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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 29 New Delhi July 6, 2019

Bhupendranath Datta: Imagining a New India

Sunday 7 July 2019, by Arup Kumar Sen


Bhupendranath Datta is not a well-known thinker in Indian political thought. He was the younger brother of Swami Vivekananda, whose name is often invoked by the proponents of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India.

Just after India’s independence, Bhupendranath Datta wrote an article in Bengali, which was published in October, 1947, with the title Dharma O Rashtra. In the article, Bhupendranath explored what should be the nature of the state in new India.

Bhupendranath argued that dharma takes a specific meaning in a particular social context, and Hindu dharma does not carry any eternal connotation. He raised an ethical question in his discourse: Are not the freedom fighters, who sacrificed their lives and swallowed tortures for the independence of India, dharmic people?

Datta expressed his doubts as to whether the ex-patriots, who being scared of the freedom struggle took the path of institutional religion, can be called dharmic people. He categorically stated that domination of those who trade in religion should be banished from the society, and the spirit of equality should be promoted in all aspects of life, for building a democratic state. According to him, the dharma of new India should be lokseva (serving the people). He clarified that the traditional formal institutions and rituals of dharma have no place in the new lokdharma of India. He opined that the new state should be managed by those who will represent the collective interest of the people and take the people of India to a better civilisation.

If Bhupendranath Datta were alive today, one can guess how he would have reacted to the dominant Hindu nationalism of our time being preached by the BJP and its allies.

Arup Kumar Sen


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