingers.

It is time for us to engage, to know their side, to see why we are where we are and what can be done with this.

The UK needs to go forward embracing the multiplicity of voices and perspectives within it.

And in doing so, UK and the EU may rise from this mess, like a phoenix, truly building on Dharma.