A new political system based on Indian ideals
Political thinkers, statesmen, policy makers, strategic visionaries, spiritual and national leaders, and others who are concerned about the future of India, and particularly in how we govern ourselves towards a future that we can be really proud of, would do well to reflect on the fact that the Indian constitution as it currently stands is by deliberate design completely bereft of any insight or input from her own 10,000+ history of native governance, during most of which the people enjoyed the highest standards of material, social and spiritual living. The current corruption and degradation of the homeland of dharma are directly traceable to our total and wilful disconnect from the principles of the rishis, and our hope for correction, redemption, awakening, rejuvenation, renaissance, call it what you will, therefore rests in our return to our own genius in organizing society and nation, instead of having it be outsourced to the template of the British constitution, which is what we have slavishly copied and implemented since so-called Independence in 1947. Since our borrowed constitution itself is totally out of alignment with our unique character, history, culture, values, and most importantly our dharma and svadharma, it cannot but lead us disastrously astray in how we behave with each other and how we run our nation’s affairs.
We are therefore proposing a new system of governance which will reflect the deeper Indian spirit.
The foundations of the new system will be based on the following extracts from the writings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
The first thing that you ought to do is to change the Constitution in such a way that those people who combine honesty and capability should come to power. Normally, people who are honest are not capable, and those who are capable are not honest. Therefore it is very important that people who combine these two qualities should be able to come to power.
India the Mother p 204-205
In the book The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo has referred to the quality of the present day politician:
It is immaterial whether these (the politicians) belong to a governing class or emerge as in modern States from the mass partly by force of character, but much more by force of circumstances; nor does it make any essential difference that their aims and ideals are imposed nowadays more by the hypnotism of verbal persuasion than by overt and actual force. In either case, there is no guarantee that this ruling class or ruling body represents the best mind of the nation or its noblest aims or its highest instincts.
Nothing of the kind can be asserted of the modern politician in any part of the world; he does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him and these he represents well enough as well as a great deal of mental incompetence and moral conventionality, timidity and pretence. Great issues often come to him for decision, but he does not deal with them greatly; high words and noble ideas are on his lips, but they become rapidly the claptrap of a party. The disease and falsehood of modern political life is patent in every country of the world and only the hypnotised acquiescence of all, even of the intellectual classes, in the great organised sham, cloaks and prolongs the malady, the acquiescence that men yield to everything that is habitual and makes the present atmosphere of their lives. Yet it is by such minds that the good of all has to be decided, to such hands that it has to be entrusted, to such an agency calling itself the State that the individual is being more and more called upon to give up the government of his activities. As a matter of fact, it is in no way the largest good of all that is thus secured, but a great deal of organised blundering and evil with a certain amount of good which makes for real progress, because Nature moves forward always in the midst of all stumblings and secures her aims in the end more often in spite of man’s imperfect mentality than by its means.
It is evident that if any real improvement has to take place, the quality of politicians and decision makers has to be of a much higher level; the problem and the attempt here is to find a system that will ensure this higher quality.
Here is another passage from the Mother’s writings:
Politics is always limited by party, by ideas, by duties also—unless we prepare a government that has no party, a government that admits all ideas because it is above parties. Party is limitation; it is like a box: you go into the box (Mother laughs). Of course, if there were some people who had the courage to be in the government without a party—“We represent no party! We represent India”—that would be magnificent.
Pull the consciousness up, up, above party.
And then, naturally, certain people who couldn’t come into political parties—that! that is truly working for tomorrow. Tomorrow it will be like that. All this turmoil is because the country must take the lead, must go above all these old political habits.
Government without party. Oh! it would be magnificent! (Emphasis added)
(25 May 1970: CWM, Vol.15, pp.426-28
In 1969, the Mother had given a message to the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi:
“Let India work for the future and take the lead. Thus she will recover her true place in the world.
Since long it was the habit to govern through division and opposition. The time has come to govern through union, mutual understanding and collaboration.
To choose a collaborator, the value of the man is more important than the party to which he belongs.
The greatness of a country does not depend on the victory of a party, but on the union of all parties”.
Here is one more passage from Sri Aurobindo:
Parliamentary Government is not suited to India. But we always take up what the West has thrown off…. [In an ideal government for India,] there may be one Rashtrapati at the top with considerable powers so as to secure a continuity of policy, and an assembly representative of the nation. The provinces will combine into a federation united at the top, leaving ample scope to local bodies to make laws according to their local problems.
(Evening Talks, Dec 27, 1938)
One important feature of Indian Democracy which we have discussed in the first part of the series lies in the importance of Dharma. “A greater sovereign than the king was the Dharma, the religious, ethical, social, political, and customary law organically governing the life of the people. This impersonal authority was considered sacred and eternal in its spirit and the totality of its body, always characteristically the same, the changes organically and spontaneously brought about in its actual form by the evolution of the society; and it must be noted that with the Dharma no secular authority had any right of autocratic interference. The Brahmins themselves were recorders and exponents of the Dharma, not its creators nor authorised to make at will any changes, The king was only the guardian, executor and servant of the Dharma, charged to see to its observance and to prevent offences, serious irregularities and breaches. He himself was bound the first to obey it and observe the rigorous rule it laid on his personal life and action and on the province, powers and duties of his regal authority and office.”
Before proceeding further, let us sum up the salient features of these statements.
- People in power that is to say both in the Executive and the Legislature need to be both honest and capable. The question is how do we ensure this?
- The country is the most important and all politicians must be ready to rise above all other loyalties – party or regional or caste loyalties – and always keep the country first.
- It does not mean that parties will be eliminated; but what is necessary is that parties should learn to subordinate the party interest and all other interests to the national interest and work with unity despite differences of perception.
- There has to be centralisation of power in the most important and vital aspects of governance; but in all else there must a great deal of decentralisation, right up to the village level.
- It has to be representative of the people, that is to say truly democratic in practice. The constitution must be based on fundamental Indian principles, its swadharma. The principle of Dharma has to be introduced in the governance of the nation.
- There must be stability and continuity in the government.
Basing ourselves on these principles we are proposing a new system. It is evident that this is a difficult proposition. But the attempt has to be made and we hope that we will be able to find a system that fulfils these psychological conditions to a certain extent at least.
At the same time, we must never forget that a system cannot solve all the problems. No system can solve all problems, but we shall try to find a system which reflects as far as possible the national temperament and genius of the people. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
A system is in its very nature at once an effectuation and a limitation of the spirit; and yet we must have a science and art of life, a system of living. All that is needed is that the lines laid down should be large and noble, capable of evolution so that the spirit may more and more express itself in life, flexible even in its firmness so that it may absorb and harmonize new material and enlarge its variety and richness without losing its unity”
We shall therefore try to propose a system which is large and noble and capable of evolution; this can then be debated on the national level and gradually a workable system might emerge. The aim of the system will be as follows: to provide all possible facilities for cooperative action, remove obstacles, prevent all really harmful waste and friction,—a certain amount of waste and friction is necessary and useful to all natural action,—and, removing avoidable injustice, to secure for every individual a just and equal chance of self-development and satisfaction to the extent of his powers and in the line of his nature.
The system that we propose will be based on the following two cardinal points:
Firstly the persons in power who are the decision makers must be of absolute integrity; they must be totally honest and also capable, for governance in modern times demands a highly professional knowledge.
The second point is that we must make dharma the central principle of the governing system.
The master idea that has governed the life, culture, social ideals of the Indian people has been the seeking of man for his true spiritual self and the use of life as a frame and means for that discovery and for man’s ascent from the ignorant natural into the spiritual existence. But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realisation of the spirit within him is immensely great; therefore she could not in the outward life go beyond certain very partial realisations and very imperfect tentatives,—a general spiritualising symbolism, an infiltration of the greater aspiration, a certain cast given to the communal life, the creation of institutions favourable to the spiritual idea. Politics, society, economics are the natural field of the two first and grosser parts of human aim and conduct recognised in the Indian system, interest and hedonistic desire:
Dharma, the higher law, has nowhere been brought more than partially into this outer side of life, and in politics to a very minimum extent; for the effort at governing political action by ethics is usually little more than a pretence. It is perhaps for a future India, taking up and enlarging with a more complete aim, a more comprehensive experience, a more certain knowledge that shall reconcile life and the spirit, her ancient mission, to found the status and action of the collective being of man on the realisation of the deeper spiritual truth.
Some characteristic features of Dharma
In its broad principle and proper application, the varna system based on Dharma of Vedic India had the following beneficial effects.
- The varna system created a harmonious mode of transaction and interaction within the members of each class and between them, without placing people in the situations of conflict of interest and temptation that are the hallmark of our loosely organized professional society today. In other words, the roots of corruption are avoided in such an ordering or work groups and professions.
- How can the lessons we have learned so far from this examination of Vedic dharma principles be applied to the problems facing Indian democracy in particular, and Indian society in general? While some of the measures indicated below may seem infeasible or impractical in today’s corrupt environment, let us remember that extreme times call for extreme solutions. To work our way out of the deep morass of our collective moral and ethical failures in the years since 1947, we should be boldly prepared to consider radical measures, especially if they carry the seal of validity based on the historical record of dharmacracy.
- Establish and demarcate the boundaries of duties, responsibilities, rules and norms of behaviour for the ruling class (administrators, rulers, politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, public servants, etc.) such that only people of impeccable character and moral standards, with a passion for public service and a commitment to national interest over all else are allowed to be a part of this group.
- Businessmen and others with avowed interests in other professions would be disqualified from belonging to the ruling class. In particular, politicians with assets disproportionate to their legitimate sources of income would be automatically disqualified from contesting elections or standing for public office at any level.
- Build a firewall between business interests and government officials, politicians, etc. such that money cannot influence or buy power, as is the norm today. In particular, not a single rupee of corporate funding will be allowed to taint the public interest through financing of election campaigns of individuals.
- Screen and remove from the public payroll anyone whose main allegiance is not to his or her job, organization and nation. Public jobs should not be entitlements to exploit for side income and then retire from comfortably. Rather they should be seen as ways to serve the national interest through self-less dharmic duty.
- Establish clear rules of conduct and standards for knowledge workers, similar to the Brahmins of yore, so that their search for truth and knowledge is not tainted by coveting after money or power. Ensure that people who are in roles of advisors or consultants to governments, think tanks, economic councils, etc. are not subject to conflicts of interests due to their role as investors, corporate employees, business lobbyists, and other vested interests.
A few points that we need to emphasise before we get down to practical proposals.
The first lesson we have to learn from the ancient Indian ideal of politics is that mass-popularity and charisma cannot be the sole basis of political leadership. One of the surprising facts of modern society in that while some standards of qualification, experience, skill, ability and the requisite aptitude are insisted upon for leadership position in business industry, commerce, education and other fields, no such standards exists in politics. We frequently bemoan the poor quality of our political leaders forgetting the fact we ourselves are responsible for it! How can there be sound politics when the products of pure mass popularity become politicians and ministers? The simple fact – which is unanimously recognised and practiced in other sections of the society – that a leader should have the right temperament and the intellectual and moral calibre and ability to provide high quality leadership is simply ignored in modern politics.
But in modern democratic polity, which elects the political leaders by vote, there is no such mental or moral education or standards for the leaders. As a result there is a great deterioration in the quality of political leadership.
How to rectify this situation?
The first step is to educate the citizen and the voter on the ideals of true leadership and on the type of leaders which can bring the highest wellbeing to people and society. In this task, the modern mass-media with its extensive reach can be a great help in educating the public on how to choose the right type of leaders.
The second step is to maintain certain basic mental and moral standards for contesting the election like for example some minimum educational qualification or no criminal record.
The third step is to educate the elected leaders on the ideals of leadership and governance and how to develop the psychological, moral and spiritual power needed to lead and govern in the right way. For example in most of the big and progressive companies in the corporate world, managers and executives go through regular training and development programmes for upgrading their knowledge and skill and some of them make a conscious, systematic and planned effort to educate and groom their future leaders. A similar effort has to be made in the political domain.
The fourth step is to promote creative thinking and research in political thought, governance and leadership. Here again the modern political world can learn much from the corporate world. Modern business has given birth to the science of management which is a rigorous and innovative academic and professional discipline, which nourishes theoretical and practical research on the various aspects of corporate management, governance and leadership. A similar attempt has to be made in the political domain.
The other important lesson we have to learn from Indian polity is the need to harness the highest intellectual, moral and spiritual energy of the community for uplifting the political life. In ancient Indian polity this was done by the following methods:
1. Council of Ministers must be made of people with the highest character, wisdom and experience for guiding the ruler.
2. Subjecting the ruler to the higher ideals of dharma and imposing a rigorous mental and moral education and discipline on the leader.
3. Guidance from the spiritual wisdom of seers and seekers of spiritual knowledge. This leads naturally to the next question: what are the qualities of the leader. He must have a consciousness which is higher than that of the most. He must be one who has exceeded his individual ego: his preferences, his insistences, his personal mould. He should have something of a universal consciousness which embraces the interests and aspirations of all who come under his management. He must be both wider and higher than the rest. It is only then that he can be trusted to strive for the collective welfare and carry others with him. He must identify himself with the true interests of the community and not let his own personal preferences interfere. He should be able to set these aside. In other words he must be able to forget himself. Of course it does not mean that he should be just a mouth-piece for the commonalty. He should be a leader whose consciousness is above all manipulation, strong enough to impose itself correctively, warm enough to gain the acceptance and loyalty of the right-thinking elements.
The first step that is being proposed is to shift from the Parliamentary system to the Presidential system. The main purpose is to separate the legislative and the executive.
The President must be the chief Executive and he is to be elected directly by the people. It is also proposed that voting should be made compulsory. It is possible that there might be practical difficulties in making voting compulsory but it is worth discussing how these may be overcome.
The President must fulfil the following qualifications.
- He must have had at least twenty years of eminent public service in any capacity.
- He must have a record of impeccable character.
Mode of Election
It is inevitable that there will be a few candidates who will stand for the Presidency. One can very well adopt the French system of successive elections; however since the country is large, it will be very costly to have two elections. It is therefore proposed that the voters should indicate their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences. If after the first count, one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, he is elected. If not the candidate getting the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated, the second preference voters who then voted for him are then assigned to the other candidates, and so on till one of them gets more than 50%.
The President‘s term will be of a duration of five years and he can be removed only by impeachment. He may be allowed to stand for two terms only.
He will select his ministers from any citizen of India. These ministers must not be part of the Legislature. If a minister is selected from the legislature, he must resign from the legislature.
The ministers must have a long record of public service in any field; there must be no criminal case filed in any court against him. If there is any case against him, the Supreme Court must dispose it off within three months. If he is convicted, he loses his post, otherwise he continues as a minister.
The ministers will be allowed to attend and participate in the Legislature; however they will not be allowed to vote.
The present system of elections may continue. However, it must be made clear that the legislators have only one work to do and that is to make the laws for the country; their whole concentration should be focussed on this and this alone. Therefore they should be debarred from holding any office of profit or other post. They should be paid their salaries and nothing else. All laws made by Parliament will have to be finally approved and signed by the President. Here too voting must be made compulsory.
Here too there must be a careful scrutiny of those who aspire to be legislators. The legislator must have some acquaintance of public service in any field; he must have some minimum educational qualification, a graduate in any subject and no criminal record. If there is a case against him, the Supreme Court must dispose it off within three months. If he is convicted, he loses the right to contest elections.
Representation of different classes
It is important that the legislators represent the different classes and to ensure that, a system of reservation may be introduced. In other words, the Lok Sabha must represent the four large group of interest, the men of knowledge, the men of power, the men of finance and the working class.
As a suggestion, it might be good to reserve 100 seats (the number can vary) for each of the four classes, the men of knowledge, the administrative and the warrior class, the business class and the representative of the labour class. Thus 400 seats or less will be reserved and the remaining 142 seats will be open to all citizens of India.
For the rest, the present system may continue with and all modifications needed may be discussed on the national plane.