‘Dharma can be religion but it is not only religion’

‘Dharma can be religion but it is not only religion'

Why fear a dharmic nation? The upshot after a robust exchange at the Times Litfest was that no one fears a dharmic nation. The bone of contention was the ownership of dharma by a religion. Does dharma get devalued when conflated with religion? Why does the Constitution need to be tinkered with in order for Indians to ‘follow their dharma’? What is stopping governments, media, industrialists or the judiciary from operating in a ‘dharmic’ manner’? Is secularism not dharmic? Is dharma not a ‘guide to ethical action’? In conversation were R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya magazine who wrote Dharmic Nation (2022), and former diplomat and politician Pavan K Varma, who wrote The Great Hindu Civilisation (2021). Columnist and politician Sudheendra Kulkarni earthed the duo’s ideological exchange in India’s everyday life, while novelist Ashwin Sanghi highlightedfraught perceptions on secularism and Hindu assertion.

For Jagannathan, the way ahead is for “all religions (to)accept the idea we have to live together, we have to accept differences and we have to uphold dharma, which is not religion but a larger balance between differing ideologies”. Calling the Constitution “wonderful”, Jagannathan wondered if 1.45 lakh words and the influence
of several other constitutions were needed to capture the essence of Hindu dharma.
“If we conflate dharma only with religion, we are devaluing the sophisticated concept of dharma in Hinduism,”
said Varma. In short, dharma can be religion but dharma is not only religion. “Our civilisation has hesitated to define
dharma in absolute terms. Dharma can be an ethical framework in which to pursue justice, fraternity, equality….”
As Kulkarni put it, “The evolution of our civilisation has happened by accepting and integrating influences
within and without. To believe India’s civilisation is Hindu civilisation is wrong.

Our civilisation has internalised influences from outside from the days of rishis. The Rig Veda says let in noble thoughts from all sides. So Islam came. Christianity came. Zoroastrianism came.” As ideas flew, Kulkarni
expanded on the word Hindu.

“It connoted a place where a certain civilisation arose and evolved which welcomed spiritual and cultural traditions
from all over the world. Dharma has always nourished our civilisation. Dharma rajya existed long before democracy.”

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