Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Setting out kingdom in order

Setting out kingdom in order - The Times of India

Radha Kumar ()
July 13, 1998

Title: Setting out kingdom in order
Author: Radha Kumar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 13, 1998

A survey of our current political scenario - even as India
concludes the celebration of its fiftieth year of Independence -
provides an eloquent commentary on the degeneration of
institutions. This is particularly disturbing for, while the
cliche that ours is an ancient civilisation with a rich heritage
is often repeated, what is perhaps not so well known is that
Indian civilisation has successfully experimented with varied
forms of socio-political systems.

Ancient Indian societies, from the plains of the. Indus to the
banks of the Kaveri, have witnessed remarkable cultural
development. Literary sources, kept alive for centuries through
rote learning, reveal the existence of regulated institutions
that created value-based societies where people were well
informed about their rights, duties, rules and regulations. This
awareness was achieved through institutions like the kula
(family), varnashrama (the four stages in life) and varnadharma
(the caste system). We only need scan the various historical
periods to appreciate that the peoples of this land have
exhibited immense dynamism in moulding their political destiny.

While the political set-up was largely monarchical, with the king
seen as God's representative on earth, there were effective
checks to ensure that he did not misuse his powers. The rajan
(king) in Vedic times was addressed as dhritavarta (dedicated to
law and land) and gopajanasya (protector). He was required to be
morally upright and any state calamity was attributed to his
failure to uphold dharma. Distinguished kings who have placed
dharma above all else include Rajaraja Chola, Krishnadevaraya,
Samudragupta and Harshavardhana.

The decentralisation of power was achieved through a hierarchical
power structure. The kula was developed into vis (districts), the
vis in turn into the jana (state) and groups of janapadas formed
the rashtra (nation). At each level, designated representatives
shared power with the rajan. Besides, the powers of the rajan,
were to be ratified by Sabha and Samiti. Tyrannical kings could
be killed or dethroned: the tradition offers us examples like
Vena, Sudhasa, Nimi, and Nahusha.

While kingship was largely hereditary, elective monarchy did
exist where the kulapati (fairly head), gramani (village head)
and vispati (district head) played an active role. Instances of
direct democracy are seen in the ganas (republics) where
decisions were taken after collective deliberation. The quorum
was an important factor in framing legislation, as was the role
of the whip in securing the requisite quorum.

The Rajan needed noble qualities and Kautilya, in the
Arthashastra, says that the king must be a 'rajarishi',
accomplished in government as well as in philosophy. If the
degeneration of the body politic is to be prevented, the king
must practise self-control and tolerance, understand public
accounts and finances and be familiar with military tactics and
forms of warfare. He should attend upon elder statesmen and
imbibe their experience.

During the first part of the day, Kautilya suggests, the king
should train in the martial arts with elephants, horses, chariots
and weapons. In the latter part of the day, he should listen to
itihasa, and at night prepare new lessons and revise old ones.
Sukra in his Smriti (law book) says: "The rajan is the root of
the tree of the state, the ministry its trunk, military chiefs
its branches, the army leaves and subjects its flowers." In fact,
during the Mauryan period, important provinces like Takshashila
and Ujjain were placed under the crown prince, so that he was
trained early in his responsibilities. The subsequent birth and
development of a welfare state is depicted in the unsurpassable
rock edicts of Asoka.

The smritikaras (law-makers) deal with the qualifications and the
position enjoyed by mantrins (ministers). On the qualifications
of a minister, Kautilya says that he should be a native of the
land, well trained in the arts, possess foresight, be wise,
strong in memory, bold, eloquent, skillful, intelligent and
decisive. He further says that the king should test the
ministers to ensure that they are above temptations of wine,
wealth and women. Discussing the working of the ministries, Sukra
notes that ministers could have secretaries for carrying out the
details of administration and recommends a system of transfers as
a means of minimising corruption.

It is evident, therefore, that our present-day political
institutions are but a diminished legacy of the past. In areas
such as the accountability of post-holders, the qualifications of
ministers and the vigilance of the common man, our society is a
mere shadow of what it once was. It is an ignorance of our
heritage that leads to the exploitation of people in the name of
religion and cultural heritage. Hackneyed as this may sound, we
ought to draw lessons from the past and work towards building an
India that would have made our forefathers- proud, and that we in
turn would be proud to leave to future generations.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements