By Dr. Ananya Awasthi
Last week, I got a wonderful opportunity to attend “Lokmanthan”, a Colloquium of ‘Nation First’ Thinkers and Practitioners held in the city of Bhopal. Having reached Bhopal, initially Iwasn’t very sure of what to expect out of this ideation platform as ayoung learner. Fortunately so, it turns out, that all the knowledge, thoughts andexperiences that I ended up learningthrough the medium of public discourse and brainstorming sessions, has in fact been by far the most intellectually stimulating exercise that I have ever attended. Hence in this article, I am sharing some relevant learnings which are particularly useful for the young and the “new” generation of India and the rest of the modern world.
As opposed to the western mind set of reductionist globalization, the focus of “Lokmanthan”was on the philosophy of Integral Humanism where all the discourse and learnings were universally aimed at humanity as a whole. Refuting plurality of souls, the idea of oneness amongst people of all races, caste, creeds & geographies was established. Most importantly, it was emphasized that this idea of collectivitywas not opposed or antagonistic to the idea of “Nation First”thinking. Hence identifying with your nation and the rest of the humanity were rightfully described as being capable of peaceful co- existence.
With this larger vision various discussions were directed at addressing current challenges like Decolonizing Indian Minds, Rashtriyata (Nationality) in Neo-liberalism and Globalization, Identity, Aspirations and National Integration and Role of Art, Culture, History and Media in Nation Building. Various Academicians, Intellectuals and writers, Policy makers, Artists and Students from all over the country had come together at this forum not with concept of passively prescribing text book learning but to use this platform as a medium to ideate on burning issues facing contemporary society.
India and its history were aptly described as a “wonder” by J Nandakumar who explained how even though our country had faced numerous invasions and counter cultural influences in the past, there was still a thread of “Rashtriyata” which was binding us all together. Hence even though for an outsider, India might seem to be a crucible for diverse identities, intrinsically there was a common bond of collectivity and common Indian values that we all shared. Unfortunately, this diversity in modern times has been perceived as a source for anti-nationalist and centrifugal forces, especially so in a democratic political structure like that of India. The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that the western philosophies and notions of modernity perceive social identities to exist in water-tight compartments and do not see them as an organic whole with the shared values of “Rashtriyata” percolating through them. Tarek Fatah added to this by stating that religious and social identities are and should not be antagonistic to nationalistic thinking. Thus being an Indian, irrespective of castes, religion and colour, it is our duty to be honest andcommitted to collective values of nation building.
An important distinction made by Dr Anirban Ganguly, Director of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation was the difference between the meaning of “scientific modernization and blind westernization”. He explained how the political hegemony since the establishment of Western Education system by the British, had led to a process of cultural homogenization in India. This in turn has led to a situation where the western education system in India has become a source pool for western ideas of consumerism, conflict and market thinking; thus completely ignoring the essence of Indian teachings and sustainable living. On the other end of the spectrum, Smt Smriti Irani explained how Indian way of living and thinking was not to be confused with feudalistic and backward thinking. Illustratively on the issue of gender equity she stated that “Regression does not come wrapped around in a Saree”. Thus explaining how following traditional values and lifestyles including indigenous clothing, food and outlook did not mean we were rejecting ideas of social justice and universal rights. Instead it meant how youth, both boys and girls can take this country forward while respecting national duty and Indian traditions and at the same time also following universal notions of gender equity and social empathy for one and all.
Social inclusion was a very strong theme in the panel discussions where challenges related to empowerment of Scheduled Caste and Tribal population were discussed. Milind Kamble, a social entrepreneur who is also the founder of Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) was probably the best choice for a guest speaker. I personally found his thoughts to be very progressive. Instead of harping on social identities and reservations, he spoke about how PM Modi’s Stand Up India campaign and initiative like DCCI were generating employment for lakhs and lakhs of young SC entrepreneurs. In his own words rather than “asking for jobs”, SC youth were increasingly being made self-sufficient to “give jobs”
Hailing this Lokmanthan as the beginning of a new era in India, Shri Rinpoche, ex-prime minister of Tibet explained how Terrorism had become a market place; which would very soon collapse on its own weight. On the same lines, actor Anupam Kher, over and above his star attraction, in very simple terms explained the importance of family values, ‘nation first’ outlook and the importance of speaking the truth when it comes down to the matters of national security and taking strict action against forces which were anti-national in nature. He explained how the so called intelligentsia influenced by the misplaced notions of modernity, had made the youth so defensive about his/her patriotic values. Thus he advised the youth not to fear failure in the light of stiff opposition from fissiparous tendencies; and to put all their efforts in constructive nation-building.
Folk culture and art was best exemplified by Dr Shetty, who explained how the world was undergoing a post-modernism phase, where all the western notions of art and culture are increasingly been rejected in favor of native representations of art and philosophy. This correlates with how there is a renewed focus on Yoga, Ayurveda, Vedanta, Sustainable way of Indian living and native art world-wide. Hence he advised the young population to identify this change in Global thinking and learn to respect and appreciateits own culture, art and oral/folk heritage. Also the famous artist, Smt. Sonal Mansingh, much like her dance inspiringly explained how Krishna destroyed the snake Kaliya to prevent the river Yamuna from getting polluted and poisoned. Thus using Indian culture and its traditions as medium to reflect on how even our mythological stories and heroes had displayed consciousness for Environmental Sustainability, which is so very important in the current scenario of Global warming and Environmental degradation.
Summing up the session, Shri Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, our very own Chanakya from the TV screens asked us to finally contemplate upon the relevance and theutility of theseintellectual discourses in the currentcontext. He went on to describe how these learnings were of use only if these were disseminated beyond the walls of Lokmanthan, out into the mainstream discourse. Just like how a seed is planted in fresh soil, so were these values and teachings meant to be planted in the fresh minds of today’s youth. Most importantly, he warned us all that a good thought wasn’t enough to bear any plant let alone a fruit. Invoking M.S. Gowalkar’s observations- that what had harmed India the most all these years was not so much the wrong doing of those who were dishonest to the nation; but that it was the INACTION and Indifference of the “Sajjan”(Good) people who chose not to act upon what they knew was the right thing to do. Similarly, all that I am sharing with you today, from the mind-churning exercise that was held at the “Lokmanthan” 2016, is of no practical use, if all of us, including me do not act upon what we have learnt and what we know to be in the national interest. Hence we need to act and ACT NOW to build strong foundations for this nation based on shared values of nationalism, humanism, social justice, harmony and empathy through the lens of a nation-first outlook as also with an orientation towards progressive and holistic thinking.
(The author is an expert in public policy and health and has been working and writing on these issues)