Basic Principles of Hindu Democrats
This article is a thought exercise about a potential “Hindu Democratic Party” (HDP).
What would an ideal “Hindu Democracy” be based upon? Let’s deliberate on certain principles.
The Hindu Democrats want to ensure that our democratic society is built upon Hindu values. By Hindu values, we mean the universal and eternal values (sanātana dharma) and the Indian cultural heritage.
Hindu Democrats look upon the world as an organic unity. An incorporeal, conscious principle (ātman or vijñāna) is the essence of every life form, not just humans, but also plant life and animal life. Each of us are ātman living in a physical body. We appeal to this underlying unity in the plurality and diversity of all existence. Blissfulness (ānanda) is the real, true state of all living beings. Therefore, we see equality of all creation, with none superior or inferior. The principles of HDP are driven by the urge to realise this goal of seeking happiness in, and for, the integral whole.
The HDP welcomes anyone, not only Hindus, who believes in “unity in plurality”, democracy and the quest for bliss.
Principles of Hindu Democrats
Political decision-making is all about our values. We strive to achieve a State (government) that bears fruit to all the efforts of its citizens: dharma, artha, kāma and mōkṣa – the four puruṣārthas. Worldly comforts (kāma) and spiritual fulfillment (mokṣa) are not mutually exclusive but complementary and necessary even. These are achieved through economic prosperity (artha) for all. And these three entities stand on the pillar of Dharma (“that which upholds”). In other words, Dharma, funded by economic growth, leads one to worldly success and transcendental happiness (“yatō’bhyudaya-niḥṡrēyasa-siddhiḥ sa dharmaḥ” – Vaiṡēṣika sutra 1.1.2).
Hindu Democrats regard the society as an organic whole, constituted of distinct limbs that are mutually dependent and contributive towards the health and well-being of the society. We do not regard the caste system as hierarchical but as a system of professional and economic syndicates, the members of which derive their dignity and pride by demonstrating proficiency in their respective trades. Our policies aim to enable the growth and development of these socio-economic groups, no matter to which caste they belong. We envision cooperation rather than competition. We strongly support social mobility so that individuals can move across these groups as per their qualifications and merit, rather than birth-based reservation. We reject any claim that prejudice and discrimination based on caste are inherent to Hinduism.
The word “Hindu” in the party name refers to a conscious attempt to promote fundamental Hindu values and act upon them in society’s decision-making. The Hindu religion is not a political ideology, but Hindu Democracy is. We justify our policies in such a way that anyone can understand our reasoning.
The word “Democrat” in the party name reflects commitment to the democratisation of all political decision-making. India, as a “union of states”, must work towards decentralisation and federalisation. We want to entrust power to the local governments and regional bodies through free and fair elections. Power sharing among the legislative, executive and judiciary, together with an independent and unbiased mass media, prevents the concentration of power in the hands of single decision-makers or groups. Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of democracy which keep corruption in check. Openness and public debate are necessary, so that voters can evaluate the candidates and how they act in decision making.
Service in the Pursuit of Truth
The central value of Hindu Democrats is asatō mā sad-gamaya – Lead me from the Untruth to Truth. Truth, both, as in universal harmony (ṛta) and its practical application (satya), is our core value. Honesty, openness, transparency, sincerity, non-hypocrisy in deeds, words and thoughts (kāyā-vācā-manasā) and many related tenets, drive our policies.
Rather than putting one’s self before everything else (individualism), we accord primary importance to selflessness and selfless good deeds (niṣkāma-karma and sēvā). Why? Because, just as I am an ātman, so are you – I share your pain and hence want to serve you, to alleviate you of it. That is our worldview. People should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own life. Therefore, Hindu Democrats stress duties over rights, community over the individual, society over the State and social welfare over social justice.
On the topic of morality, we emphasise ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truthfulness) and dayā (compassion).
World is One Family
Vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam – The World is indeed a Family, proclaims the Mahā Upaniṣad. Therefore, family and society are central to Hindu Democrats. A family is where Hindu values are nurtured and turns a child into a productive member of the society.
Hindus see That One as masculine or feminine or neither (as in Brahman). We see the underlying ātman as a unifying factor, irrespective of one’s race, colour, ethnicity, gender, sex or caste. Therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure the dignity and equality of all women and men, and to support culturally-founded means for empowerment and equal opportunity for all.
Hinduism has a long tradition of recognising the third gender, for ex., Brihannala and Shikhandi in the Mahabharata. Therefore, we owe equality and non-discrimination to those who are in the third gender (eunuchs, LGBTQIA+, etc.). Same-sex relationships are neither condemned nor condoned, because, sexual characteristics pertain to the body whereas the personal self ātman is incorporeal. Such people too are entitled to pursue the four puruṣārthas and the State shall be supportive in this respect.
Hindus consider that the spirit soul enters the womb during conception and hence it is an autonomous living being. Therefore, we do not support “abortion on request” but restrict it to cases involving risk to life, risk to health, rape or sexual abuse, foetal impairment or certain socio-economic inhibitions of the mother (or her family).
Regulated Market Economy
The root of Dharma is wealth (dharmasya mūlaṃ arthaḥ), says Chanakya. An economy can generate wealth only in the presence of free markets, free-and-fair foreign trade and respect for private property. A spirit of niṣkāma karma yoga (selfless action) underlying honest entrepreneurship shall be fostered. Laissez-faire capitalism fuels greed (lōbha), leading to income inequality and monopolies. In order to buttress small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), we prefer a regulated market economy with strong anti-trust laws ensuring fair competetion. The well-being of the society takes precedence over individual greed. Work of equal value must bring equal pay, especially for women and the disadvantaged.
Hindu Democrats believe in decentralisation because excessive government intervention kills innovation. Our motivation in this regard is informed by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi: “the centralization of power in the State negates the very conception of democracy”. Community-centric cooperatives, trusts, trade associations, labour unions, guilds and clubs act as self-regulating institutions caring for the well-being of their members. Such collective organisations share the wealth and knowledge among their members resulting in inequality reduction.
What’s the use of such wealth? Lōka-saṅgraha (Gita 3.20), welfare of the world. Emperor Janaka Mahārāja set an example of a welfare state by adherence to Karma Yoga. Artha shall support kāma – therefore, it is the duty of the State to provide basic services to its subjects. State-owned enterprises are central to building infrastructure (roads, rails, etc.) and public utilities (water, electricity, parks, etc.). Efficient usage of taxpayer money shall be ensured by promoting financial transparency and strangling of corruption.
Everyone is expected to fulfill their responsibilities as per their socio-economic stage (varṇāṡrama). Why? Because, like the Gita 3.8 says, “Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work”. Therefore, we do not support any kind of “minimum income” scheme which decreases the incentive to work. Instead, the unemployed shall be given skill education and counselled to find a suitable career to support their families. We support a “safety net” welfare (food for survival, primary education and primary healthcare) but not cradle-to-grave welfare like in the Nordic countries.
Nature does not exist to satisfy human needs. How so? Because, the flora and fauna have the same Conscious Principle as in you and me. Therefore, plants and animals are accorded equal respect and gratitude as we give to fellow humans. Our economic policies shall be decided by their impact on the environment and how to mitigate this risk. Why so? Because, the karma theory implies that, damaging the Nature by greed will return the damage back to us humans in kind. Therefore, we have an obligation to preserve and enrich our natural resources. Nuclear energy shall be promoted because it is carbon-free and sustainable. Government regulation is thus necessary to put a check on unbridled exploitation by corporations and individuals alike.
Religion and Secularism
The HDP is not a religious party. We neither derive authority from, nor subscribe to, any particular Hindu sampradāya (spiritual lineage), monastery, temple, swamiji, guru or acharya. We chart our own course by drawing inspiration from all these sources, in addition to the Hindu scriptures, but we remain unaffiliated. We see dharmic religions as the central pillar of our identity, but do not expect that it also defines nationalism for others.
We do not want Hinduism to be the official state religion. We believe in secularism in the truest sense – a strong separation of religion and state. We do not prioritise any majority religion (Hinduism, Islam) or minority religion (Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity). Conversely, we do not lend special support to minority religions either. The law is equal for all and hence we support a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). We do not support any legislation that favours one religion over another. As a secular party, we oppose all forms of mass proselytisation, be it of any religion.
We are neither a Hindutva party nor Hindu nationalists. That is, we do not want a nation “only for Hindus”. Nor do we want an ethnic homogeneity. We do not impose that the minority coreligionists must accept their Hindu ancestry. As such, we explicitly oppose all forms of authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial, dynastic and theocratic tendencies and affirm our firm faith in democracy and decentralisation of power.
Hindu Democrats are committed to preserving and enriching the plurality of language, culture and ethnic and regional diversity of India. We regard India as a vibrant democratic and cultural civilisation-state. It is this ancient cultural diversity that gives India its disntictness. We are hence dedicated to further this diversity, for example, by promoting Indian literature (Tamil, Pali, Sanskrit, etc.), popularisation of north-east culture, financial incentives for indigenous art forms and so on. Religion is irrelevant and shall not form the basis of such initiatives.
Speech And Truth
Like mentioned above, the central practice of Hinduism is the pursuit of Truth (satya). Like the Gita 17.15 says:
Not uttering words that lead to anxiety, speaking the truth and that which is pleasant and leads to welfare, and self-study – these are known as verbal austerities.
Most Hindu scriptures begin not by assertions but questions. We cherish the liberty to question and then seek answers. Thus, freedom of expression, both spoken and written, is uncompromisable and the State shall not restrain its people. We speak the Truth that leads to welfare (hita) in a polite or pleasant manner, not slanderously.
Sometimes this will give rise to speech that you disagree with or find it offensive. In the spirit of vāda and ṡāstrārtha, Hindu Democrats view that the response to such speech shall be more debate and counter-speech. Any call for injury or inciting violence or destruction of public property, in response to anybody’s viewpoints, is unacceptable and contradicts the Ahiṃsā principle.
The 2021 PEW Research survey on religiosity, as summarised by Shekhar Gupta, says: “I adore my country’s diversity. But I like my own diverse identity as well. Don’t toss me up in a homogeniser with others. Unity is not uniformity. Anybody who pushes it, will provoke my hyper-sensitive immune system. You irritate me when you sermonise me. Take my secularism for granted, or I see it as a dog whistle to the minorities to vote for you.”
We do not believe in “integration” or “assimilation” of immigrants but in pluralism – not a melting pot, but a salad bowl.