As we discuss the idea of Leadership in the 21st century, I recall that previously, the Minister of State for External Affairs, M.J. Akbar, spoke about the idea of nationalism as being the biggest weapon against radical Islam. Her Excellency, Chandrika Kumaratunga (former President of Sri Lanka) spoke about strengthening international governance mechanisms as a solution to many of the problems confronting the world.
However, I am convinced that the transformational leadership to the world must come from India because of its inner strength and philosophical purity. Here I am reminded of the vision and dream of Swami Vivekananda: “One vision I can see clear as life before me that the ancient Mother has awakened once more, sitting on her throne, rejuvenated, more glorious than ever. Proclaim her to the entire world with the voice of peace and benediction”. When India was in the clutches of imperialism, plagued by poverty, destitution and diminishing self-confidence, he went a step ahead and proclaimed that a resurrected India would be the leader of the world.
In the era binaries where nuance is lost, we should go back to the teachings of the Rig Veda which declared, truth is one, sages call it by many names. The inclusive principles outlined by the Indian philosophers have stood the test of time and are even more relevant in a world fractured by divisive ideas. In a spirit sarba dharma samabhava and basudhaiba kutumbakam, Hindus have always recognised the divinity of other religions as our concept of Avatara helped us to accept the realities of prophets, masters or gurus of other religions.
But there was a systematic effort to derail and de-legitimise the Indian thought process at the hands of imperialists, colonialists, Marxists and so called Liberals. The great treasure of Indian Hindu philosophy has been rebuked and ridiculed in order to enslave our future generations. In the name of modernity and westernisation, our generation has been uprooted from its glorious heritage and tradition. We have been told that to talk about India’s heritage is an act of parochialism and traditionalism.
When we talk about our composite ‘sanatan’ religion it is dubbed as communalism. The Indian school of oriental philosophy has been simply displaced and driven out of India. Even as the study of Hinduism and Sanskrit has become a subject of great interest in the West, but not in India. The academic and epistemological pursuit of Hinduism has been systematically derided as a goal of regressive non-modern people. On the contrary, the so-called Left institutions have received disproportionate favour at the behest of the State apparatus. In a way, they have succeeded to create cynicism about our religion and tradition.
The time has come to challenge this trend by a dispassionate focus on our past. The purpose is not to go back to the past but to develop a healthy, scientific understanding about our philosophy, tradition and religion so that our posterity can be proud of what they possess. We need to tell our posterity that every problem that humanity has been facing today had its roots in the past.
Today to tolerate is considered to be a great virtue. But in Hinduism, as Vivekananda said, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true…” and that is the essence of our religion.
Indian tradition and philosophy goes beyond reductionism, between ‘me’ as a possessive individualism and ‘class’ as privileged and underprivileged. Our approach is holistic and integrated. We believe in five principles of Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. These were the guiding principles of Gandhiji also.
There is a strong resonance of these principles in Buddhism also which is another religious variation in the land of Bharatbarsha. These Five Precepts are
1) Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2) Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3) Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4) Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5) Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
At a time when drugs, violence, arms proliferation, animosity towards each other remain some of the principles that grip a certain section of youth, recourse to these teachings of our past could act as the great foundational pillar for our young generation. These teachings need to be imparted through education, family values and co-curricular practices in the educational institutions.
And what kind individual and society does our philosophy envisage? It is a mixture of ‘vyashti’ (individual), ‘samashti’ (society) and the cosmic world referred to by the word ‘paremashti’. The individual alone is not the truth until he/she is connected with the society. Any person who is obsessed with himself so much that he doesn’t have any time even for the family around, is always a potential danger; they are demons in the making.
Such people look at their children and other relatives too as pawns to be used for their own selfish ends. They have no love in their hearts; or rather do not know the real meaning of love. Their life is dry and lonely, and in spite of their obsessive and blinding concerns for themselves they do not satisfactorily fulfill even those objectives for which they are so concerned. They definitely seem to be on the wrong path.
The Cosmic view on the other hand brings about love for all. A person sensitive to others alone has a heart full of love and peace. Such a person is also obliged to take care of his basic needs, but this is never an issue for him. He has a large family who are equally sensitive to his needs. Man is a social being, and therefore can never even think of living an isolated life. If this is so then any tendency to be insensitive to others is contradictory to the very structure of the social order. The essence of Dharma is to be sensitive to others. A virtuous act is defined as that wherein a person does unto others as he expects others to do unto him. This is possible only because of his high degree of sensitivity and love for everyone around. A person of such disposition is an indeed a godly person.
Therefore, we need a generation and a posterity that believes in these principles which are considered to be the most sustainable principles for humanity. It is now time to develop that organic leadership which is democratic, respects our rich tradition and culture and is not based on dynasty. That generation can take the world leadership which Vivekananda has visualised.
Vivekananda had visualized India’s pre-ordained destiny of taking on the mantle of world leadership. This would not only be in the realm of spirituality but also in every other sphere, be it economic, political or social. He called for capacity building in science and technology. Influenced by Swamiji’s words, pioneer industrialist Sir Jamshedji Tata spearheaded the formation of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, alongside his famous steel plant.
Sir J.C. Bose drew inspiration from his thoughts and went on to give India its rightful place in the world of science. Today, our advances in science and technology have made the world stand up and listen to us, but Swami Vivekananda had asserted the need for capacity building a century ago.
While our philosophy encourages us to take life as a medium to achieve higher goals, at the same time it has always mandated us to fight against evil. In fact in Bhagvad Gita, Sri Krishna’s advice to Arjuna centres round the fact that a Hindu will never take a step backwards to ensure that order and peace is restored in our world.
By Himanta Biswa Sarma
Based on the presentation made at the India Ideas Conclave, Goa, on Leadership in the 21st Century. The writer is a Cabinet Minister in the Government of Assam, and convener of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).