Pearl of wisdom
Jyoti Singh

Bahudha and the Post 9/11 World
by Balmiki Prasad Singh. Oxford University Press. Pages 370. Rs 745.

Bahudha and the Post 9/11 WorldTHE fundamental issue facing the world today is unbeatably, "How to live?" or more appropriately "How we all ought to live?" This crucial question finds an answer in the volume under review. Drawing upon the ancient Indian philosophical concept of Bahudha—Pluralism—the dominant strain in the volume reflects the attitude of modern civilisation. Balmiki Prasad Singh has successfully concluded that no matter how much we may think we have progressed ahead, we would have to look back to our scintillating traditional wisdom for the solutions to our modern-day problems. He vehemently stresses the need to weave the concept of Bahudha into a sound blueprint for rebuilding the post-9/11 world.

Through his scholarly enquiry peeking into the lives of the enlightened personalities— Lord Mahavira, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Swami Vivekanand, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Ashoka, Akbar, Jawaharlal Nehru and many others—the author shows how each one left a remarkable legacy that has profoundly enriched the Bahudha philosophy. He emphasises the relevance of tolerance and accommodation in the present world threatened by terrorism and a dire need of a breakthrough, i.e., Bahudha.

Tracing the quintessential teachings of the Vedas, Upnishads, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bible, Quran, Guru Granth Sahib and other religious texts, the writer highlights how they all preach the law of harmony— rightfully the strength of the society. The exploration brings to the foreground the indisputable fact that the enlightened prophets of all religions never thought or preached in terms of exclusiveness of their religion, nor did they think only of their welfare but for the welfare of all. Throughout the volume, the author stresses the need to don the Bahudha attitude—of accommodation and tolerance—to pave the way for a strong foundation of the harmonious society.

Balmiki Prasad Singh has tried to diagnose the problem of violence and the hate-hate relationship among our race, highlighting the condition post-9/11 and also prescribed a cure in the form of pluralism that calls for an attitude of accommodation and tolerance, however, the biggest question that would assail the minds of the readers would be "Who will bell the cat?" A deluge of queries sway the mind of a discerning reader: Why or will people like Osama bin Laden, and other fundamentalists who are ever preaching the exclusiveness of their religion embrace this virtue? Would just wishful thinking for harmony or pluralism be a logical conclusion for correcting the apathetic behavior or thinking of the world when the present capitalist world is full of inherent internal contradictions?

At one place the author states that "the Bahudha approach can be regarded as a prerequisite of democracy `85 both Bahudha and democracy are in a mutually complementary relationship. The democratic political environment thus determines the Bahudha temper and is in turn shaped by the Bahudha spirit".

Democracy as a political system and capitalism as an economic system, are compatible with each other. If capitalist system consists of opposing vested interest groups/classes, wouldn’t the corresponding democratic system, too, contain different opposing pressure groups/classes, which would fight to protect their respective group/class’ interests? In such a situation where there is so much disparity, can harmony/pluralism flourish favorably? Can we achieve harmonious existence when the basic premise of this system is self-interest—every individual/economic agent is motivated by the spirit of self-interest —which in turn provides viability and sustainability to this system? Doesn’t it seem unconvincing and mere utopias to think that though nations/societies consist of different opposing self-interest groups/classes, they would work harmoniously in the interest of the others?

Doesn’t our end to achieve pluralism seem far, more so a Herculean task, when the vested interest groups deliberately misguide the masses by creating false consciousness among them by diverting their attention from the real issues, i.e., poverty and inequality, by dividing them on the basis of caste, creed, gender, region, religion, state, nation, language, faith, political alliance, etc? The philosophy of Bahudha can flourish and sustain itself in this world, which is full of complexities/antagonistic forces, only on the strong foundation of good sanskaras that teach selflessness. But how far will it be viable to be selfless in a selfish society?

Unless and until all nations unanimously embrace Bahudha, can harmonious existence be achieved? The guidelines for achieving the Bahudha attitude will have to be implemented thoroughly and embraced by all, if we have to make the world a better place to live in. It would not be less than a miracle if this world, rocking with seething violence, attains the attitude of pluralism.

Political or social freedom without economic freedom is just a fa`E7ade. Countries, which are completely dependent on other advanced countries not only economically but also technologically, what freedom can they enjoy? The advanced countries are bound to dictate/bully and exploit the under developed or smaller nations because the development of the former depends solely on the economic exploitation of the latter, otherwise the former are bound to collapse and perish in the face of cut- throat competition. Why then the few developed countries, which are dictating the world, would follow the tenets of pluralism by shedding their political and economic hegemony? USA’s foreign policy and the way it dominates the World Bank and the UNO is enough to substantiate this. Will ever the US change its attitude towards the Muslims after the attack and step forward embracing Bahudha to stop the chain reaction, can be anybody’s guess.

Keeping this reviewer’s reservations aside, the readers ought not to be dissuaded, for hope and optimism sustain life. If the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly can cause a hurricane in Amazon, a small step towards Bahudha even by a single person can spark a revolution. The tragic events of 9/11 paved a worldwide will to oppose terrorism. This consensus can be used to implement long-term preventive measures. No doubt Bahudha philosophy will prove to be much more effective than taking violent steps based on anger and hatred. We all know violence begets violence. The 9/11 example substantiates this.

I would like to highlight what Balmiki Prasad did not point out. It was the verbal violence of the US President—when on September 11, 1990, while making a speech to the joint session of congress he announced his government’s decision to go on war against Iraq—that rebounded and explains as to why the terrorists chose 9/11 to attack. We will have to overcome the temptations to respond to violence and choose a more cautious approach. Resolving differences through dialogue, compromise, humility and understanding would usher a genuine peace that comes generate from respect, trust and mutual understanding to solve the problems in a humanitarian way. Non-violence advocated by different schools of thought is the right solution.

The book is indeed a timely response to the major global conflicts — cultural homogenisation and violence in the name of religion. It makes an enlightening reading, helping us to reflect the way we perceive the world.