Courtesy Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha
From time to time one reads articles in Indian newspapers and magazines that the System of Governance that Bharat follows today were borrowed from the West. It subtly seeks to imply how grateful we must be to the West, read British, for having passed this system to India. In school I remember having read briefly about the Indian kings and how they governed. Somewhere down the line I lost interest in the subject till I happened to read a book by Sri Aurobindo titled “Out of the Ruins of the West, India’s Rebirth” where he briefly referred to governance in ancient India. Eager to find an answer I searched and searched till I read Satyarth Prakash or Light of Truth by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Chapter 6 is called Raja Dharma and tells us about governance in Bharat.
This article is dedicated to Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya for two reasons. One they successfully drove away the Greeks and destroyed the myth about Greek superiority. Two Chanakya wrote a great treatise called Arthashashtra which is a must for every Indian to read. It has chapters on the King, the Well-organized State, Treasury, Sources of Revenue, Accounts and Audit, Civil Service Regulations, Law and Justice, Foreign Policy, Defence and War etc.
Research work done by Swami Dayanand was successfully used in a vital political controversy that erupted in the 20th century. When the Brits set about its newly declared goal of setting up responsible govt in India, an eminent historian Vincent Smith, rushed to prove that the attempt to set up self-governing institutions in India was bound to fail as being alien to it. Sir Shankaran Nair, a member of the Governor-General-in-Council disagreed on the basis of Kashi Prashad Jayaswal’s Hindu Polity written to expand Dayanand’s hints on the places of the Sabhas in ancient India.
What you find below is verbatim reproduction of text from Satyarth Prakash. Sometimes the contents of a chapter might not match its title. I have gone from the book and chosen titles to make it easier for you. I have chipped in my comments here and there. You will find them in brackets to distinguish them from the text. The article has 8 chapters.
2. Qualification of the True King.
3. Qualifications & Duties of Ministers, Members of Assembly.
5. Taxes and War.
6. Qualifications of a Friend.
7. Administration of Justice.
8. Questions & Answers on Governance.
Those who want to study the duties of rulers in greater detail would need to refer to the Vedas, the seventh, eighth and ninth chapters of Manu, the Shukraniti, Vidurprajagar, Rajadharma, and Apatadharma, chapters of Shantiparva of the Mahabharata.
Manu - The great Manu says to the Rishis, After discoursing on the duties of the four Classes and the four Orders, we shall now describe Raja Dharma or the duties and qualifications, etc., of Rulers, in other words, we shall discuss as to who is fit to be a King, how he is to be selected, and how he can attain the highest bliss-salvation. Let a Kshatriya, whose knowledge, culture and piety are as perfect as those of a Brahman, govern the country with perfect justice”, in the following way :-
Rig Veda - (God teaches), “Let there be for the benefit of the rulers and the ruled three Assemblies-1. Religious, 2. Legislative. 3. Educational. Let each discuss and decide subjects that concern it, and adorn all men with knowledge, culture, righteousness, independence, and wealth, and thereby make them happy.”
Atharva Veda - “Let the three Assemblies, Military Councils, and the Army harmoniously work together to carry on the government of a country.”
Atharva Veda - “A king should address the Assembly thus: - Let the leader of the Assembly abide by the just laws passed by the Assembly, and let other members do the same.”
It means that no single individual should be invested with absolute power. The king, who is the president of the Assembly, and the Assembly itself, should be inter-dependent on each other. Both should be controlled by the people, who in their turn should be governed by the Assembly.
Shatpatha Brahman - If this system be not followed and the king be independent of the people and live absolute power, “He would impoverish the people, -being despotic and hence arrogant-and oppress them, aye, even eat them up, just as a tiger or any other carnivorous animals pounces upon a robust animals and eats it up. A despotic rules does not let any one else grow in power, robs the rich, usurps their property by unjust punishment, and accomplishes his selfish end. One man should, therefore, never be given despotic power.”
Atharva Veda - “O men! Let that man alone among you be made a king – the President of the Assembly – who is a very powerful conqueror of foes, is never beaten by them, has the capacity to become the paramount sovereign, is most enlightened, is worthy of being made a President, who possesses most noble qualities, accomplishments, character and disposition; who is thoroughly worthy of the homage, trust and respect of all.”
Yajur Veda - “O ye learned men! Proclaim that man with one voice your king-the President and Head of the State-who is just, impartial, well-educated, cultured and friend of all. In this way alone shall ye attain universal sovereignty, be greater than all, manage the affairs of the State, obtain political eminence, acquire wealth, and ride the world of its enemies.”
Rig Veda - God teaches in the Veda. “Rulers! your implements of war fare, (such as, guns, rifles. Bows, arrows, etc.) and war-materials (such as, gunpowder) be worthy of praise, strong and durable to repel and conquer your enemies. Let your army be a glorious one, so that you may always be victorious. But the aforesaid things shall not be attainable to the contemptible, the despicable, and the unjust.” In other words, it is only as long as men remain honorable, just and virtuous that they are politically great. When they become wicked and unjust, they are absolutely ruined.
Let a nation, therefore, elect the most learned men, as members of the Educational Assembly, the most devout men, as members of the Religious Assembly and men of the most praiseworthy character, as members of the Legislative Assembly; and let that great men in it, who possesses most excellent qualities, is highly accomplished, and bears most honorable character, be made the Head or President of the Political Assembly.
Let the three Assemblies harmoniously work together, and make good laws, and let all abide by those laws. Let them all be of one mind in affairs that promote the happiness of all. All men should subordinate themselves to the laws that are calculated to promote general well being; they should be free in matters relating to individual well being.
My comments - (To summarize the above, the objective of governance is to promote happiness. Equal importance is given to religion, legislature and education who with the aid of the military are responsible for governance. It means that religion read Dharma played an important role in society and government responsibility. Education was stressed, is probably, why we Indians take so naturally to education since it was an important of our lives from ancient times. Note that the Military is subordinate to the Legislature and is not part of three assemblies. This could be one of the reasons why the Army never ruled India. Adequate safeguards existed to prevent the King from becoming a dictator. Also one of the primary duties of the King was to protect his subjects from enemies. The importance of good Laws and enforcement is stressed. That is perhaps one of the biggest failings of Post Independence India. The belief is you can get away with worse that murder in India today. Take the stock market, Harshad Mehta, Hiten Dalal, Ketan Parikh and Dawood. The list is endless. Ask yourselves how many governments in medieval and modern India have met these criteria? )