Samajwad (socialism) has had a chequered past in India. Back in the early 1870s, a group in Calcutta contacted Karl Marx with the purpose of organizing an Indian section of the First International! Marxism made quite an impact in Indian media at the time of the Russian Revolution. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal were amongst the prominent leaders who expressed an admiration for Lenin. The word Socialist was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd amendment act of 1976. In India, the Indian National Congress has had socialist tendencies and policies, since the days of the 1931 Karachi session of the party. Communists were active in the Indian independence movement and played an important role in India’s political life, although they are divided into a number of political parties. Historically, leaders such as Netaji Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru were socialist. Aside from the Congress and the Left Front, there are other socialist parties active in India today, including the Samajwadi Party, which emerged from the Janata Dal. However, the reasons for the failure of the socialist in India is due to a multiple reasons.
Most contemporary socio-economic and political models have sprung up from the West, be it socialism or even modern capitalism and mixed market economies. The West feeds the world with its fair share of socio-cultural, economic and political injections, which guide and fundamentally alter the collective psyche and societal orientations of the people. As part of writing this article, I went back to ideas from the early Indian, to a most fundamental idea, from the times of yore – that of Satya or the absolute Truth. Satya is beyond dualities and multiplicities, beyond subjectivity and respectful of equilibrium in society and nature. This is my initiative to see if an Indian conception of politics, sans the crutches of western political philosophies can be synthesised, with most modern socio-economic and political models being a subset and part of this.
The Universe could have been in a vast number of realities (in the multiverse picture, they all exist independently) but it is what it is today. There is a certain order in the Universe, seemingly self-organizing but yet directed. This is what ancient Indian philosophers and seers called Ṛta. That which maintained this order and respected the nuances of this reality was the Truth or Satya. You may start feeling that I will embark on a detour of philosophy and spirituality next. Not quite. After a lot of reflection and meditating on the nuances of these concepts, I feel there are two core ideas and nuances that matter when one speaks of that wisdom that maintains the universal order (Ṛtaniti).
The universe has a relational reality. Modern physics speaks of the Big Bang and the intrinsic unity of all things we see emerging from that one point in the distant past. Over time, these entities and forces and symmetries emerged, giving rise to greater diversity in the Universe. Since then it has been a matter of interactions and relations between entities, coupling and decoupling over time and interactions. Similarly, in society and politics, all that we express and understand is with respect to our perspectives and culturing. What may have seemed like acceptable societal norms in Plantagenet English courts are archaic today. Ideas evolve, concepts evolve. We grow together, we live together. In Vedic philosophy, the unity in Brahman is expressed at each point in time and space, in the nature and activities of all there is in the Universe. As a result, nothing can survive without the safekeeping and nurturing of the unity itself, the oneness in humanity and the natural and honest compassion that comes from such a realization. Therefore the very first element in a philosophy that maintains Satya is that of compassionate politics. A politics that people speak of in terms of welfare states and benefit schemes. A politics of human oneness. That is what can truly mean a refuge in the Truth (Satyashrama) and that which conforms to this idea is Satyavadi (that which aligns with Satya). I espouse a society where basic amenities and tools for not only survival but dignified existence are provided to all. I feel that is crucial for the upholding of Dharma — that which maintains equilibrium in society and the universal order.
However, having said that, I also strongly believe in the idea of Swadharma: the tendencies and capacities of the individual, and a system that provides for opportunities and liberty to the same. Some are born with innate abilities to solve mathematical conundrums. Some are born athletes or singers or artists. Not only at the level of abilities but also comfort in undertaking certain pursuits, every person is distinct. Only when this idea and reality is respected can society remain harmonious and efficient. In today’s age, we have a rush to pursue certain kinds of activities. These are guided by aspects of remuneration and prestige many a times, over and above the comfort and interest of the individual in pursuing them. The ancient system of Varnashrama has been cited a number of times when it comes to problems with Hinduism, and the jati-based segregation is definitely not something I would stand for. It has imbibed a classist and hierarchical sense to it, whereas in certain texts like the Upanishads, it talks of more fluidity in the manner in which individuals must take up professions as per their Swadharma. An academic’s son may become a farmer or blacksmith and a blacksmith’s son may become an academic if both have the respective tendencies, capacities and interest in those pursuits. An important point to note here is that Swadharma can evolve. Someone who is good at singing but falls out of practice and does not maintain that talent may no longer be that suited for singing, while someone who may not a born singer may with practice and time and careful selection of a suitable area of music become known for singing. It is this fluid system, which respects the abilities and interests of the individual, that I would like to stand for without borrowing any terms or references that bring with them a certain baggage (and a lot of debates). I seek to build a society where everyone, in essence, are equal, even though their human differences are evident and acknowledged actively. There is no hierarchy, no class. Just profession based on one’s Swadharma.
So the next question has to be: how do you bring the two strands together? One that respects our relational reality and one that respects our Swadharma. In modern parlance, and looking at contemporary political thought, the question is: how does one balance liberty and equality, the Left and the Right? It is by orienting Swadharma towards the relational reality. That is the true politics of Dharma that I have come upon after reflection. In practical terms, that entails having a basic welfare state that provides for facilities and amenities to all, which includes basic education and universal healthcare. This needs to be using a system of taxation. As Gandhi said, there is enough for everyone’s need but not anyone’s greed. Therefore, the key aspect of allowing people to pursue that which respects their Swadharma is to: firstly, encourage people to feed back into the system, monetarily and otherwise, and secondly, to reduce the accumulation of excessive (and even obscene amounts) of wealth in some hands. Both of these can be done using a few ways, one of which would involve strict progressive taxation and the other could involve a novel way of incentivising the accumulation of social capital rather than financial capital. The near-perfect solution would probably have to be a combination of both.
Satyavadi Economics and Politics
Given the importance of the aforementioned relational reality, I would like to propose the embedding of facilitators of Swadharma, of liberty, within a socialist economic system. I feel the most important elements and aspects of my economic model are an emphasis on sustainability and equality instead of per capita GDP as the only measure of progress, a commitment to innovation and reforms, and a commitment to self-determination (which is crucial to the idea of Satya and self-realisation).
Decentralised Planning and Economic Democracy
In the Satyavadi model, I propose a decentralised planning model, where a planning committee at a national level shall only outline the broader aspects of economic development, leaving the details to be resolved by planning bodies at a local level where problems are understood best and dealt with more easily. It is envisioned that this kind of planning shall leave enterprises, communities and workers with a lot of freedom to decide their own economic freedom. This new economic system will be based on localised forms of finances, industry and participatory democracy.
Just as politics based on democracy is most reflective of this, a economic democracy is similarly reflective of Satya. In this model, the decision-making power for the economic future of a community is given to its constituents. In such a economic democracy, a key element is the decentralization of power, giving the freedom to make economic decisions to its stakeholders, possibly by adopting a worker-owned cooperative system and by the use of local resources for the development of the region. This will be a decentralized economy where self-sufficient economic zones are created and organized as per a set of predetermined conditions in each of these Anshams – socio-economic units, with associated Ansham Councils.
Basic Universal Amenities
Given the need for subsistence with dignity for any material and spiritual progress, it is crucial to safeguard basic universal amenities. The Satyavadi system will guarantee
- Basic education services from the age of 6-18 years, with provisions for higher and adult literacy education with subsidies and prioritized investments at the discretion of Ansham Councils, based on local or national priorities for education and retraining. Wherever post-18 education is for personal fulfilment rather than council or national skill shortages, a charge could be expected.
- Universal healthcarethat provides health care and financial protection to all, with the level of public-private involvement decided by the Ansham Councils, with a nationally maintained maximum charge and income-expenditure ratio for the various facilities.
- Social housing provided by Ansham Councils with housing associations for those who apply to their respective Council for housing, with the economically disadvantaged preferred for allocation.
- Universal basic income in the form of community currency in an Ansham. In this model, every member of the community will be given a minimum basic income each month, payable at certain local businesses or organizations, which are selected by the Ansham Council democratically. Only these specific businesses and organisations can convert this currency into actual money. The good part about this would be that the community can decide what to prioritise, be it public-owned factories, transportation companies that are run by women or institutions for differently-abled individuals.
It has been historically seen that basic universal income with welfare and social insurances disincentives work. Therefore, not only is this income in community currency for only specific business and organizations, but it is also not supplemented by others forms of insurances.
In this system, there is a certain emphasis on the democratic economy discussed previously, even in the world of enterprises.
- Most businesses, particularly those producing essential requirements of subsistence, such as housing and agro-sectors, can be operated as cooperatives.
- Businesses that too small for cooperative management and that produce non-essential goods shall be run as private enterprises.
- Very large-scale industries and key/strategic industries shall be run as public utilities, with a primarily no-profit, no-loss basis.
The taxation system for Satyavad is based on promoting social justice and liberty. For starters, the imposition of Wealth Tax on the extremely rich is a must. Another measure that can promote income equality, economic growth and human resource parameter attainments is that of Progressive Taxation on income tax. Other taxes such as Corporate Tax and Inheritance Tax can be imposed as decided upon by the local Ansham Council. Also, personal taxation on income tax for individuals below the poverty thresh-hold must be removed completely.
The national government/authorities and local Ansham Councils shall decide on the wage-bracket (with a minimum and maximum wage) for each kind of occupation, with additional benchmarking levels being incentivised and awarded on completion by wage-perks on a minimum amount (that is decided by the Ansham Council economic boards based on the price of basic necessities and amenities besides those universally assured). Workers are valued and recognized for their unique contributions, and society benefits from every worker’s productivity. The Ansham Council economic boards will then, using GDP and other economic indicators, have to calculate the surplus wealth presently produced i.e. the difference between the total national or local income and the amount needed to provide the minimum wage, and this information will enable them to calculate a maximum legal wage for the local economy.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Since the industrial revolution, capital and resources feeding into and from the market have played a primary role in human existence and society. A role much more prominent than probably ever in the past. In fact, so much so that all aspects of society and politics revolves only around the generation, transfer and maintenance of capital and resources. I propose a slight variation, wherein the relation one has with society is made important too. Much like corporate bodies have the whole culture of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), wherein Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) makes corporates look good on paper to market forces and society at large, one needs to actively bring this down to the individual level, with what I would like to simply call as Personal Social Responsibility (PSR). A system wherein social capital is the bedrock of society as much as financial capital is. This could be with a way in social capital, if there could be a formal and physical way of assessing that, is transferred between individuals and actively endorsed in the process.
I know that people will speak of the subjectivity involved but here I am not highlighting the nitty-gritties as much as I am seeking a cultural change that makes it good, fashionable even, to be truly and honestly compassionate, caring and altruistic. If we can have social media and the use of technology for everything from taking ridiculous selfies on falling ocean waves to bitcoining away to glory, why can we not use technology to also facilitate this idea of an `economy of social capital’. An economy where social capital fundamentally defines the way in which a person is perceived and engaged with, when it comes to interactions or transactions, much like corporates have in their CSR culture. Some may say that this may take away from the selflessness of altruism or care for society. I do not think so, till there are checks and balances to keep endorsements (on a certain charitable act or initiative) measured and anonymous, and that the largely picture and importance of the social capital is highlighted.
Collaborative e-governance and Democracy
I feel that this system will go quite well with what I see as the most Dharmic form of government: collaborative e-governance and democracy. A system that mixes elements of representative and direct democracy. That allows the common man to propose, formulate and stand by ideas for the welfare of society. A system that involves the common man in the decision making process, without compromising on the quality of the policies and decisions made. This is done through a tiered system that involves all the stakeholders: representatives, private sector, independent organizations and think-tanks, and the common man, coming together on a virtual platform. Under this system, proposals for policy or law can be put forth by individuals or groups, vetted by experts (who also inform the masses and the representatives of the nuances of a suggested policy), and then voted in.
In a direct democracy, each citizen would be required to vote on each policy issue each time. This could overburden most people and not allow for the pursuit of activities and interests as per their Swadharma, and therefore in a truly Dharmic system, the citizens should be able to delegate responsibility to trusted representatives to vote on their behalf on those issues where they lack time and/or interest and/or knowledge and understanding. Though these representatives vote on the individual’s behalf, the final voting power must remain with the voter at the ground level. In this system, if the economy of social capital may be integrated, then we move towards a system of governance and politics that is not only Dharmic but highly efficient and representative. In this section, I have looked at the practicalities and possibilities of such a system, while in the previous section I looked at the broader framework for such a political philosophy.
In this essay, I have looked at some core ideas of ancient Indian philosophy and tried to synthesize by reasoning and reflection a truly Indian political philosophy — Satyashrama, and the school of socio-politics that aligns with the same – Satyavad. Today people speak of Hindu nationalism and communal politicking in the same breath. Today people talk of fascism and a culture that has always believed in tolerance and dignity of the individual since times immemorial, again, in the same breath. It is shameful that this is the case, and this has happened due to a combination of lack of proper representation of fundamentally Indian values and ideals today, as well as convenient veiling of these values and ideals for political gain. It is time for change. For meaningful change. Change that respects the roots of Indian life, culture and society, and at the same time is at the very frontier of the modern age, in its conception and application.
Satyavad is not capitalist in that it has a fundamental aspect in its compassion for all. It is not communist for liberty of the individual is maintained and respected. It is not even a social market economy, since the private sector need not be forced to pay the welfare state. It relies on the belief in the innate humanity of the individual, taken to a level where practically it becomes good and useful to feed back into the system. It relies on the belief that every person must have the dignity to life and opportunities to live a good life, a life based on their Swadharma. One key issue that may emerge is the accumulation of interest and talent in a generation on one profession, which has to be pre-empted by a slow cultural change where all livelihoods and professions are fundamentally respected and promoted.
With this essay and these words I present a system of life, politics and society for a sustainable today and tomorrow, which respects universal and fundamental truths of society.