From Democracy to Dharmocracy

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

I heard the term ‘Dharmocracy’ for the first time on Saturday last in a Webinar, and the speaker who used it was Jeffrey Armstrong aka Kavindra Rishi. He has steeped himself in Vedic culture since 1969, and has been spreading its message of the Oneness of Existence through the organisation he has founded: VASA or the Vedic Academy of Science and Arts, which is ‘dedicated to bringing the library of India’s wisdom into precise, modern English so it can facilitate human evolution at this crucial tipping point in human history.’

While we may be enchanted by the worn definition of democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ we can see from what precedes that there are problems regarding the by and the for. As regards the by, that is the elected representatives and leaders, there is increasingly mounting and strident criticism of their quality by several noted analysts. Photo – teamworkdefinition.co


All of us have only heard about democracy, and also that, according to British politician Winston Churchill, it is the least bad of systems of government. It would be recalled that despite leading Britain to victory over the Germans in World War II, he lost in the subsequent general election, which brought Clement Attlee to power as the prime minister. This was no doubt a living proof of the soundness of the basic premise of democracy, that power flows from the people and it is they who give the mandate to a political party to govern, and also remove it if need be through the democratic process.

However, this power is exerted and ‘felt’ only once every five years in most democracies where free and fair elections are held at predictable or set (the US) dates. In between, that is when the elected government is in place, how it exercises this power varies from country to country, and in all democracies – even the mature ones – there are examples of abuse of that power. The same freedom that brings in a new government and empowers it to govern is subsequently evoked by the same elected government to ‘rule’ with iron hands (using excessive force through established legal structures and the policing or enforcement mechanisms) rather than govern with velvet gloves.

There is no denying that a firm hand is required in many situations but “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip”: we refer to the thin line that separates just use of power from violence in the extreme, as we have seen in the riots that have been taking place in the past few years in many countries, where street movements have been challenging governments they feel are not responsive to their demands for social, economic and political justice. The events that have most widely been spread in the media have been those associated with the ‘Arab spring’, the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, the Gilets Jaunes marches in France, the protests in Hong Kong and Belarus, and the ongoing ones in Myanmar. A number of them have been marked by aggressiveness amounting to brutality, something that we have also witnessed locally in the manner of handling of political opponents post the honeymoon period of election.

Perhaps that is what Churchill meant, and experienced? While we may be enchanted by the worn definition of democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ we can see from what precedes that there are problems regarding the by and the for. As regards the by, that is the elected representatives and leaders, there is increasingly mounting and strident criticism of their quality by several noted analysts.

For example, Joergen Oerstroem Moeller who is a visiting senior research fellow with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and adjunct professor with the Singapore Management University and Copenhagen Business School had commented that ‘demagogues and populists win elections because they falter and humour the multitude of people not able or willing to see through the maze. But the danger is, they could be ineffective leaders as they pander to the populace, or worse, closet dictators who eventually subvert the democratic system for their own interests.’

He cites the examples of Iraq, which ‘bid farewell to dictator Saddam Hussein, only to have elected former prime minister Nouri Maliki, who was accused of leading a divisive, sectarian government that has fuelled the violence that has led to parts of the country being captured by militant group Islamic State’, and Thailand, ‘embroiled in political protests, leading to the ouster of its prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and subsequently a military coup.’ He went on to add that ‘even more established democracies are facing problems. In some countries (e.g. France and Britain) protest parties — often espousing radical views that smack of fascism, racism or communism — recently won about a quarter of the seats in the European Parliament.’

He even referred to the United States, where ‘the system has bred gridlock that resulted in a government shutdown last October (2013) after Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a spending plan for the fiscal year.’ Was this prescience? – one is tempted to ask, in light of the subsequent events and incidents that have occurred, in particular during the tenure of Donald Trump as president, which led to the mounting criticism of the failures and chaos of democracy, of democracy in crisis. Chaos for sure there was!

All this is being done, of course, in the name of the freedom that democracy confers, creating such a hullaballoo that in the countries where such risings were taking place there was continuous disruption of the proper functioning of the polity, preventing informed debates from taking place, replaced instead by the cacophony of the crowds and the reflexive muscular responses where they took place. That was one end of the spectrum of ‘the weakness of democracy’, which is the ‘temptation to follow the demagogues and populists, who tell voters what they want to hear’.

This makes one wonder, therefore, whether it is time to rethink, or at least to revisit democracy. That is why I was interested in the expression Dharmocracy, and have looked it up, discovering to my pleasant surprise that the concept has been ventilated before as well.

In fact, on the platform YKA or Youth Ki Awaaz on 13th November, 2019 Dr Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar, a postdoctoral scholar in Physics and a student leader in the University of Cambridge student unions, and who addresses ‘issues relating to the changing socio-political aspect of our times’, has written a fairly comprehensive paper on this topic – The Case for ‘Dharmocracy’: A Political, Economic and Spiritual Democracy.

This would be based on the concept of Dharma as an integrating principle which upholds and acknowledges the multiplicity of realities of existence. In a polity, this means that no one, even the brightest and most talented of all, has all the virtues and qualities and intelligence that may help mankind attain optimum levels of existence. Therefore, the key to progress and sustainable lifestyle is in working together in synergy and in harmony.

Further, the author points out: ‘A Dharmic form of government means: collaborative e-governance and democracy — a system that mixes elements of representative and direct democracy. That allows the common man to propose, formulate and stand by ideas for the welfare of society. A system that involves the common man in the decision-making process, without compromising on the quality of the policies and decisions made. This is done through a tiered system that involves all the stakeholders: representatives, private sector, independent organisations and think-tanks, and the common man, coming together on a virtual platform. Under this system, proposals for policy or law can be put forth by individuals or groups, vetted by experts (who also inform the masses and the representatives of the nuances of a suggested policy), and then voted in.’

On the economic front in such a Dharmic democracy, a key element is the decentralisation of power, ‘giving the freedom to make economic decisions to its stakeholders, possibly by adopting a worker-owned cooperative system and by the use of local resources for the development of the region. This will be ‘a decentralised economy, where self-sufficient economic zones are created and organised, as per a set of predetermined conditions in each of these socio-economic units, with associated councils.’

Suggestions are made for the guarantee of basic education services with provisions for higher and adult literacy education with subsidies and prioritised investments at the discretion of Councils;  universal healthcare  (that provides health care and financial protection to all, with the level of public-private involvement decided by the Councils, and a nationally maintained maximum charge and income-expenditure ratio for the various facilities);  social housing; a universal basic income. Moreover, in such a system the cooperative model of business and enterprise would be preferred, so that the workers and stakeholder have greater say in the functioning and profit of the enterprises. I envision most businesses, particularly those producing essential requirements of subsistence, such as housing and agro-sectors, as operated as cooperatives.

These are some of the ideas that are presented, and seem worthy of consideration if we want to move towards a better functioning model of democracy that will serve the people better.


* Published in print edition on 2 March 2021

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