Voting in elections is the social responsibility of devotees
Elections are integral part of the democratic process. They take up a fever of their own. During this time the media itself is filled up with ads, analysis, reports of elections, the trends and predictions.
From spiritual perspective there may be different responses possible to this social situation:
Three attitudes towards the world
There is the idea that all this is temporary and nothing is going to change in this world full of miseries. Ex. One may quote Srila Prabhupada here, when congress lost power in the 1970s, that time elections were coming up, at that time Srila Prabhupada told that ‘this is not going to make any difference. Adhyatmik adjustment is what is going to solve the problem. Not the social Adjustment.’ That may make some devotees dismissive towards the elections. From Transcendental perspective it is true that the material changes don’t make much difference. But Srila Prabhupada himself was not indifferent towards the social situations. At one time Srila Prabhupada encourages devotees to form a political party called ‘in god we trust’. There were devotees who campaigned in America as well as Australia. Srila Prabhupada said that one advantage of this democratic set-up of elections is that you can freely criticize others. So as to bring the people towards the awareness of the core issues and make healthy choices.
So Srila Prabhupada had both these attitudes. Rather to say we may find Srila Prabhupada quotes for whichever attitude we may have. So if we look at the Vedic philosophy at large there are 3 ways to look at the world:-
- ‘Demonize the world’ —–> Gyan Marg (everything in this world is dangerous, distracting and entangling so there is no need to indulge in it)
- Romanticize the world’ —-> Karma Marg (If only a few things change, then everything will be so wonderful in this world and we will be happy. Changes at material level can bring happiness)
- ‘Utilize the World’ —-> Bhakti Marg (Everything belongs to Krishna and should be used in the service of Krishna. Principle of Yukta Vairagya i.e. whatever is usable in Krishna’s service, shouldn’t be rejected)
Bhagwad Gita doesn’t endorse 1st and 2nd interpretations, but supports the 3rd way.The way Democracy works is that the way citizens can express their power is through voting. There is a material level and there is a transcendental level to it. Within the material level (made up of Goodness, Passion and ignorance) there are things that are Pro-spirituality and there are things that are anti-spirituality. For example Excessive passion and ignorance would be anti-spiritual.
For Bhakti, out of these material elements, what is Pro-spiritual is encouraged and what is Anti-spiritual is discouraged (lower modes). At one level devotees are meant to practice spirituality without getting entangled in this world. But at the same time Srila Prabhupada told devotees to contribute to the world by raising the consciousness of the society. So by the principal of Yukta-Vairagya whatever principle we can use for raising the consciousness we should use. And government is vastly useful and powerful machinery in today’s society. Whether that government is in the hand of those who are pro-spiritual or anti-spiritual that is something that is significantly going to determine if spiritual message that can be practiced and shared.
Fanaticism – secular and religious
There are irreligious fanatics which make practice of spirituality impossible. We had in Soviet Russia where devotees were tortured and persecuted because they were practicing religious principles. Communism which rejected all the religions as opium of the masses is irreligious fanaticism.
Similarly there are theocracies that encourage practices of one religion and ban the practices of other religions (at least publically).
Indian Tradition has been a tradition of plurality and broad-mindedness. There have been different paths for different people, according to their traditions/ mentalities/ psycho-physical natures. That’s why there are gyan marg, karma marg, and bhakti marg. So in today’s society this plurality is being endangered in the name of secularism. Often secularism should broadly mean that different religions to be allowed to practice without any interference by the state. But unfortunately in India, secularism often leads to reverse-discrimination against the majority. So what it ends up doing is in the name of being Secular the minorities are given disproportionate favors and majority is disproportionately disfavored. This sort of secular intolerance makes the practice of the mainstream Vedic culture more and more difficult. That is undesirable. That has to be avoided.
Of course at the other extreme is the religious fanaticism that is also not a part of the Vedic tradition. The Vedic tradition was that different people can propagate their ideas. There can be intellectual debate and the one which is intellectually strongest would triumph. But there are religious fanatics who do not tolerate any intellectual debate and they go into aggression. So both secular fanaticism and religious fanaticism are very dangerous for the plural culture of India for sharing the spiritual wisdom. Of course the mainstream media today highlights the dangers of loss of secularism far than the dangers of religious fanaticism in terms of the disproportionate favor to the minorities.
Three concentric circles
That’s why devotees who at one level wants to practice their spiritual life (the innermost circle) and want to share it with other and help them to come to the devotional level (the outer circle), and the outermost circle are people broadly who are not practicing spiritual life but are appreciative of the spiritual life, that what the spiritual culture would spread broader and broader. If the government is anti-spiritual or is run by those who are anti-spiritual or anti-Vedic religion can have injurious effects not only for the core practitioners or those who want to share the devotional culture but the outer culture can also be harmful. So devotees have to be very intelligent and responsible recognizing that just as we practice Krishna Consciousness, while doing so we use technology and so many things that were not used in the past because we understand the principle of Yukta-Vairagya, that whatever can be used in Krishna’s service must be used in Krishna’s Service.
Similarly the process of democracy and elections can also be utilized by the principle of the Yukta Vairagya for making the choices that will help in establishment of broad socio-cultural governance that is favorable to India’s broad-minded tolerant and pluralistic spiritual culture. So that’s why the elections provides the devotees the opportunity to exercise their social responsibility that by participating in the electoral process, casting one’s vote to those candidates who will promote the spiritual values, who will not reject spiritual values in the name of secularism, and who will gradually enable the establishment of socio-culture administration that raises people’s consciousness, in that way the devotees can help in re-spiritualization of society as Srila Prabhupada desired and wrote in his preface to Srimad Bhagwatam.