A new political system for India Kittu Reddy

Introduction

On the 15th August 1947, India attained its independence from British rule and Sri Aurobindo was requested to give a message on that occasion. Here is an extract from the message:

I have been asked for a message on this great occasion, but I am perhaps hardly in a position to give one. All I can do is to make a personal declaration of the aims and ideals conceived in my childhood and youth and now watched in their beginning of fulfilment, because they are relevant to the freedom of India, since they are a part of what I believe to be India’s future work, something in which she cannot but take a leading position. For I have always held and said that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power and prosperity, – though these too she must not neglect, – and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other people, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race. (SABCL VOL 26 P401)

Sri Aurobindo worked actively in the political field for the freedom of India and for awakening her to her mission of leading the world towards spirituality. His political career was short – only four years from 1906 to 1910. But the Indian nation was always in his consciousness and he strove to raise it to its highest destiny. In the words of the Mother: “Sri Aurobindo always loved deeply his Motherland. But he wished her to be great, noble, pure and worthy of her big mission in the world. He refused to let her sink to the sordid and vulgar level of blind self-interests and ignorant prejudices”. (CWM VOL13  25 April 1954vol13)

Sri Aurobindo retired from active political life in 1910. But this did not mean, as it was then supposed, that he had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any further interest in the world or in the fate of India. It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning.

Consequently even in his retirement, Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action.

The Mother too kept a close watch on developments in India and openly intervened now and then; at other times she sent messages to Indian leaders or sent answers to disciples on questions relating to India.

In 1970, Mother made some observations. We are quoting some portions of those remarks:

What must be done to pull the country out of its difficulty? Sri Aurobindo has foreseen all the troubles and he has given the solution. Just now we are approaching his Centenary; it seems arranged, you know, divinely arranged, because this would be a wonderful occasion to spread his teaching all over the country: the teaching, the practical teaching, his teaching about India, how to organise India, the mission of India.

And it is only this that gives a clue to all these difficulties. About all that has happened and all that is happening now, he has said clearly that to go back to it is useless. We must give the country its true position, that is, the position of relying on the Divine. And this is above politics, you see. It is above all politics. It is to organise the country beyond politics. And it is the only way. In politics it is always fight and ugly fight—ugly.

And it has become so bad. He was telling me always that things would become worse and worse, because it is the end of this age. We are entering into an age where things must be organised differently. It is a difficult time because of that. Because we know what will come, we can help to make it come sooner and with less turmoil. There is no hope in going backwards; it would make things last endlessly. We must go forward, absolutely, and go beyond, beyond party. And nobody can explain that better than Sri Aurobindo, because he was so much, so much beyond party; he saw the advantages and disadvantages of all parties and he stated them exactly. If you read carefully what he has written—so much—you will find the answer to all these questions. And at the same time you will know that you will have the full support of the Divine Power. The Power that was behind him is behind this transformation. It is time for transformation. We can’t cling to the past.

The best way to go beyond politics is to spread the message of Sri Aurobindo. Because he is no more a political element wanting to take power; there are only his ideas and ideals. And, of course, if people could understand and realise his programme, the country could be very strong, very strong. 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!

In the following articles, we are making an attempt to study some of the problems which India is facing today and suggest solutions in the light of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.

The present state of India

It is 60 years since India attained its independence. It will be useful and instructive to do some stock taking and see what India has achieved in these six decades and then to see what more needs to be done.

Let us start with the positive elements.

Soon after attaining independence, India gave herself a constitution and became a democratic and socialistic Republic. India became formally a Republic on 26 January 1950 and has since been governed by its Constitution. This   was indeed a great achievement more particularly when one looks at some of the countries in our neighbourhood and even around the world. For it established a system of governance, a sound legal system and a fairly sound basis for a democratic socialistic society where elections were held regularly and the popular mandate was respected.

We may thus say that the democratic system has been fully established and accepted as an indispensable part of Indian political life; undoubtedly there are some serious shortcomings and these need to be corrected sooner or later. But the very fact that democracy has become an integral part of Indian political life is a positive and great gain. There are sometimes doubts cast on this system suggesting that a dictatorial system – often referred to as enlightened dictatorship – would have served India better. This proposition is doubtful although one can admit its necessity in certain exceptional circumstances. On the whole however, a democratic system is always more desirable. The justification for this can be found in the following statements of Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo writes in the Human Cycle:

Man needs freedom of thought and life and action in order that he may grow, otherwise he will remain fixed where he was, a stunted and static being. If his individual mind and reason are ill-developed, he may consent to grow, as does the infrarational mind, in the group-soul, in the herd, in the mass, with that subtle half-conscient general evolution common to all in the lower process of Nature. As he develops individual reason and will, he needs and society must give him room for an increasing play of individual freedom and variation, at least so far as that does not develop itself to the avoidable harm of others and of society as a whole.( CWSA-VOL 25 p211.)

Similarly in the first decade of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Bandemataram:

“Socialistic Democracy is the only true democracy for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distributions of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development”.

Along with this democratic structure we have adopted, India has taken great strides in many other areas.

A strong industrial base has been developed.

Agriculture production has increased greatly and we have become more or less self sufficient in food production.

In the economic field there is great progress and India is being viewed as one of the super powers in the next few decades.

In the scientific and technological fields, India ranks among the leading powers whether it is in space research, bio-technology or information technology.

Even in education, we have made great strides with an educated population of over 150 million Indians.

India has become the third largest reservoir of skilled scientific and technical manpower, the fifth military power, the sixth member of the nuclear club, seventh in the race for space and the 10th industrial power.

Consequently, India’s voice is being heard today on the international plane with respect. That s a great gain and portends well for the future.

Despite all these positive factors, there are whole areas in which there is a lot to be disturbed about; consequently there is a great deal of despondency in the country. Many intelligent observers are wondering as to where we are going and sometimes the question is even asked whether India as a nation will remain united and survive. In this context, I am paraphrasing portions of an article written by Aparajita Mehta: She writes: “Numerous technological, scientific and other significant achievements have definitely taken place in our country. From automobiles, to satellites and to computers and the internet, the list is endless and deserves praise. But will computers alone, however sophisticated and all embracing, bring about the desired multisided revolution that is envisaged in the next decade or two? She moves on to point out some of the serious shortcomings in India today.

“With several antinational and secessionist trends gaining strength, India has in recent years, developed several fissures and fractures, some of them highly disconcerting in character. The hope of reversing these negative trends is vanishing and the prospects for the future seem disheartening. Must India break up into splinters and fragments?

There are more fractures in Indian society today, than bonds of unity; there are more splits and discords than wholesome fraternal bonds and accords. Communal wrangling continues to persist, despite all the tall talk of cohesion. Behind the dazzle and display of prosperity, lie the fears, miseries and deprivations of millions.

Since independence, much of our social structure has been torn by hatred, tensions and inter-caste rivalry; and this is not all! India’s vast area, illiteracy and the massive burgeoning population is one big cause for alarm. Clashes over religion are prevalent. Corruption is reigning in every field of national activity. Sincerity, honesty and the true spirit of service, which can help check these negative trends, are not much in evidence. Politics at the state and national level, is fast losing it’s motto of “patriotism and duty.”

Today, the image of the political class in India is very poor; even the present Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, had this to say recently: “the images of “intrigue, venality, disorder and anarchy” held by people about politicians needed to be corrected urgently”.

Here is another extract from an article by M.R. Venkatesh.  He starts his article with a quote from Winston Churchill:

“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw.” Winston Churchill on the eve of Indian Independence.

Sometimes facts speak louder than comments. The following are some extracts from the Approach Paper to the 11th Five-Year Plan, prepared and published by the Planning Commission last year.

Coming from the highest echelons of the government, these remain an authentic and a grim reminder of what has gone wrong since Independence. Consider these dismal facts from this document of the Planning Commission:

  • Official poverty stands at 28 per cent. Significantly, one has to appreciate that the current definition of poverty is hopelessly inadequate. It is defined on the premise of whether a person can afford to consume 2,400 calories of food in rural India or 2,100 calories of food in urban India per day. Naturally, this limited definition ignores the other bare minimum necessities required for a decent living. Obviously, if one were to consider a more realistically defined poverty line, based on the basic needs for a decent living, the number of poor in India could be far more than the officially stated figure of 30 crore (300 million).
  • The abhorrent practice of manual scavenging continues even today.
  • Quality of education and curative health services are beyond the reach of the common man and those provided by the private sector are costly and of variable quality.
  • A major institutional challenge is that even where service providers exist, the quality of delivery is poor and those responsible for delivering the services cannot be held accountable.
  • In the health and education systems, there is a large number of staff vacancies that have not been filled up due to resource constraints.
  • The cost of displacements of our tribal population is high and the compensation tardy and inadequate.
  • Corruption is now seen to be endemic in all spheres and this problem needs to be addressed urgently.
  • The legal system in India is respected for its independence and fairness but it suffers from notorious delays in dispensing justice. Delays result in denial of justice.
  • Literacy rate is still below 70 per cent.
  • The most difficult task is to ensure good quality of instruction and the position in this respect is disturbing. A recent study found that 38 per cent of the children who have completed four years of schooling cannot read a small paragraph with short sentences meant to be read by a student of class 2. About 55 per cent of such children cannot divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number.
  • Drop out rate in primary schools for the country as a whole was at a staggering 31 per cent in 2003-04.
  • While some of our institutions of higher education compare well with the best in the world, the average standard is much lower.
  • India’s infant mortality rates, under-five mortality rates, maternal mortality rates and immunisation rates are higher than that of Sri Lanka, China and Vietnam.
  • The biggest constraint in achieving a faster growth of manufacturing is the fact that infrastructure — roads, railways, ports, airports, communication and electricity — is not up to the standards prevalent in our competitor countries.
  • Indian roads are very accident-prone and claim a large number of lives representing an enormous human and economic loss.
  • The Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) initiated in 2001 was expected to bring down AT&C losses to 15 per cent by the end of the Tenth Plan. In fact, the average for all states is closer to 40 per cent.
  •  

The net result is that today India languishes at the bottom half of the global Human Development Index (HDI) wedged between underdeveloped countries like Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Solomon Islands. Even countries endowed with lesser amount of natural resources and lower calibre of human capital have performed better, perhaps even miraculously. This has been largely due to effective, responsive and effective governance. India definitely deserves better.”

I have quoted these extracts just to highlight the sense of despondency that is prevalent and widespread among many serious political thinkers in India.

In sum, the problems facing India are:

  • A political system borrowed from the West which is hampering all progress and dividing the polity.
  • Serious anti-national and secessionist trends
  • A society deeply divided in the name of religion, caste and even gender
  • Corruption at all levels and particularly at the higher political levels; India ranks high among the corrupt nations.
  • An absence of national feeling leading to regionalism and parochialism where local interest becomes more important than the national interest.
  • The enormous gap between the rich and the poor despite a vigorous economic growth.
  • The dangers emanating from our neighbourhood, where most of the nations are facing serious tensions and seem to be heading towards being called “failed States”.
  • The shortcomings in the educational system both in quality and quantity and its failure to uplift the nation as a whole.

We shall now try to see where the root causes for this situation lie. For, it is only after finding out the causes that we can think of applying the remedy.

Viewed from the point of view of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the root of the problem is as follows:

  • The first cause is the adoption of the present political system
  • The second cause is the acceptance of the Partition of India as final and not merely as a temporary aberration and an accident of history.

There are undoubtedly other causes, but these two are the primary causes.

.We shall start with the first problem, that is to say the political system.

The political system in India

The first and most pressing problem that the nation is facing today lies in the constitution and consequently the political system that we have adopted. In this article we shall try to analyse the political system and suggest some remedies, both short term and long term.

The political system that we have adopted in India is basically the modern version of Democratic Socialism; it has been developed first in the western nations more particularly in Great Britain and has been adopted with some variations in almost all the countries of the world. It should however be noted that democracy is not something new to India. History shows us that ancient India had a vigorous democratic system. Indeed there was a strong democratic element and even institutions that present a certain analogy to the parliamentary form; but in reality these features were of India’s own kind and not at all the same things as modern parliaments and modern democracy. It did not in any way resemble the scrambling and burdensome parliamentary organization of the party system and veiled oligarchy, which is what the modern period truly represents.

The one principle permanent in ancient   Indian polity was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom.

However that be, our present political system has been mainly taken from the British system, the Parliamentary form of government.

Individualist Democracy in the light of Sri Aurobindo

Since we have taken our political system mainly from the British and other Western powers, it will be necessary to understand the fundamental principles on which it was based and how it applies to the Indian nation.


The principles of Democracy in the modern world

The modern age of mankind may be characterised as an attempt to discover and work out the right principle and secure foundations of a rational system of society. It was in Great Britain that the first attempts on the social and political plane started and this led to the system of individualist democracy. This system developed naturally as a direct consequence of the Renaissance and the Reformation. In the period before the Renaissance and the Reformation, Faith and Religion were the chief pillars of society; but, as a consequence of these movements, Faith and Religion were dethroned and Reason was enthroned as the supreme instrument of knowledge. Modern democracy is founded upon a few basic assumptions. These may be summed up as:

  • The conviction that the highest instrument of knowledge at the disposal of man is Reason.
  • Human society can best progress and grow by the application of Reason to all the details of individual and collective life.
  • In the individual life of man, each one has the right to live his own life governed by his reason, as long as he respects the same right in all other individuals.
  • In the collective life of man, it is the collective reason that has to be applied.

Individualistic Democracy

The application of these principles created the modern political system of individualistic democracy, whether of the Parliamentary or the Presidential form. It was believed that with the application of Reason to human life, we would eventually arrive at a harmonious and ideal society.

However, in its application to society there was a shortfall in the expected results. The reasons were firstly, that a large number of individuals in the society had not yet developed their rational faculties and secondly that even those who had developed them did not generally use them for the search of truth; rather, reason was used more to justify the satisfaction of their interests, desires and preferences.

The inevitable corrective to this situation was the introduction of universal education; for if man was not by nature a rational being, he would by education become one. However, even after the introduction of universal education, a new problem has revealed itself. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:  “But here a new and enormous defect has revealed itself which is proving fatal to the social idea which engendered it. For given even perfect equality of educational and other opportunity,—and that does not yet really exist and cannot in the individualistic state of society,— to what purpose or in what manner is the opportunity likely to be used? Man, the half infrarational being, demands three things for his satisfaction, power, if he can have it, but at any rate the use and reward of his faculties and the enjoyment of his desires. In the old societies the possibility of these could be secured by him to a certain extent according to his birth, his fixed status and the use of his capacity within the limits of his hereditary status. That basis once removed and no proper substitute provided, the same ends can only be secured by success in a scramble for the one power left, the power of wealth. Accordingly, instead of a harmoniously ordered society there has been developed a huge organised competitive system, a frantically rapid and one-sided development of industrialism and, under the garb of democracy, an increasing plutocratic tendency that shocks by its ostentatious grossness and the magnitudes of its gulfs and distances. These have been the last results of the individualistic ideal and its democratic machinery, the initial bankruptcies of the rational age”.(CWSA VOL25 P199-200)

The Socialistic Principle

The natural corrective to this state of affairs was the introduction by Reason of the principle of Socialism. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, the aim and justification of Socialism is as follows: 

“Socialism sets out to replace a system of organised economic battle by an organised order and peace. This can no longer be done on the old lines,an artificial or inherited inequality brought about by the denial of equal opportunity and justified by the affirmation of that injustice and its result as an eternal law of society and of Nature. That is a falsehood which the reason of man will no longer permit. Neither can it be done, it seems, on the basis of individual liberty; for that has broken down in the practice. Socialism therefore must do away with the democratic basis of individual liberty, even if it professes to respect it or to be marching towards a more rational freedom. It shifts at first the fundamental emphasis to other ideas and fruits of the democratic ideal, and it leads by this transference of stress to a radical change in the basic principle of a rational society. Equality, not a political only, but a perfect social equality, is to be the basis. There is to be equality of opportunity for all, but also equality of status for all, for without the last the first cannot be secured; even if it were established, it could not endure. This equality again is impossible if personal, or at least inherited right in property is to exist, and therefore socialism abolishes —except at best on a small scale—the right of personal property as it is now understood and makes war on the hereditary principle. Who then is to possess the property? It can only be the community as a whole. And who is to administer it? Again, the community as a whole. In order to justify this idea, the socialistic principle has practically to deny the existence of the individual or his right to exist except as a member of the society and for its sake”. He belongs entirely to the society, not only his property, but himself, his labour, his capacities, the education it gives him and its results, his mind, his knowledge, his individual life, his family life, the life of his children. Moreover, since his individual reason cannot be trusted to work out naturally a right and rational adjustment of his life with the life of others, it is for the reason of the whole community to arrange that too for him. Not the reasoning minds and wills of the individuals, but the collective reasoning mind and will of the community has to govern. It is this which will determine not only the principles and all the details of the economic and political order, but the whole life of the community and of the individual as a working, thinking, feeling cell of this life, the development of his capacities, his actions, the use of the knowledge he has acquired, the whole ordering of his vital, his ethical, his intelligent being. For so only can the collective reason and intelligent will of the race overcome the egoism of individualistic life and bring about a perfect principle and rational order of society in a harmonious world”.(CWSA VOL25 P 200-201)

But even at its best the collectivist idea contains several fallacies inconsistent with the real facts of human life and nature. The central defect through which a socialistic State is bound to be convicted of insufficiency and condemned to pass away before the growth of a new ideal, lies in the pressure of the State organisation on the life of the individual; in fact many political commentators complain that it has reached a point at which it is ceasing to be tolerable.

Again in the words of Sri Aurobindo: “If it continues to be what it is now, a government of the life of the individual by the comparatively few and not, as it pretends, by a common will and reason, if, that is to say, it becomes patently undemocratic or remains pseudo-democratic, then it will be this falsity through which anarchistic thought will attack its existence.

But the innermost difficulty would not disappear even if the socialistic State became really democratic, really the expression of the free reasoned will of the majority in agreement. Any true development of that kind would be difficult indeed and has the appearance of a chimera: for collectivism pretends to regulate life not only in its few fundamental principles and its main lines, as every organised society must tend to do, but in its details, it aims at a thoroughgoing scientific regulation, and an agreement of the free reasoned will of millions in all the lines and most of the details of life is a contradiction in terms. Whatever the perfection of the organised State, the suppression or oppression of individual freedom by the will of the majority or of a minority would still be there as a cardinal defect vitiating its very principle. And there would be something infinitely worse. For a thoroughgoing scientific regulation of life can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing mechanisation of life. This tendency to mechanisation is the inherent defect of the State idea and its practice. Already that is the defect upon which both intellectual anarchistic thought and the insight of the spiritual thinker have begun to lay stress, and it must immensely increase as the State idea rounds itself into a greater completeness in practice. It is indeed the inherent defect of reason when it turns to govern life and labours by quelling its natural tendencies to put it into some kind of rational order”.

(CWSA VOL25  P 212-213 )

Modern India

In India the Central Government has not adopted the Socialistic system in its purity and entirety. However, in some States like West Bengal and Kerala where the Communists have been in power, a more or less complete Socialistic Government has been functioning.

The Central Government has pursued the middle path adopting the democratic socialist system.

While this seems to be the most rational way, there is today in India a great deal of dissatisfaction with the present political system. Many political commentators are wondering whether a change in the system is necessary and even inevitable.

“And just as the idea of individualistic democracy found itself before long in difficulties on that account because of the disparity between life’s facts and the mind’s idea, difficulties that have led up to its discredit and approaching overthrow, the idea of collectivist democracy too may well find itself before long in difficulties that must lead to its discredit and eventual replacement by a third stage of the inevitable progression. Liberty protected by a State in which all are politically equal, was the idea that individualistic democracy attempted to elaborate. Equality, social and political equality enforced through a perfect and careful order by a State which is the organised will of the whole community, is the idea on which socialistic democracy stakes its future.

If that too fails to make good, the rational and democratic Idea may fall back upon a third form of society founding an essential rather than formal liberty and equality upon fraternal comradeship in a free community, the ideal of intellectual as of spiritual Anarchism”. (CWSA VOL25  P 202-203)

Before we proceed further, let us see what are the gains the democratic system that we have adopted in India.

 

The Gains of the Democratic System

Let us now see what the gains of the parliamentary system in India are. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

“Parliamentarism, the invention of the English political genius, is a necessary stage in the evolution of democracy, for without it the generalised faculty of considering and managing with the least possible friction large problems of politics, administration, economics, legislation concerning considerable aggregates of men cannot easily be developed. It has also been the one successful means yet discovered of preventing the State executive from suppressing the liberties of the individual and the nation. “ (VOL 25 CWSA P472-473)

 The other gain of modern democracy is a full freedom of speech and thought. And as long as this freedom endures, the fear of a static and unprogressive condition of humanity and subsequent stagnation seems to be groundless,— especially when it is accompanied by universal education which provides the largest possible human field for producing an effectuating force. Freedom of thought and speech—the two necessarily go together, since there can be no real freedom of thought where a padlock is put upon freedom of speech—is not indeed complete without freedom of association; for free speech means free propagandism and propagandism only becomes effective by association for the realisation of its objects. This third liberty also exists with more or less of qualifying limitations or prudent safeguards in all democratic States including India.

The limitations of the democratic system

The dissatisfaction with the present democratic system is raising some questions. These may be summed up as follows:

Is the present democratic system truly democratic?

Is there not the danger of constant instability in the present form of Government?

A third point that is constantly raised in the Parliamentary form of government is the very slow process of decision making which accords ill with the need of efficient government. And so far, it has not yet been found possible to combine the parliamentary system and the modern trend towards a more democratic democracy; it has been always an instrument either of a modified aristocratic or of a middle-class rule. Besides, its method involves an immense waste of time and energy and a confused, swaying and uncertain action that “muddles out” in the end some tolerable result. This method is contrary to the more stringent ideas of efficient government and administration that are now growing in force and necessity and it might be fatal to efficiency in anything so complicated as the management of the affairs of such a large country as India.  To illustrate this point, here is an extract from a news item: 

“Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has decried the “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” having innumerable checks and balances that often “paralysed decision-making,” leading the country to accept “sub-optimal solutions” with enormous costs in terms of time and money in implementing a programme. Pointing out that China owed its progress to its “one country, two systems” theory, he regretted that India followed “one country, one system and as many interpretations as there are political parties.” This “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” must change and the time had come when, in the case of development programmes, the country, after due deliberations, must adopt a system and work it to the best advantage of the people, eschewing conflicting interpretations”.

Again, Parliamentarism means too, in practice, the rule and often the tyranny of a majority, even of a very small majority, and the modern mind attaches increasing importance to the rights of minorities.

Finally, the party system is creating great obstacles to the development and growth of India.

As a matter of fact the sole democratic elements today are, public opinion, expressed through the media or through public agitations, periodical elections and the power of the people to refuse re-election to those who have displeased it. The government is really in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the professional and business men, the landholders, —where such a class still exists,—strengthened by a number of new arrivals from the working-class who very soon assimilate themselves to the political temperament and ideas of the governing classes”.

In a comment on democracy, Sri Aurobindo writes:

Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government march steadily towards such an organised annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems. It may be that from the more violent and brutal forms of despotic oppression which were associated with those systems, democracy has indeed delivered those nations which have been fortunate enough to achieve liberal forms of government, and that is no doubt a great gain.

It revives now only in periods of revolution and excitement, often in the form of mob tyranny or a savage revolutionary or reactionary repression. But there is a deprivation of liberty which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading. The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar phrase and its deadening effects have been depicted with a great force of resentment by certain of the modern intellectuals;  but what the future promises us is something more formidable still, the tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units.(VOL 25 CWSA P 508)

In this context, we are quoting some extracts from a very insightful article written by Dr. Sajitha Bashir. She writes:

The only logical political power that the people are given in all these countries is the right to vote and hence formally speaking, the power to elect a government of their choice. How even this power is circumscribed by the electoral mechanism and the political process in which political parties play a dominant role in the choice of candidates will be examined later. The main issue at stake is that beyond the right to vote that is given to them every few years, there is no other constitutional power that the people enjoy in terms of the governance of their society once they have voted, they surrender all their powers to the elected representatives. Thereafter, they are effectively forbidden by law to participate in the governing of society. Political power formally derives from the people but in practice vests in Parliament, and in a much smaller group of people called the Cabinet. What is meant by popular sovereignty in a parliamentary democracy is, in fact, the sovereignty of the legislature. At all times, except at the instant of casting a vote, political power is actually wielded by the representatives of the people, with the people themselves being only the subjects of the rulers.

In the course of the development of parliamentary democracies, even the sovereignty of Parliament, or of the elected representatives, has been eroded and today the real sovereign power is vested in the government of the day. The emergence of the party form of  government and its concomitant, the modern system of cabinet government, has meant that after the elections, the party with the majority of seats in parliament virtually controls the entire legislative and executive authority of the state The role of parliament from one of acting as the tribunal of the people with the role of controlling the executive and removing it in cases of abuse of power, has been reduced to one of ventilating grievances and airing opinions or as in our country offering some vulgar entertainment to the populace. The original power of parliament as the initiator of legislation and control over the executive has been all but eliminated. Today, it is common practice for the government of the day to initiate all legislation. Further, the executive is in practice not bound by Parliament, let alone by the electorate, for as long as it commands a majority of’ votes in Parliament either through party mechanisms or through the medium of money power, its position is unassailable.

All this only goes to show that the modern democratic system, despite all appearances, is hardly democratic and is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. The question naturally arises: How do we make the democratic system truly representative of the people and their aspirations?

Since the democratic system is based on the governing of life by Reason, it follows that only when the population has more or less developed the power of Reasoning, can it be truly effective. As of now, a very large section of the people have not yet developed this faculty as they have not been given sufficient opportunities to get educated. The first step therefore is to provide universal education which will lead to a rational education.

The tremendous importance of the power of thinking was underlined by Sri   Aurobindo in a letter written in 1920. This is what he wrote:

“It is my belief that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or religion, but a diminution of the power of thought, the spread of ignorance in the birthplace of knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think – incapacity of thought or thought phobia. This may have been alright in the medieval period, but now this is the sign of a great decline. The medieval period was a night, the day of victory for the man of ignorance; in the modern world it is the time of victory for the man of knowledge. He who can delve into and learn the truth about the world by thinking more, searching more, labouring more, gains more power”.(translated from original Bengali in A&R April 1980 p1-10).

But there arises another problem. Even in those who are getting a sound and good rational education, there is a glaring deficiency. For what after all is a rational education? Sri Aurobindo writes:

But a rational education means necessarily three things, first, to teach men how to observe and know rightly the facts on which they have to form a judgment; secondly, to train them to think fruitfully and soundly; thirdly, to fit them to use their knowledge and their thought effectively for their own and the common good. Capacity of observation and knowledge, capacity of intelligence and judgment, capacity of action and high character are required for the citizenship of a rational order of society; a general deficiency in any of these difficult requisites is a sure source of failure. Unfortunately,—even if we suppose that any training made available to the millions can ever be of this rare character,—the actual education given in the most advanced countries has not had the least relation to these necessities”.(CWSA VOL 25 P198)

The Parliamentary debates today are very illustrative of this shortcoming. We see clearly how the power of Reason is being used only for narrow party interests even at the cost of national interest and worse still even of Truth. The political class seems to be only interested in their smaller goals most often at the cost of the nation. Much worse they take full advantage of the simplicity and gullibility of the ordinary people who have not yet developed their power of reasoned understanding. Sri Aurobindo describing the modern politician writes: “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”.(CWSA VOL 25 P 299)

 In a book written by  G.S. Bhargava, titled Star Crossed India: Let Down by Leadership, the author points out the failure of the political class right from 1970 onwards. Reviewing this book M.V. Kamath writes:

Reading this book is like re-living the history of India from 1970 onwards in all its foul details, the chicanery of politicians, the various riots and the pig-headedness of petty politicians. Bhargava’s contention is that “India is star-crossed because its leaders undoubtedly great and promising individually, repeatedly failed the people…turning out to be persons with clay feet”.

The Party system

India adopted the system of democratic socialism immediately after attaining independence. For the first few decades after independence, it seemed to be working reasonably well; the Congress Party won a two- thirds majority in the first few elections and consequently there was political stability.  But with the maturing of Indian democracy, many other parties have come up and today it seems that there is no chance of a single- party majority in the near future. All signs point to an era of coalition governments. As of now it is affecting the stability of the political system. Therefore many political observers feel that it is necessary to have a two party system or at the most three or four recognized national political parties. In their opinion, all other regional parties or smaller parties should not be allowed to contest the national election. While appreciating the intention behind these proposals, it seems to be an ill judged endeavour which is not likely to succeed. For this goes against the very grain of the Indian temperament. The Indian subcontinent which is so vast has such a tremendous diversity in every detail that it is almost impossible to have a unified system political, economic or cultural. There will inevitably be parties with differing perceptions which will not only play a role in their states, but also would like to be heard in the national arena. We have therefore to find another solution which respects the Indian temperament of unity in diversity and yet ensures political stability.

More important, the party system is proving to be very divisive and is hampering all development and growth.

To sum up, these are the deficiencies of the present Parliamentary democratic system being practiced in India.

  • As seen already, the democratic system can function only when the capacity and habit of reasoning becomes universal. Unfortunately, even today a very large number of Indians are lacking this faculty because of lack of educational opportunity. The consequence is that that a very large number of Indians are being taken for a ride and cheated by political parties by slogans and catchwords.
  • It is not truly democratic, for power rests in the hands of a very small number of persons who are in some way supposed to represent the people of India. The decision making process is in the hands of a small coterie. The present parliamentary system has in practice come to mean the rule and often the tyranny of a minority, even of a very small minority. Here is an extract from a speech in Parliament by    P.C. Alexnder,: “we may create an oligarchical system where a few people will be benefited while the integrity and strength of the country as a whole would have got eroded”.   
  • The party system is proving to be very divisive.
  • The parliamentary method is very slow and takes a very long time with all its inevitable consequences.
  • A habit of Machiavellian statecraft has replaced the nobler ethical ideals of the past; aggressive ambition is left without any sufficient spiritual or moral check and there seems to be a coarsening of the national mind in the ethics of politics and government. This tendency which manifested itself quite some time back was held in abeyance by a religious spirit and high intelligence, Dharma. It needs to be revived so that politics can be raised to a higher level.

 

 

 


The Solution

Where then is the solution? Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1914:

“Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatana Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force, which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajñanam [ignorance]. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong samskaras [imprints] and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force. Hence all that orgy of political oratory, democratic fervour, meetings, processions, passive resistance, all ending in bombs, revolvers and Coercion laws…. God has struck it all down, — Moderatism, the bastard child of English Liberalism; Nationalism, the mixed progeny of Europe and Asia; Terrorism, the abortive offspring of Bakunin and Mazzini…. It is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions.”[1]Archives and Research December 1977,p84)

Later, in another conversation dated 27 December 1938, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Parliamentary form of government:

“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)

On 6 October, 1969, the Mother gave a message to 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”.

 

Regarding the application of spiritual ideas to collective life in the past history of India and more particularly to political life, Sri Aurobindo writes:

“The spirit and ideals of our civilisation need no defence, for in their best parts and in their essence they were of eternal value. India’s internal and individual seeking of them was earnest, powerful, effective. But the application in the collective life of society was subjected to serious reserves. Never sufficiently bold and thoroughgoing, it became more and more limited and halting when the life-force declined in her peoples. This defect, this gulf between ideal and collective practice, has pursued all human living and was not peculiar to India; but the dissonance became especially marked with the lapse of time and it put at last on our society a growing stamp of weakness and failure. 

And now survival itself has become impossible without expansion. If we are to live at all, we must resume India’s great interrupted endeavour; we must take up boldly and execute thoroughly in the individual and in the society, in the spiritual and in the mundane life, in philosophy and religion, in art and literature, in thought, in political and economic and social formulation the full and unlimited sense of her highest spirit and knowledge. (VOL 20 CWSA P 91)

At the same time Sri Aurobindo points out the difficulty in the attempt to bring higher ideals in society and politics. He writes:

“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—subject to a necessary evolution first of his lower physical, vital and mental nature —as a frame and means for that discovery and for man’s ascent from the ignorant natural into the spiritual existence. This dominant idea India has never quite forgotten even under the stress and material exigencies and the externalities of political and social construction. But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realization of the spirit within him is immensely greater than that which attends a spiritual self-expression through the things of the mind, religion, thought, art, literature, and while in these India reached extraordinary heights and largenesses, 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. The coordination or true union of the collective outward life with Moksha, the liberated spiritual existence, has hardly even been conceived or attempted, much less anywhere succeeded in the past history of the yet hardly adult human race. Accordingly, we find that the governance by the Dharma of India’s social, economic and even (though here the attempt broke down earlier than in other spheres) her political rule of life, system, turn of existence, with the adumbration of a spiritual significance behind,—the full attainment of the spiritual life being left as a supreme aim to the effort of the individual—was as far as her ancient system could advance. This much endeavour, however, she did make with persistence and patience and it gave a peculiar type to her social polity. 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”.(VOL 20 CWSA P397-398)

The question that presents itself to modern India is: How do we incorporate the higher spiritual ideals into Indian political life? What are the practical implications of these statements?  For that we must first understand what is meant by Spirituality, and then how to bring Spirituality into politics.

In that context, Sri Aurobindo writes:

If India is to play its true role in the world and fulfil its higher destiny,” it must insist much more finally and integrally than it has as yet done on its spiritual turn, on the greater and greater action of the spiritual motive in every sphere of our living.”( VOL 20CWSA P 32)

The meaning of Spirituality

But first let us say what we do not mean by this ideal of spirituality. For there is a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes even a refusal to understand the true meaning of spirituality

  • Firstly, it does not signify that we shall regard earthly life as a temporal vanity so that we may become all of us as soon as possible monastic ascetics, and frame our social life into a preparation for the monastery or cavern or mountain-top or make of it a static life without any great progressive ideals but only some aim which has nothing to do with earth or the collective advance of the human race.
  • Secondly, spirituality does not mean the moulding of the whole type of the national being to suit the limited dogmas, forms, tenets of a particular religion; clearly such an attempt would be impossible, in a country full of the most diverse religious opinions and harbouring too three such distinct general forms as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, to say nothing of the numerous special forms to which each of these has given birth.
  • Spirituality is much wider than any particular religion, and in the larger ideas of it that are now coming on us even the greatest religion becomes no more than a broad sect or branch of the one universal religion, by which we shall understand in the future man’s seeking for the eternal, the divine, the greater self, the source of unity and his attempt to arrive at some equation, some increasing approximation of the values of human life with the eternal and the divine values.
  • Thirdly, it does not mean the exclusion of anything whatsoever from our scope, of any of the great aims of human life, any of the great problems of our modern world, any form of human activity, any general or inherent impulse or characteristic means of the desire of the soul of man for development, expansion, increasing vigour and joy, light, power, perfection. Therefore spirituality will not belittle the mind, life or body or hold them of small account: it will rather hold them of high account, of immense importance, precisely because they are the conditions and instruments of the life of the spirit in man. Necessarily  we would like modern India to seek the same end in new ways under the vivid impulse of fresh and large ideas and by an instrumentality suited to more complex conditions; but the scope of her effort and action and the suppleness and variety of her mind will not be less, but greater than of old.

Spirituality is not necessarily exclusive; it can be and in its fullness must be all-inclusive.

What then is the place of political and social and economic development from this point of view.

Politics, Society and Economics

In the first form of human life, politics, society, and economy are simply and arrangement by which men collectively can live, produce, satisfy their desires, and enjoy life and progress in bodily, vital and mental efficiency.

But the spiritual aim makes them much more than this. It makes them:

  • First, a framework of life within which man can seek for and grow into his real self and divinity,
  • Secondly, an increasing embodiment of the divine law of being in life,
  • Thirdly, a collective advance towards the light, power, peace, unity, harmony of the diviner nature of humanity which the race is trying to evolve.
  • This and nothing less, this in all its potentialities, is what we mean by a spiritual culture and the application of spirituality to life.

The application of these aims will mean a radical change in our attitude to life. The commercial and materialistic aims of society and the nation will have to be replaced by the higher spiritual aims. Evidently this is a task of no mean order and to expect the whole nation to move in this direction is like asking for the moon – it is just not possible. But it should be possible that a small section of the Indian nation, the elite of Indian society from all walks of life, including the political class, the administration, the judiciary and all others who have a stake in the development of the nation should be able to grow into this attitude and show it in their life style as a living example for others to emulate.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in one of his articles:

“What  is  needed now is a band of spiritual  workers  whose tapasya will be devoted to the liberation of India for the  service of humanity. We need an institution in which under  the guidance  of  highly spiritual men workers will  be  trained  for every field,  workers for self-defence, workers for  arbitration, for  sanitation,  for famine relief,  for every species  of  work which  is needed to bring about the necessary conditions for  the          organisation  of  Swaraj. If the country is to be free, it must first organise itself so as to be able to maintain its freedom.  The winning of freedom is an easy task; the keeping of it is less easy.

Similarly, the Mother had stated in 1954, that there has to be a group which could manifest the Divine will. She writes:

“There must be a group forming a strong body of cohesive will with the spiritual knowledge to save India and the world. It is India that can bring Truth in the world. By manifestation of the Divine Will and Power alone, India can preach her message to the world and not by imitating the materialism of the West. By following the Divine Will India shall shine at the top of the spiritual mountain and show the way of Truth and organize world unity”.

February 1954

Today, there are in India a large number of idealistic youth who have formed groups and are trying to bring in a different atmosphere based on a sincere and deep national feeling. It would be a great step forward if all these groups could pool their resources and work together. They should accept the spiritual ideal and move in this direction and that by itself will make an impact on the polity of the nation.

However, it will be far more effective immediately if a section of the political class accepted this ideal and put it into practice. It will indeed be a great day for the nation when the Prime Minister, the leaders of all the parties and important dignitaries who are the decision makers can state loud and clear that their only aim in life is to manifest the Divine and work for it in their own ways and in their own areas. That, by itself, will mark a turning point in the history of India.

The Union of Parties

The next question is:  how do we bring about a system where there is a union of parties?

The union of parties can come about only by moving towards the spiritual ideal, where the national interest is paramount, and not the party interest, local interest or self-interest.  India will have thus to evolve its own political system.

The paradigms of the party system

The present party system that we have borrowed from the West is based on two fundamental assumptions.

The first assumption is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore there has to be a constant vigil on the ruling power and the way to do that is by creating an opposition party.

The second assumption is that each political party represents an ideology. An ideology is in this view a mental principle arrived at by the process of a rational and scientific study. We have thus in the economic and political fields, the ideologies of Democracy and Socialism, Public sector and Private sector, Globalisation and Swadeshi and so on. All these ideologies are pitted as representing opposing viewpoints and one has to choose between them.

Let us briefly analyse these two basic assumptions.

There is no doubt that in the present state of human consciousness power does corrupt and that consequently checks and balances have to be constantly kept in place. This has resulted in the creation of an opposition with the aim of keeping a constant vigil on the ruling party. But unfortunately this has been carried to the point where opposition is made for the sake of opposition and the consequence of this is that the party has become more important than the nation. This is visible in the political life of almost all nations and more so in India. It is therefore indispensable that, while admitting the need of an opposition, an element of harmony leading to consensus is brought into the political system. The present system that encourages vote bank politics has to be replaced by a system, which reflects the national aspiration. This is of great importance and it is imperative and urgent that political parties come together to work out a solution.

The second principle, which is based on the assumption that the mind and reason can give us the whole of Truth is an error and yet contains a truth. 

Indian culture and psychology have always known that although the mind and reason are powerful and useful instruments of knowledge, they cannot arrive at the whole of Truth. The reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can neither get to the root of things nor embrace the totality of their secrets; it deals with the finite, the separate, the limited aggregate, and has no measure for the all and the infinite. But at the same time it is evident that the reason does give us one aspect of the Truth. Each system or ideology represents one aspect of the Truth, but not the whole Truth. Therefore insisting on one side of the Truth does not help a nation or society to progress. On the contrary, it is only in the harmonious blending of opposites that any true progress can take place. There has to be an attempt to synthesise these apparently opposite ideas. Freedom and discipline are not contrary ideas; rather both of them are needed for the progress of a society and nation. In the same way we can see that democracy and socialism, globalization and Swadeshi, development and ecology have to be synthesized and harmonized. In fact, one might say that the art of life and in particular of political life lies in harmonizing opposites.

All these issued are reflected in the manifestos of political parties. Unfortunately, the mind being what it is, the natural tendency is to stress on one of these ideas at the cost of the other. But life cannot be based on one idea alone; each idea has to be given its due importance and place. As a result of the party system and the natural stress on one idea almost exclusively, there comes in the natural principle of compensating reactions. The law of action and reaction, which is valid in physical Science, is in human action, which always depends largely on psychological forces, a more constant and pervading truth. That in life to every pressure of active forces there is a tendency of reaction of opposite or variative forces which may not immediately operate but must eventually come into the field or which may not act with an equal and entirely compensating force, but must act with some force of compensation, may be taken as well established. It is both a philosophical necessity and a constant fact of experience. For Nature always works by a balancing system of the interplay of opposite forces. When she has insisted for some time on the dominant force of one tendency as against all others, she seeks to correct its exaggerations by reviving, if dead, or newly awakening, if only in slumber, or bringing into the field in a new and modified form the tendency that is exactly opposite. After long insistence on centralisation, she tries to modify it by at least a subordinated decentralisation. After insisting on more and more uniformity, she calls again into play the spirit of multiform variation. The result need not be an equipollence of the two tendencies; it may be any kind of compromise. Or, instead of a compromise it may be in act a fusion and in result a new creation, which shall be a compound of both principles. This is visible in the political history of independent India. Without elaborating in any detail, the change of governments in the last three decades testifies to this truth and law of action and reaction.

Much worse is the blatant misuse of the leaders of the parties to promote their party interests in the garb of ideology in the most shameless manner at the cost of the national interest. All the most specious arguments are used to justify their own positions and the more intelligent one is, the more blatant is the misuse of their reason. The only way to get rid of this disease is to create a system where there will be a national government.

The need of a national government

One might therefore reasonably conclude that it is only by the harmonizing of all these apparently opposite viewpoints that one can arrive at a settled and secure national growth and development. The political system must reflect this vision of things and only then can we move on a sound and stable curve of progress and fulfillment. Probably, Nature herself is pushing India in this direction by the formation of coalition governments at the Centre. Let us therefore collaborate with Nature and move ultimately towards a national government, which will inevitably create a harmonious synthesis of ideas overriding all narrow political interests.

Some suggestions for putting this into practice are being given here.

  • It is most urgent and imperative that the whole population should be given a sound educational basis; otherwise the democratic process will not function properly. Universal education must be a priority. It must be also noted that a rational development is in the mass the first step to a higher spiritual growth.
  • In the present system the Prime Minister is elected by the party winning the largest number of seats. It is suggested that the Prime Minister should be elected by all the members of the Parliament and not by the majority party.
  • The Ministry should be formed by the Prime Minister and should include members of all parties having more than 20% of the electoral vote. That might mean a Ministry made up of two or three parties. It will be the first step in the union of parties.
  • The method of proportional representation should be introduced in the electoral system
  • A far greater decentralisation of power giving much more autonomy to the States should be seriously considered. This should be discussed in some detail by the political parties and States. As a first step the Panchayats should be empowered. Sri Aurobindo writes: Nowadays people want the modern type of democracy—the parliamentary form of government. The parliamentary system is doomed. We should begin with the old Panchayat system in the villages and then work up to the top. The Panchayat system and the guilds are more representative and they have a living contact with people; they are part of the people’s ideas. On the contrary, the parliamentary system with local bodies—the municipal councils—is not workable: these councils have no living contact with the people; the councillors make only platform speeches and nobody knows what they do for three or four years; at the end they reshuffle and rearrange the whole thing, making their own pile during their period of power”.( Feb 2 1939)

Here is  another quote from Venkatesh to illustrate this point:

The solution to this over- centralization of power lies in thinking beyond the current template. This can be done through a grand design of involving the Panchayathi Raj Institutions (PRIs) as a delivery mechanism. Unfortunately, PRIs are largely ornamental pieces of legislation in an otherwise sublime Constitution. We need to leverage these institutions and churn the system so as to make the development projects the responsibility of these local bodies and ‘un-bundle’ the State and central governments of the same.

Unfortunately, under the present three-tiered Constitution, responsibilities are mostly vested with the Central or the State or both, with very little functional mandate extended to the third tier, viz., the PRIs.

The spirit of Part IX of the Constitution, which deals with the PRIs, goes beyond the concept of political empowerment. It is a majestic idea towards self-governance. By design it is the State (hence eminently suited for the purpose) in all its majestic manifestation but with a vital difference — by its very design it will be ‘participatory,’ especially in a country like India.

The time for unleashing the power of the idea of PRIs has come. It has to be noted such an empowerment of the PRIs must include direct fund transfer by both the State and the central governments — of all possible developmental programmes.

Importantly, the crucial role of developmental process must be piloted by the PRIs. Naturally, it would at once trigger a movement for grassroots democracy and with it developmental economics to flourish.

Our resistance to change and vested interests that feed on the extant system mean that the PRIs are essentially non-starters even after two decades since their introduction in the statute book.

It has to be noted that the ideas as suggested above, though illustrative, could well trigger a massive movement as the programmes are meaningfully under the control of the intended beneficiaries. One sincerely believes that this is the only way out to deal with imperial demand of India’s social sector. Else Winston Churchill will continue to chuckle.

It would be well to remember that in India the one principle permanent in the political system was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom. We should try to reproduce this in modern India.

  • Probably the most important suggestion is that there should be a group of persons in Parliament itself who will come together and state clearly that their allegiance is only to the nation and not to any party. It will be good if they contest the elections on a non party plank with national interest as their sole ideology.
  • A very important step in governance is transparency. A step in this direction has been taken by passing the Right to Information Act. This must be carried to its logical conclusion. This will reduce corruption to a great extent.
  • Serious thought must be given to changing the present Parliamentary system to the Presidential system. A national dialogue should be initiated. Probably, in the Indian context, the Republican system or Presidential form of government will be better. In fact, in ancient India there are many instances of this form of government being practised.
  • In one of his conversations Sri Aurobindo said: “The old Indian system grew out of life, it had room for everything and every interest. There were monarchy, aristocracy, democracy; every interest was represented in the government. While in Europe the Western system grew out of the mind: they are led by reason and want to make everything cut and dried without any chance of freedom or variation. If it is democracy, then democracy only—no room for anything else. They cannot be plastic. India is now trying to imitate the West. Parliamentary government is not suited to India. But we always take up what the West has thrown off….When Sri Aurobindo was asked: What is your idea of an ideal government for India? Sri Aurobindo replied:  My idea is like what Tagore once wrote. 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”. (Dec 27 1938)

It is our hope that all political parties will make a sincere attempt to realise these ideals and evolve a system suitable to the genius of India.

One point needs to be emphasised strongly and remembered constantly. It is that all these suggestions and proposals that have been made deal with changes in the system and are therefore external in their nature. But spirituality is by its very nature inward and demands a change of attitude in the psychological being. But it is hoped that with this system the legislators will be compelled to work together and as a natural consequence will gradually learn to work together. In this case we are proceeding from the outer to the inner. However, it is evident that whatever the value of the system and however one might fine-tune it or refine it, ultimately it is the psychological change that is needed. Without this inner change, any system can be exploited for narrow and selfish ends. It is also evident that one cannot expect this change from the mass or even from a large number of persons immediately; but the elite of the nation and especially those who are in power and who are the decision makers must rise up to this level and standard.

As an intermediary step before attempting the spiritualization of the collective life of man, it is indispensable to take into account the ancient Indian ideal of the Dharma. The Indian concept of life was that spirituality is only the last step in the psychological evolution of man. They knew that the initial movement of life is that form of it which develops the powers of the natural ego in man; self-interest and hedonistic desire are the original human motives,—kama, artha. Indian culture gave a large recognition to this primary turn of our nature. These powers have to be accepted and put in order; for the natural ego-life must be lived and the forces it evolves in the human being must be brought to fullness. But this element must be kept from making any too unbridled claim or heading furiously towards its satisfaction; only so can it get its full results without disaster and only so can it be inspired eventually to go beyond itself and turn in the end to a greater spiritual Good and Bliss. An internal or external anarchy cannot be the rule; a life governed in any absolute or excessive degree by self-will, passion, sense-attraction, self-interest and desire cannot be the natural whole of a human or a humane existence; this is the first truth that the political class must become aware of.

Next, they must become aware that different types of men cannot have the same law. The man of knowledge, the man of power, the productive and acquisitive man, the priest, scholar, poet, artist, ruler, fighter, trader, tiller of the soil, craftsman, labourer, servant cannot usefully have the same training, cannot be shaped in the same pattern, cannot all follow the same way of living. All ought not to be put under the same tables of the law; for that would be a senseless geometric rigidity that would spoil the plastic truth of life. Each has his type of nature and there must be a rule for the perfection of that type; each has his own proper function and there must be a canon and ideal for the function they have to perform. There must be in all things some wise and understanding standard of practice and idea of perfection and living rule,—that is the one thing needful for the Dharma. A lawless impulsion of desire and interest and propensity cannot be allowed to lead human conduct; even in the frankest following of desire and interest and propensity there must be a governing and restraining and directing line, and guidance. There must be an ethic or a science, a restraint as well as a scope arising from the truth of the thing sought, a standard of perfection, an order.

If this much is practiced with sincerity and steadfastness by the legislators and the political class in general, the nation will be ready for the next stage of evolution – the governing of collective life by the principle of spirituality.

It is only on this basis that the beginning of a true development and unity of India can be brought about.

It is therefore necessary to start making the necessary corrections.

However, it is our firm belief and conviction that whatever our human shortcomings, India will finally and definitely rise to the height of its mission. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “For this thing is written in the book of God and nothing can prevent it, that the national life of India shall meet and possess its divine and mighty destiny”.

 

 

M.V. Kamath from The Organiser April 1 2007

Chidambaram from the Hindu April 2 2007

M.R. Venkatesh from Rediff.com April 11 2007

There must be a group CWM Vol 13 p 361

The Indian  system : Talks with Sri Aurobindo Nirodbaran Vol 1 p65

Nowdays people want: February 2 1939.

AT&C  Aggregate technical and commercial losses

What in needed now: CWSA Vol 7 P 939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new political system for India Kittu Reddy

Introduction

On the 15th August 1947, India attained its independence from British rule and Sri Aurobindo was requested to give a message on that occasion. Here is an extract from the message:

I have been asked for a message on this great occasion, but I am perhaps hardly in a position to give one. All I can do is to make a personal declaration of the aims and ideals conceived in my childhood and youth and now watched in their beginning of fulfilment, because they are relevant to the freedom of India, since they are a part of what I believe to be India’s future work, something in which she cannot but take a leading position. For I have always held and said that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power and prosperity, – though these too she must not neglect, – and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other people, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race. (SABCL VOL 26 P401)

Sri Aurobindo worked actively in the political field for the freedom of India and for awakening her to her mission of leading the world towards spirituality. His political career was short – only four years from 1906 to 1910. But the Indian nation was always in his consciousness and he strove to raise it to its highest destiny. In the words of the Mother: “Sri Aurobindo always loved deeply his Motherland. But he wished her to be great, noble, pure and worthy of her big mission in the world. He refused to let her sink to the sordid and vulgar level of blind self-interests and ignorant prejudices”. (CWM VOL13  25 April 1954vol13)

Sri Aurobindo retired from active political life in 1910. But this did not mean, as it was then supposed, that he had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any further interest in the world or in the fate of India. It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning.

Consequently even in his retirement, Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action.

The Mother too kept a close watch on developments in India and openly intervened now and then; at other times she sent messages to Indian leaders or sent answers to disciples on questions relating to India.

In 1970, Mother made some observations. We are quoting some portions of those remarks:

What must be done to pull the country out of its difficulty? Sri Aurobindo has foreseen all the troubles and he has given the solution. Just now we are approaching his Centenary; it seems arranged, you know, divinely arranged, because this would be a wonderful occasion to spread his teaching all over the country: the teaching, the practical teaching, his teaching about India, how to organise India, the mission of India.

And it is only this that gives a clue to all these difficulties. About all that has happened and all that is happening now, he has said clearly that to go back to it is useless. We must give the country its true position, that is, the position of relying on the Divine. And this is above politics, you see. It is above all politics. It is to organise the country beyond politics. And it is the only way. In politics it is always fight and ugly fight—ugly.

And it has become so bad. He was telling me always that things would become worse and worse, because it is the end of this age. We are entering into an age where things must be organised differently. It is a difficult time because of that. Because we know what will come, we can help to make it come sooner and with less turmoil. There is no hope in going backwards; it would make things last endlessly. We must go forward, absolutely, and go beyond, beyond party. And nobody can explain that better than Sri Aurobindo, because he was so much, so much beyond party; he saw the advantages and disadvantages of all parties and he stated them exactly. If you read carefully what he has written—so much—you will find the answer to all these questions. And at the same time you will know that you will have the full support of the Divine Power. The Power that was behind him is behind this transformation. It is time for transformation. We can’t cling to the past.

The best way to go beyond politics is to spread the message of Sri Aurobindo. Because he is no more a political element wanting to take power; there are only his ideas and ideals. And, of course, if people could understand and realise his programme, the country could be very strong, very strong. 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!

In the following articles, we are making an attempt to study some of the problems which India is facing today and suggest solutions in the light of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.

The present state of India

It is 60 years since India attained its independence. It will be useful and instructive to do some stock taking and see what India has achieved in these six decades and then to see what more needs to be done.

Let us start with the positive elements.

Soon after attaining independence, India gave herself a constitution and became a democratic and socialistic Republic. India became formally a Republic on 26 January 1950 and has since been governed by its Constitution. This   was indeed a great achievement more particularly when one looks at some of the countries in our neighbourhood and even around the world. For it established a system of governance, a sound legal system and a fairly sound basis for a democratic socialistic society where elections were held regularly and the popular mandate was respected.

We may thus say that the democratic system has been fully established and accepted as an indispensable part of Indian political life; undoubtedly there are some serious shortcomings and these need to be corrected sooner or later. But the very fact that democracy has become an integral part of Indian political life is a positive and great gain. There are sometimes doubts cast on this system suggesting that a dictatorial system – often referred to as enlightened dictatorship – would have served India better. This proposition is doubtful although one can admit its necessity in certain exceptional circumstances. On the whole however, a democratic system is always more desirable. The justification for this can be found in the following statements of Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo writes in the Human Cycle:

Man needs freedom of thought and life and action in order that he may grow, otherwise he will remain fixed where he was, a stunted and static being. If his individual mind and reason are ill-developed, he may consent to grow, as does the infrarational mind, in the group-soul, in the herd, in the mass, with that subtle half-conscient general evolution common to all in the lower process of Nature. As he develops individual reason and will, he needs and society must give him room for an increasing play of individual freedom and variation, at least so far as that does not develop itself to the avoidable harm of others and of society as a whole.( CWSA-VOL 25 p211.)

Similarly in the first decade of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Bandemataram:

“Socialistic Democracy is the only true democracy for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distributions of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development”.

Along with this democratic structure we have adopted, India has taken great strides in many other areas.

A strong industrial base has been developed.

Agriculture production has increased greatly and we have become more or less self sufficient in food production.

In the economic field there is great progress and India is being viewed as one of the super powers in the next few decades.

In the scientific and technological fields, India ranks among the leading powers whether it is in space research, bio-technology or information technology.

Even in education, we have made great strides with an educated population of over 150 million Indians.

India has become the third largest reservoir of skilled scientific and technical manpower, the fifth military power, the sixth member of the nuclear club, seventh in the race for space and the 10th industrial power.

Consequently, India’s voice is being heard today on the international plane with respect. That s a great gain and portends well for the future.

Despite all these positive factors, there are whole areas in which there is a lot to be disturbed about; consequently there is a great deal of despondency in the country. Many intelligent observers are wondering as to where we are going and sometimes the question is even asked whether India as a nation will remain united and survive. In this context, I am paraphrasing portions of an article written by Aparajita Mehta: She writes: “Numerous technological, scientific and other significant achievements have definitely taken place in our country. From automobiles, to satellites and to computers and the internet, the list is endless and deserves praise. But will computers alone, however sophisticated and all embracing, bring about the desired multisided revolution that is envisaged in the next decade or two? She moves on to point out some of the serious shortcomings in India today.

“With several antinational and secessionist trends gaining strength, India has in recent years, developed several fissures and fractures, some of them highly disconcerting in character. The hope of reversing these negative trends is vanishing and the prospects for the future seem disheartening. Must India break up into splinters and fragments?

There are more fractures in Indian society today, than bonds of unity; there are more splits and discords than wholesome fraternal bonds and accords. Communal wrangling continues to persist, despite all the tall talk of cohesion. Behind the dazzle and display of prosperity, lie the fears, miseries and deprivations of millions.

Since independence, much of our social structure has been torn by hatred, tensions and inter-caste rivalry; and this is not all! India’s vast area, illiteracy and the massive burgeoning population is one big cause for alarm. Clashes over religion are prevalent. Corruption is reigning in every field of national activity. Sincerity, honesty and the true spirit of service, which can help check these negative trends, are not much in evidence. Politics at the state and national level, is fast losing it’s motto of “patriotism and duty.”

Today, the image of the political class in India is very poor; even the present Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, had this to say recently: “the images of “intrigue, venality, disorder and anarchy” held by people about politicians needed to be corrected urgently”.

Here is another extract from an article by M.R. Venkatesh.  He starts his article with a quote from Winston Churchill:

“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw.” Winston Churchill on the eve of Indian Independence.

Sometimes facts speak louder than comments. The following are some extracts from the Approach Paper to the 11th Five-Year Plan, prepared and published by the Planning Commission last year.

Coming from the highest echelons of the government, these remain an authentic and a grim reminder of what has gone wrong since Independence. Consider these dismal facts from this document of the Planning Commission:

  • Official poverty stands at 28 per cent. Significantly, one has to appreciate that the current definition of poverty is hopelessly inadequate. It is defined on the premise of whether a person can afford to consume 2,400 calories of food in rural India or 2,100 calories of food in urban India per day. Naturally, this limited definition ignores the other bare minimum necessities required for a decent living. Obviously, if one were to consider a more realistically defined poverty line, based on the basic needs for a decent living, the number of poor in India could be far more than the officially stated figure of 30 crore (300 million).
  • The abhorrent practice of manual scavenging continues even today.
  • Quality of education and curative health services are beyond the reach of the common man and those provided by the private sector are costly and of variable quality.
  • A major institutional challenge is that even where service providers exist, the quality of delivery is poor and those responsible for delivering the services cannot be held accountable.
  • In the health and education systems, there is a large number of staff vacancies that have not been filled up due to resource constraints.
  • The cost of displacements of our tribal population is high and the compensation tardy and inadequate.
  • Corruption is now seen to be endemic in all spheres and this problem needs to be addressed urgently.
  • The legal system in India is respected for its independence and fairness but it suffers from notorious delays in dispensing justice. Delays result in denial of justice.
  • Literacy rate is still below 70 per cent.
  • The most difficult task is to ensure good quality of instruction and the position in this respect is disturbing. A recent study found that 38 per cent of the children who have completed four years of schooling cannot read a small paragraph with short sentences meant to be read by a student of class 2. About 55 per cent of such children cannot divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number.
  • Drop out rate in primary schools for the country as a whole was at a staggering 31 per cent in 2003-04.
  • While some of our institutions of higher education compare well with the best in the world, the average standard is much lower.
  • India’s infant mortality rates, under-five mortality rates, maternal mortality rates and immunisation rates are higher than that of Sri Lanka, China and Vietnam.
  • The biggest constraint in achieving a faster growth of manufacturing is the fact that infrastructure — roads, railways, ports, airports, communication and electricity — is not up to the standards prevalent in our competitor countries.
  • Indian roads are very accident-prone and claim a large number of lives representing an enormous human and economic loss.
  • The Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) initiated in 2001 was expected to bring down AT&C losses to 15 per cent by the end of the Tenth Plan. In fact, the average for all states is closer to 40 per cent.
  •  

The net result is that today India languishes at the bottom half of the global Human Development Index (HDI) wedged between underdeveloped countries like Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Solomon Islands. Even countries endowed with lesser amount of natural resources and lower calibre of human capital have performed better, perhaps even miraculously. This has been largely due to effective, responsive and effective governance. India definitely deserves better.”

I have quoted these extracts just to highlight the sense of despondency that is prevalent and widespread among many serious political thinkers in India.

In sum, the problems facing India are:

  • A political system borrowed from the West which is hampering all progress and dividing the polity.
  • Serious anti-national and secessionist trends
  • A society deeply divided in the name of religion, caste and even gender
  • Corruption at all levels and particularly at the higher political levels; India ranks high among the corrupt nations.
  • An absence of national feeling leading to regionalism and parochialism where local interest becomes more important than the national interest.
  • The enormous gap between the rich and the poor despite a vigorous economic growth.
  • The dangers emanating from our neighbourhood, where most of the nations are facing serious tensions and seem to be heading towards being called “failed States”.
  • The shortcomings in the educational system both in quality and quantity and its failure to uplift the nation as a whole.

We shall now try to see where the root causes for this situation lie. For, it is only after finding out the causes that we can think of applying the remedy.

Viewed from the point of view of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the root of the problem is as follows:

  • The first cause is the adoption of the present political system
  • The second cause is the acceptance of the Partition of India as final and not merely as a temporary aberration and an accident of history.

There are undoubtedly other causes, but these two are the primary causes.

.We shall start with the first problem, that is to say the political system.

The political system in India

The first and most pressing problem that the nation is facing today lies in the constitution and consequently the political system that we have adopted. In this article we shall try to analyse the political system and suggest some remedies, both short term and long term.

The political system that we have adopted in India is basically the modern version of Democratic Socialism; it has been developed first in the western nations more particularly in Great Britain and has been adopted with some variations in almost all the countries of the world. It should however be noted that democracy is not something new to India. History shows us that ancient India had a vigorous democratic system. Indeed there was a strong democratic element and even institutions that present a certain analogy to the parliamentary form; but in reality these features were of India’s own kind and not at all the same things as modern parliaments and modern democracy. It did not in any way resemble the scrambling and burdensome parliamentary organization of the party system and veiled oligarchy, which is what the modern period truly represents.

The one principle permanent in ancient   Indian polity was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom.

However that be, our present political system has been mainly taken from the British system, the Parliamentary form of government.

Individualist Democracy in the light of Sri Aurobindo

Since we have taken our political system mainly from the British and other Western powers, it will be necessary to understand the fundamental principles on which it was based and how it applies to the Indian nation.


The principles of Democracy in the modern world

The modern age of mankind may be characterised as an attempt to discover and work out the right principle and secure foundations of a rational system of society. It was in Great Britain that the first attempts on the social and political plane started and this led to the system of individualist democracy. This system developed naturally as a direct consequence of the Renaissance and the Reformation. In the period before the Renaissance and the Reformation, Faith and Religion were the chief pillars of society; but, as a consequence of these movements, Faith and Religion were dethroned and Reason was enthroned as the supreme instrument of knowledge. Modern democracy is founded upon a few basic assumptions. These may be summed up as:

  • The conviction that the highest instrument of knowledge at the disposal of man is Reason.
  • Human society can best progress and grow by the application of Reason to all the details of individual and collective life.
  • In the individual life of man, each one has the right to live his own life governed by his reason, as long as he respects the same right in all other individuals.
  • In the collective life of man, it is the collective reason that has to be applied.

Individualistic Democracy

The application of these principles created the modern political system of individualistic democracy, whether of the Parliamentary or the Presidential form. It was believed that with the application of Reason to human life, we would eventually arrive at a harmonious and ideal society.

However, in its application to society there was a shortfall in the expected results. The reasons were firstly, that a large number of individuals in the society had not yet developed their rational faculties and secondly that even those who had developed them did not generally use them for the search of truth; rather, reason was used more to justify the satisfaction of their interests, desires and preferences.

The inevitable corrective to this situation was the introduction of universal education; for if man was not by nature a rational being, he would by education become one. However, even after the introduction of universal education, a new problem has revealed itself. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:  “But here a new and enormous defect has revealed itself which is proving fatal to the social idea which engendered it. For given even perfect equality of educational and other opportunity,—and that does not yet really exist and cannot in the individualistic state of society,— to what purpose or in what manner is the opportunity likely to be used? Man, the half infrarational being, demands three things for his satisfaction, power, if he can have it, but at any rate the use and reward of his faculties and the enjoyment of his desires. In the old societies the possibility of these could be secured by him to a certain extent according to his birth, his fixed status and the use of his capacity within the limits of his hereditary status. That basis once removed and no proper substitute provided, the same ends can only be secured by success in a scramble for the one power left, the power of wealth. Accordingly, instead of a harmoniously ordered society there has been developed a huge organised competitive system, a frantically rapid and one-sided development of industrialism and, under the garb of democracy, an increasing plutocratic tendency that shocks by its ostentatious grossness and the magnitudes of its gulfs and distances. These have been the last results of the individualistic ideal and its democratic machinery, the initial bankruptcies of the rational age”.(CWSA VOL25 P199-200)

The Socialistic Principle

The natural corrective to this state of affairs was the introduction by Reason of the principle of Socialism. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, the aim and justification of Socialism is as follows: 

“Socialism sets out to replace a system of organised economic battle by an organised order and peace. This can no longer be done on the old lines,an artificial or inherited inequality brought about by the denial of equal opportunity and justified by the affirmation of that injustice and its result as an eternal law of society and of Nature. That is a falsehood which the reason of man will no longer permit. Neither can it be done, it seems, on the basis of individual liberty; for that has broken down in the practice. Socialism therefore must do away with the democratic basis of individual liberty, even if it professes to respect it or to be marching towards a more rational freedom. It shifts at first the fundamental emphasis to other ideas and fruits of the democratic ideal, and it leads by this transference of stress to a radical change in the basic principle of a rational society. Equality, not a political only, but a perfect social equality, is to be the basis. There is to be equality of opportunity for all, but also equality of status for all, for without the last the first cannot be secured; even if it were established, it could not endure. This equality again is impossible if personal, or at least inherited right in property is to exist, and therefore socialism abolishes —except at best on a small scale—the right of personal property as it is now understood and makes war on the hereditary principle. Who then is to possess the property? It can only be the community as a whole. And who is to administer it? Again, the community as a whole. In order to justify this idea, the socialistic principle has practically to deny the existence of the individual or his right to exist except as a member of the society and for its sake”. He belongs entirely to the society, not only his property, but himself, his labour, his capacities, the education it gives him and its results, his mind, his knowledge, his individual life, his family life, the life of his children. Moreover, since his individual reason cannot be trusted to work out naturally a right and rational adjustment of his life with the life of others, it is for the reason of the whole community to arrange that too for him. Not the reasoning minds and wills of the individuals, but the collective reasoning mind and will of the community has to govern. It is this which will determine not only the principles and all the details of the economic and political order, but the whole life of the community and of the individual as a working, thinking, feeling cell of this life, the development of his capacities, his actions, the use of the knowledge he has acquired, the whole ordering of his vital, his ethical, his intelligent being. For so only can the collective reason and intelligent will of the race overcome the egoism of individualistic life and bring about a perfect principle and rational order of society in a harmonious world”.(CWSA VOL25 P 200-201)

But even at its best the collectivist idea contains several fallacies inconsistent with the real facts of human life and nature. The central defect through which a socialistic State is bound to be convicted of insufficiency and condemned to pass away before the growth of a new ideal, lies in the pressure of the State organisation on the life of the individual; in fact many political commentators complain that it has reached a point at which it is ceasing to be tolerable.

Again in the words of Sri Aurobindo: “If it continues to be what it is now, a government of the life of the individual by the comparatively few and not, as it pretends, by a common will and reason, if, that is to say, it becomes patently undemocratic or remains pseudo-democratic, then it will be this falsity through which anarchistic thought will attack its existence.

But the innermost difficulty would not disappear even if the socialistic State became really democratic, really the expression of the free reasoned will of the majority in agreement. Any true development of that kind would be difficult indeed and has the appearance of a chimera: for collectivism pretends to regulate life not only in its few fundamental principles and its main lines, as every organised society must tend to do, but in its details, it aims at a thoroughgoing scientific regulation, and an agreement of the free reasoned will of millions in all the lines and most of the details of life is a contradiction in terms. Whatever the perfection of the organised State, the suppression or oppression of individual freedom by the will of the majority or of a minority would still be there as a cardinal defect vitiating its very principle. And there would be something infinitely worse. For a thoroughgoing scientific regulation of life can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing mechanisation of life. This tendency to mechanisation is the inherent defect of the State idea and its practice. Already that is the defect upon which both intellectual anarchistic thought and the insight of the spiritual thinker have begun to lay stress, and it must immensely increase as the State idea rounds itself into a greater completeness in practice. It is indeed the inherent defect of reason when it turns to govern life and labours by quelling its natural tendencies to put it into some kind of rational order”.

(CWSA VOL25  P 212-213 )

Modern India

In India the Central Government has not adopted the Socialistic system in its purity and entirety. However, in some States like West Bengal and Kerala where the Communists have been in power, a more or less complete Socialistic Government has been functioning.

The Central Government has pursued the middle path adopting the democratic socialist system.

While this seems to be the most rational way, there is today in India a great deal of dissatisfaction with the present political system. Many political commentators are wondering whether a change in the system is necessary and even inevitable.

“And just as the idea of individualistic democracy found itself before long in difficulties on that account because of the disparity between life’s facts and the mind’s idea, difficulties that have led up to its discredit and approaching overthrow, the idea of collectivist democracy too may well find itself before long in difficulties that must lead to its discredit and eventual replacement by a third stage of the inevitable progression. Liberty protected by a State in which all are politically equal, was the idea that individualistic democracy attempted to elaborate. Equality, social and political equality enforced through a perfect and careful order by a State which is the organised will of the whole community, is the idea on which socialistic democracy stakes its future.

If that too fails to make good, the rational and democratic Idea may fall back upon a third form of society founding an essential rather than formal liberty and equality upon fraternal comradeship in a free community, the ideal of intellectual as of spiritual Anarchism”. (CWSA VOL25  P 202-203)

Before we proceed further, let us see what are the gains the democratic system that we have adopted in India.

 

The Gains of the Democratic System

Let us now see what the gains of the parliamentary system in India are. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

“Parliamentarism, the invention of the English political genius, is a necessary stage in the evolution of democracy, for without it the generalised faculty of considering and managing with the least possible friction large problems of politics, administration, economics, legislation concerning considerable aggregates of men cannot easily be developed. It has also been the one successful means yet discovered of preventing the State executive from suppressing the liberties of the individual and the nation. “ (VOL 25 CWSA P472-473)

 The other gain of modern democracy is a full freedom of speech and thought. And as long as this freedom endures, the fear of a static and unprogressive condition of humanity and subsequent stagnation seems to be groundless,— especially when it is accompanied by universal education which provides the largest possible human field for producing an effectuating force. Freedom of thought and speech—the two necessarily go together, since there can be no real freedom of thought where a padlock is put upon freedom of speech—is not indeed complete without freedom of association; for free speech means free propagandism and propagandism only becomes effective by association for the realisation of its objects. This third liberty also exists with more or less of qualifying limitations or prudent safeguards in all democratic States including India.

The limitations of the democratic system

The dissatisfaction with the present democratic system is raising some questions. These may be summed up as follows:

Is the present democratic system truly democratic?

Is there not the danger of constant instability in the present form of Government?

A third point that is constantly raised in the Parliamentary form of government is the very slow process of decision making which accords ill with the need of efficient government. And so far, it has not yet been found possible to combine the parliamentary system and the modern trend towards a more democratic democracy; it has been always an instrument either of a modified aristocratic or of a middle-class rule. Besides, its method involves an immense waste of time and energy and a confused, swaying and uncertain action that “muddles out” in the end some tolerable result. This method is contrary to the more stringent ideas of efficient government and administration that are now growing in force and necessity and it might be fatal to efficiency in anything so complicated as the management of the affairs of such a large country as India.  To illustrate this point, here is an extract from a news item: 

“Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has decried the “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” having innumerable checks and balances that often “paralysed decision-making,” leading the country to accept “sub-optimal solutions” with enormous costs in terms of time and money in implementing a programme. Pointing out that China owed its progress to its “one country, two systems” theory, he regretted that India followed “one country, one system and as many interpretations as there are political parties.” This “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” must change and the time had come when, in the case of development programmes, the country, after due deliberations, must adopt a system and work it to the best advantage of the people, eschewing conflicting interpretations”.

Again, Parliamentarism means too, in practice, the rule and often the tyranny of a majority, even of a very small majority, and the modern mind attaches increasing importance to the rights of minorities.

Finally, the party system is creating great obstacles to the development and growth of India.

As a matter of fact the sole democratic elements today are, public opinion, expressed through the media or through public agitations, periodical elections and the power of the people to refuse re-election to those who have displeased it. The government is really in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the professional and business men, the landholders, —where such a class still exists,—strengthened by a number of new arrivals from the working-class who very soon assimilate themselves to the political temperament and ideas of the governing classes”.

In a comment on democracy, Sri Aurobindo writes:

Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government march steadily towards such an organised annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems. It may be that from the more violent and brutal forms of despotic oppression which were associated with those systems, democracy has indeed delivered those nations which have been fortunate enough to achieve liberal forms of government, and that is no doubt a great gain.

It revives now only in periods of revolution and excitement, often in the form of mob tyranny or a savage revolutionary or reactionary repression. But there is a deprivation of liberty which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading. The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar phrase and its deadening effects have been depicted with a great force of resentment by certain of the modern intellectuals;  but what the future promises us is something more formidable still, the tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units.(VOL 25 CWSA P 508)

In this context, we are quoting some extracts from a very insightful article written by Dr. Sajitha Bashir. She writes:

The only logical political power that the people are given in all these countries is the right to vote and hence formally speaking, the power to elect a government of their choice. How even this power is circumscribed by the electoral mechanism and the political process in which political parties play a dominant role in the choice of candidates will be examined later. The main issue at stake is that beyond the right to vote that is given to them every few years, there is no other constitutional power that the people enjoy in terms of the governance of their society once they have voted, they surrender all their powers to the elected representatives. Thereafter, they are effectively forbidden by law to participate in the governing of society. Political power formally derives from the people but in practice vests in Parliament, and in a much smaller group of people called the Cabinet. What is meant by popular sovereignty in a parliamentary democracy is, in fact, the sovereignty of the legislature. At all times, except at the instant of casting a vote, political power is actually wielded by the representatives of the people, with the people themselves being only the subjects of the rulers.

In the course of the development of parliamentary democracies, even the sovereignty of Parliament, or of the elected representatives, has been eroded and today the real sovereign power is vested in the government of the day. The emergence of the party form of  government and its concomitant, the modern system of cabinet government, has meant that after the elections, the party with the majority of seats in parliament virtually controls the entire legislative and executive authority of the state The role of parliament from one of acting as the tribunal of the people with the role of controlling the executive and removing it in cases of abuse of power, has been reduced to one of ventilating grievances and airing opinions or as in our country offering some vulgar entertainment to the populace. The original power of parliament as the initiator of legislation and control over the executive has been all but eliminated. Today, it is common practice for the government of the day to initiate all legislation. Further, the executive is in practice not bound by Parliament, let alone by the electorate, for as long as it commands a majority of’ votes in Parliament either through party mechanisms or through the medium of money power, its position is unassailable.

All this only goes to show that the modern democratic system, despite all appearances, is hardly democratic and is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. The question naturally arises: How do we make the democratic system truly representative of the people and their aspirations?

Since the democratic system is based on the governing of life by Reason, it follows that only when the population has more or less developed the power of Reasoning, can it be truly effective. As of now, a very large section of the people have not yet developed this faculty as they have not been given sufficient opportunities to get educated. The first step therefore is to provide universal education which will lead to a rational education.

The tremendous importance of the power of thinking was underlined by Sri   Aurobindo in a letter written in 1920. This is what he wrote:

“It is my belief that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or religion, but a diminution of the power of thought, the spread of ignorance in the birthplace of knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think – incapacity of thought or thought phobia. This may have been alright in the medieval period, but now this is the sign of a great decline. The medieval period was a night, the day of victory for the man of ignorance; in the modern world it is the time of victory for the man of knowledge. He who can delve into and learn the truth about the world by thinking more, searching more, labouring more, gains more power”.(translated from original Bengali in A&R April 1980 p1-10).

But there arises another problem. Even in those who are getting a sound and good rational education, there is a glaring deficiency. For what after all is a rational education? Sri Aurobindo writes:

But a rational education means necessarily three things, first, to teach men how to observe and know rightly the facts on which they have to form a judgment; secondly, to train them to think fruitfully and soundly; thirdly, to fit them to use their knowledge and their thought effectively for their own and the common good. Capacity of observation and knowledge, capacity of intelligence and judgment, capacity of action and high character are required for the citizenship of a rational order of society; a general deficiency in any of these difficult requisites is a sure source of failure. Unfortunately,—even if we suppose that any training made available to the millions can ever be of this rare character,—the actual education given in the most advanced countries has not had the least relation to these necessities”.(CWSA VOL 25 P198)

The Parliamentary debates today are very illustrative of this shortcoming. We see clearly how the power of Reason is being used only for narrow party interests even at the cost of national interest and worse still even of Truth. The political class seems to be only interested in their smaller goals most often at the cost of the nation. Much worse they take full advantage of the simplicity and gullibility of the ordinary people who have not yet developed their power of reasoned understanding. Sri Aurobindo describing the modern politician writes: “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”.(CWSA VOL 25 P 299)

 In a book written by  G.S. Bhargava, titled Star Crossed India: Let Down by Leadership, the author points out the failure of the political class right from 1970 onwards. Reviewing this book M.V. Kamath writes:

Reading this book is like re-living the history of India from 1970 onwards in all its foul details, the chicanery of politicians, the various riots and the pig-headedness of petty politicians. Bhargava’s contention is that “India is star-crossed because its leaders undoubtedly great and promising individually, repeatedly failed the people…turning out to be persons with clay feet”.

The Party system

India adopted the system of democratic socialism immediately after attaining independence. For the first few decades after independence, it seemed to be working reasonably well; the Congress Party won a two- thirds majority in the first few elections and consequently there was political stability.  But with the maturing of Indian democracy, many other parties have come up and today it seems that there is no chance of a single- party majority in the near future. All signs point to an era of coalition governments. As of now it is affecting the stability of the political system. Therefore many political observers feel that it is necessary to have a two party system or at the most three or four recognized national political parties. In their opinion, all other regional parties or smaller parties should not be allowed to contest the national election. While appreciating the intention behind these proposals, it seems to be an ill judged endeavour which is not likely to succeed. For this goes against the very grain of the Indian temperament. The Indian subcontinent which is so vast has such a tremendous diversity in every detail that it is almost impossible to have a unified system political, economic or cultural. There will inevitably be parties with differing perceptions which will not only play a role in their states, but also would like to be heard in the national arena. We have therefore to find another solution which respects the Indian temperament of unity in diversity and yet ensures political stability.

More important, the party system is proving to be very divisive and is hampering all development and growth.

To sum up, these are the deficiencies of the present Parliamentary democratic system being practiced in India.

  • As seen already, the democratic system can function only when the capacity and habit of reasoning becomes universal. Unfortunately, even today a very large number of Indians are lacking this faculty because of lack of educational opportunity. The consequence is that that a very large number of Indians are being taken for a ride and cheated by political parties by slogans and catchwords.
  • It is not truly democratic, for power rests in the hands of a very small number of persons who are in some way supposed to represent the people of India. The decision making process is in the hands of a small coterie. The present parliamentary system has in practice come to mean the rule and often the tyranny of a minority, even of a very small minority. Here is an extract from a speech in Parliament by    P.C. Alexnder,: “we may create an oligarchical system where a few people will be benefited while the integrity and strength of the country as a whole would have got eroded”.   
  • The party system is proving to be very divisive.
  • The parliamentary method is very slow and takes a very long time with all its inevitable consequences.
  • A habit of Machiavellian statecraft has replaced the nobler ethical ideals of the past; aggressive ambition is left without any sufficient spiritual or moral check and there seems to be a coarsening of the national mind in the ethics of politics and government. This tendency which manifested itself quite some time back was held in abeyance by a religious spirit and high intelligence, Dharma. It needs to be revived so that politics can be raised to a higher level.

 

 

 


The Solution

Where then is the solution? Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1914:

“Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatana Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force, which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajñanam [ignorance]. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong samskaras [imprints] and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force. Hence all that orgy of political oratory, democratic fervour, meetings, processions, passive resistance, all ending in bombs, revolvers and Coercion laws…. God has struck it all down, — Moderatism, the bastard child of English Liberalism; Nationalism, the mixed progeny of Europe and Asia; Terrorism, the abortive offspring of Bakunin and Mazzini…. It is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions.”[1]Archives and Research December 1977,p84)

Later, in another conversation dated 27 December 1938, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Parliamentary form of government:

“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)

On 6 October, 1969, the Mother gave a message to 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”.

 

Regarding the application of spiritual ideas to collective life in the past history of India and more particularly to political life, Sri Aurobindo writes:

“The spirit and ideals of our civilisation need no defence, for in their best parts and in their essence they were of eternal value. India’s internal and individual seeking of them was earnest, powerful, effective. But the application in the collective life of society was subjected to serious reserves. Never sufficiently bold and thoroughgoing, it became more and more limited and halting when the life-force declined in her peoples. This defect, this gulf between ideal and collective practice, has pursued all human living and was not peculiar to India; but the dissonance became especially marked with the lapse of time and it put at last on our society a growing stamp of weakness and failure. 

And now survival itself has become impossible without expansion. If we are to live at all, we must resume India’s great interrupted endeavour; we must take up boldly and execute thoroughly in the individual and in the society, in the spiritual and in the mundane life, in philosophy and religion, in art and literature, in thought, in political and economic and social formulation the full and unlimited sense of her highest spirit and knowledge. (VOL 20 CWSA P 91)

At the same time Sri Aurobindo points out the difficulty in the attempt to bring higher ideals in society and politics. He writes:

“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—subject to a necessary evolution first of his lower physical, vital and mental nature —as a frame and means for that discovery and for man’s ascent from the ignorant natural into the spiritual existence. This dominant idea India has never quite forgotten even under the stress and material exigencies and the externalities of political and social construction. But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realization of the spirit within him is immensely greater than that which attends a spiritual self-expression through the things of the mind, religion, thought, art, literature, and while in these India reached extraordinary heights and largenesses, 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. The coordination or true union of the collective outward life with Moksha, the liberated spiritual existence, has hardly even been conceived or attempted, much less anywhere succeeded in the past history of the yet hardly adult human race. Accordingly, we find that the governance by the Dharma of India’s social, economic and even (though here the attempt broke down earlier than in other spheres) her political rule of life, system, turn of existence, with the adumbration of a spiritual significance behind,—the full attainment of the spiritual life being left as a supreme aim to the effort of the individual—was as far as her ancient system could advance. This much endeavour, however, she did make with persistence and patience and it gave a peculiar type to her social polity. 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”.(VOL 20 CWSA P397-398)

The question that presents itself to modern India is: How do we incorporate the higher spiritual ideals into Indian political life? What are the practical implications of these statements?  For that we must first understand what is meant by Spirituality, and then how to bring Spirituality into politics.

In that context, Sri Aurobindo writes:

If India is to play its true role in the world and fulfil its higher destiny,” it must insist much more finally and integrally than it has as yet done on its spiritual turn, on the greater and greater action of the spiritual motive in every sphere of our living.”( VOL 20CWSA P 32)

The meaning of Spirituality

But first let us say what we do not mean by this ideal of spirituality. For there is a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes even a refusal to understand the true meaning of spirituality

  • Firstly, it does not signify that we shall regard earthly life as a temporal vanity so that we may become all of us as soon as possible monastic ascetics, and frame our social life into a preparation for the monastery or cavern or mountain-top or make of it a static life without any great progressive ideals but only some aim which has nothing to do with earth or the collective advance of the human race.
  • Secondly, spirituality does not mean the moulding of the whole type of the national being to suit the limited dogmas, forms, tenets of a particular religion; clearly such an attempt would be impossible, in a country full of the most diverse religious opinions and harbouring too three such distinct general forms as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, to say nothing of the numerous special forms to which each of these has given birth.
  • Spirituality is much wider than any particular religion, and in the larger ideas of it that are now coming on us even the greatest religion becomes no more than a broad sect or branch of the one universal religion, by which we shall understand in the future man’s seeking for the eternal, the divine, the greater self, the source of unity and his attempt to arrive at some equation, some increasing approximation of the values of human life with the eternal and the divine values.
  • Thirdly, it does not mean the exclusion of anything whatsoever from our scope, of any of the great aims of human life, any of the great problems of our modern world, any form of human activity, any general or inherent impulse or characteristic means of the desire of the soul of man for development, expansion, increasing vigour and joy, light, power, perfection. Therefore spirituality will not belittle the mind, life or body or hold them of small account: it will rather hold them of high account, of immense importance, precisely because they are the conditions and instruments of the life of the spirit in man. Necessarily  we would like modern India to seek the same end in new ways under the vivid impulse of fresh and large ideas and by an instrumentality suited to more complex conditions; but the scope of her effort and action and the suppleness and variety of her mind will not be less, but greater than of old.

Spirituality is not necessarily exclusive; it can be and in its fullness must be all-inclusive.

What then is the place of political and social and economic development from this point of view.

Politics, Society and Economics

In the first form of human life, politics, society, and economy are simply and arrangement by which men collectively can live, produce, satisfy their desires, and enjoy life and progress in bodily, vital and mental efficiency.

But the spiritual aim makes them much more than this. It makes them:

  • First, a framework of life within which man can seek for and grow into his real self and divinity,
  • Secondly, an increasing embodiment of the divine law of being in life,
  • Thirdly, a collective advance towards the light, power, peace, unity, harmony of the diviner nature of humanity which the race is trying to evolve.
  • This and nothing less, this in all its potentialities, is what we mean by a spiritual culture and the application of spirituality to life.

The application of these aims will mean a radical change in our attitude to life. The commercial and materialistic aims of society and the nation will have to be replaced by the higher spiritual aims. Evidently this is a task of no mean order and to expect the whole nation to move in this direction is like asking for the moon – it is just not possible. But it should be possible that a small section of the Indian nation, the elite of Indian society from all walks of life, including the political class, the administration, the judiciary and all others who have a stake in the development of the nation should be able to grow into this attitude and show it in their life style as a living example for others to emulate.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in one of his articles:

“What  is  needed now is a band of spiritual  workers  whose tapasya will be devoted to the liberation of India for the  service of humanity. We need an institution in which under  the guidance  of  highly spiritual men workers will  be  trained  for every field,  workers for self-defence, workers for  arbitration, for  sanitation,  for famine relief,  for every species  of  work which  is needed to bring about the necessary conditions for  the          organisation  of  Swaraj. If the country is to be free, it must first organise itself so as to be able to maintain its freedom.  The winning of freedom is an easy task; the keeping of it is less easy.

Similarly, the Mother had stated in 1954, that there has to be a group which could manifest the Divine will. She writes:

“There must be a group forming a strong body of cohesive will with the spiritual knowledge to save India and the world. It is India that can bring Truth in the world. By manifestation of the Divine Will and Power alone, India can preach her message to the world and not by imitating the materialism of the West. By following the Divine Will India shall shine at the top of the spiritual mountain and show the way of Truth and organize world unity”.

February 1954

Today, there are in India a large number of idealistic youth who have formed groups and are trying to bring in a different atmosphere based on a sincere and deep national feeling. It would be a great step forward if all these groups could pool their resources and work together. They should accept the spiritual ideal and move in this direction and that by itself will make an impact on the polity of the nation.

However, it will be far more effective immediately if a section of the political class accepted this ideal and put it into practice. It will indeed be a great day for the nation when the Prime Minister, the leaders of all the parties and important dignitaries who are the decision makers can state loud and clear that their only aim in life is to manifest the Divine and work for it in their own ways and in their own areas. That, by itself, will mark a turning point in the history of India.

The Union of Parties

The next question is:  how do we bring about a system where there is a union of parties?

The union of parties can come about only by moving towards the spiritual ideal, where the national interest is paramount, and not the party interest, local interest or self-interest.  India will have thus to evolve its own political system.

The paradigms of the party system

The present party system that we have borrowed from the West is based on two fundamental assumptions.

The first assumption is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore there has to be a constant vigil on the ruling power and the way to do that is by creating an opposition party.

The second assumption is that each political party represents an ideology. An ideology is in this view a mental principle arrived at by the process of a rational and scientific study. We have thus in the economic and political fields, the ideologies of Democracy and Socialism, Public sector and Private sector, Globalisation and Swadeshi and so on. All these ideologies are pitted as representing opposing viewpoints and one has to choose between them.

Let us briefly analyse these two basic assumptions.

There is no doubt that in the present state of human consciousness power does corrupt and that consequently checks and balances have to be constantly kept in place. This has resulted in the creation of an opposition with the aim of keeping a constant vigil on the ruling party. But unfortunately this has been carried to the point where opposition is made for the sake of opposition and the consequence of this is that the party has become more important than the nation. This is visible in the political life of almost all nations and more so in India. It is therefore indispensable that, while admitting the need of an opposition, an element of harmony leading to consensus is brought into the political system. The present system that encourages vote bank politics has to be replaced by a system, which reflects the national aspiration. This is of great importance and it is imperative and urgent that political parties come together to work out a solution.

The second principle, which is based on the assumption that the mind and reason can give us the whole of Truth is an error and yet contains a truth. 

Indian culture and psychology have always known that although the mind and reason are powerful and useful instruments of knowledge, they cannot arrive at the whole of Truth. The reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can neither get to the root of things nor embrace the totality of their secrets; it deals with the finite, the separate, the limited aggregate, and has no measure for the all and the infinite. But at the same time it is evident that the reason does give us one aspect of the Truth. Each system or ideology represents one aspect of the Truth, but not the whole Truth. Therefore insisting on one side of the Truth does not help a nation or society to progress. On the contrary, it is only in the harmonious blending of opposites that any true progress can take place. There has to be an attempt to synthesise these apparently opposite ideas. Freedom and discipline are not contrary ideas; rather both of them are needed for the progress of a society and nation. In the same way we can see that democracy and socialism, globalization and Swadeshi, development and ecology have to be synthesized and harmonized. In fact, one might say that the art of life and in particular of political life lies in harmonizing opposites.

All these issued are reflected in the manifestos of political parties. Unfortunately, the mind being what it is, the natural tendency is to stress on one of these ideas at the cost of the other. But life cannot be based on one idea alone; each idea has to be given its due importance and place. As a result of the party system and the natural stress on one idea almost exclusively, there comes in the natural principle of compensating reactions. The law of action and reaction, which is valid in physical Science, is in human action, which always depends largely on psychological forces, a more constant and pervading truth. That in life to every pressure of active forces there is a tendency of reaction of opposite or variative forces which may not immediately operate but must eventually come into the field or which may not act with an equal and entirely compensating force, but must act with some force of compensation, may be taken as well established. It is both a philosophical necessity and a constant fact of experience. For Nature always works by a balancing system of the interplay of opposite forces. When she has insisted for some time on the dominant force of one tendency as against all others, she seeks to correct its exaggerations by reviving, if dead, or newly awakening, if only in slumber, or bringing into the field in a new and modified form the tendency that is exactly opposite. After long insistence on centralisation, she tries to modify it by at least a subordinated decentralisation. After insisting on more and more uniformity, she calls again into play the spirit of multiform variation. The result need not be an equipollence of the two tendencies; it may be any kind of compromise. Or, instead of a compromise it may be in act a fusion and in result a new creation, which shall be a compound of both principles. This is visible in the political history of independent India. Without elaborating in any detail, the change of governments in the last three decades testifies to this truth and law of action and reaction.

Much worse is the blatant misuse of the leaders of the parties to promote their party interests in the garb of ideology in the most shameless manner at the cost of the national interest. All the most specious arguments are used to justify their own positions and the more intelligent one is, the more blatant is the misuse of their reason. The only way to get rid of this disease is to create a system where there will be a national government.

The need of a national government

One might therefore reasonably conclude that it is only by the harmonizing of all these apparently opposite viewpoints that one can arrive at a settled and secure national growth and development. The political system must reflect this vision of things and only then can we move on a sound and stable curve of progress and fulfillment. Probably, Nature herself is pushing India in this direction by the formation of coalition governments at the Centre. Let us therefore collaborate with Nature and move ultimately towards a national government, which will inevitably create a harmonious synthesis of ideas overriding all narrow political interests.

Some suggestions for putting this into practice are being given here.

  • It is most urgent and imperative that the whole population should be given a sound educational basis; otherwise the democratic process will not function properly. Universal education must be a priority. It must be also noted that a rational development is in the mass the first step to a higher spiritual growth.
  • In the present system the Prime Minister is elected by the party winning the largest number of seats. It is suggested that the Prime Minister should be elected by all the members of the Parliament and not by the majority party.
  • The Ministry should be formed by the Prime Minister and should include members of all parties having more than 20% of the electoral vote. That might mean a Ministry made up of two or three parties. It will be the first step in the union of parties.
  • The method of proportional representation should be introduced in the electoral system
  • A far greater decentralisation of power giving much more autonomy to the States should be seriously considered. This should be discussed in some detail by the political parties and States. As a first step the Panchayats should be empowered. Sri Aurobindo writes: Nowadays people want the modern type of democracy—the parliamentary form of government. The parliamentary system is doomed. We should begin with the old Panchayat system in the villages and then work up to the top. The Panchayat system and the guilds are more representative and they have a living contact with people; they are part of the people’s ideas. On the contrary, the parliamentary system with local bodies—the municipal councils—is not workable: these councils have no living contact with the people; the councillors make only platform speeches and nobody knows what they do for three or four years; at the end they reshuffle and rearrange the whole thing, making their own pile during their period of power”.( Feb 2 1939)

Here is  another quote from Venkatesh to illustrate this point:

The solution to this over- centralization of power lies in thinking beyond the current template. This can be done through a grand design of involving the Panchayathi Raj Institutions (PRIs) as a delivery mechanism. Unfortunately, PRIs are largely ornamental pieces of legislation in an otherwise sublime Constitution. We need to leverage these institutions and churn the system so as to make the development projects the responsibility of these local bodies and ‘un-bundle’ the State and central governments of the same.

Unfortunately, under the present three-tiered Constitution, responsibilities are mostly vested with the Central or the State or both, with very little functional mandate extended to the third tier, viz., the PRIs.

The spirit of Part IX of the Constitution, which deals with the PRIs, goes beyond the concept of political empowerment. It is a majestic idea towards self-governance. By design it is the State (hence eminently suited for the purpose) in all its majestic manifestation but with a vital difference — by its very design it will be ‘participatory,’ especially in a country like India.

The time for unleashing the power of the idea of PRIs has come. It has to be noted such an empowerment of the PRIs must include direct fund transfer by both the State and the central governments — of all possible developmental programmes.

Importantly, the crucial role of developmental process must be piloted by the PRIs. Naturally, it would at once trigger a movement for grassroots democracy and with it developmental economics to flourish.

Our resistance to change and vested interests that feed on the extant system mean that the PRIs are essentially non-starters even after two decades since their introduction in the statute book.

It has to be noted that the ideas as suggested above, though illustrative, could well trigger a massive movement as the programmes are meaningfully under the control of the intended beneficiaries. One sincerely believes that this is the only way out to deal with imperial demand of India’s social sector. Else Winston Churchill will continue to chuckle.

It would be well to remember that in India the one principle permanent in the political system was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom. We should try to reproduce this in modern India.

  • Probably the most important suggestion is that there should be a group of persons in Parliament itself who will come together and state clearly that their allegiance is only to the nation and not to any party. It will be good if they contest the elections on a non party plank with national interest as their sole ideology.
  • A very important step in governance is transparency. A step in this direction has been taken by passing the Right to Information Act. This must be carried to its logical conclusion. This will reduce corruption to a great extent.
  • Serious thought must be given to changing the present Parliamentary system to the Presidential system. A national dialogue should be initiated. Probably, in the Indian context, the Republican system or Presidential form of government will be better. In fact, in ancient India there are many instances of this form of government being practised.
  • In one of his conversations Sri Aurobindo said: “The old Indian system grew out of life, it had room for everything and every interest. There were monarchy, aristocracy, democracy; every interest was represented in the government. While in Europe the Western system grew out of the mind: they are led by reason and want to make everything cut and dried without any chance of freedom or variation. If it is democracy, then democracy only—no room for anything else. They cannot be plastic. India is now trying to imitate the West. Parliamentary government is not suited to India. But we always take up what the West has thrown off….When Sri Aurobindo was asked: What is your idea of an ideal government for India? Sri Aurobindo replied:  My idea is like what Tagore once wrote. 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”. (Dec 27 1938)

It is our hope that all political parties will make a sincere attempt to realise these ideals and evolve a system suitable to the genius of India.

One point needs to be emphasised strongly and remembered constantly. It is that all these suggestions and proposals that have been made deal with changes in the system and are therefore external in their nature. But spirituality is by its very nature inward and demands a change of attitude in the psychological being. But it is hoped that with this system the legislators will be compelled to work together and as a natural consequence will gradually learn to work together. In this case we are proceeding from the outer to the inner. However, it is evident that whatever the value of the system and however one might fine-tune it or refine it, ultimately it is the psychological change that is needed. Without this inner change, any system can be exploited for narrow and selfish ends. It is also evident that one cannot expect this change from the mass or even from a large number of persons immediately; but the elite of the nation and especially those who are in power and who are the decision makers must rise up to this level and standard.

As an intermediary step before attempting the spiritualization of the collective life of man, it is indispensable to take into account the ancient Indian ideal of the Dharma. The Indian concept of life was that spirituality is only the last step in the psychological evolution of man. They knew that the initial movement of life is that form of it which develops the powers of the natural ego in man; self-interest and hedonistic desire are the original human motives,—kama, artha. Indian culture gave a large recognition to this primary turn of our nature. These powers have to be accepted and put in order; for the natural ego-life must be lived and the forces it evolves in the human being must be brought to fullness. But this element must be kept from making any too unbridled claim or heading furiously towards its satisfaction; only so can it get its full results without disaster and only so can it be inspired eventually to go beyond itself and turn in the end to a greater spiritual Good and Bliss. An internal or external anarchy cannot be the rule; a life governed in any absolute or excessive degree by self-will, passion, sense-attraction, self-interest and desire cannot be the natural whole of a human or a humane existence; this is the first truth that the political class must become aware of.

Next, they must become aware that different types of men cannot have the same law. The man of knowledge, the man of power, the productive and acquisitive man, the priest, scholar, poet, artist, ruler, fighter, trader, tiller of the soil, craftsman, labourer, servant cannot usefully have the same training, cannot be shaped in the same pattern, cannot all follow the same way of living. All ought not to be put under the same tables of the law; for that would be a senseless geometric rigidity that would spoil the plastic truth of life. Each has his type of nature and there must be a rule for the perfection of that type; each has his own proper function and there must be a canon and ideal for the function they have to perform. There must be in all things some wise and understanding standard of practice and idea of perfection and living rule,—that is the one thing needful for the Dharma. A lawless impulsion of desire and interest and propensity cannot be allowed to lead human conduct; even in the frankest following of desire and interest and propensity there must be a governing and restraining and directing line, and guidance. There must be an ethic or a science, a restraint as well as a scope arising from the truth of the thing sought, a standard of perfection, an order.

If this much is practiced with sincerity and steadfastness by the legislators and the political class in general, the nation will be ready for the next stage of evolution – the governing of collective life by the principle of spirituality.

It is only on this basis that the beginning of a true development and unity of India can be brought about.

It is therefore necessary to start making the necessary corrections.

However, it is our firm belief and conviction that whatever our human shortcomings, India will finally and definitely rise to the height of its mission. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “For this thing is written in the book of God and nothing can prevent it, that the national life of India shall meet and possess its divine and mighty destiny”.

 

 

M.V. Kamath from The Organiser April 1 2007

Chidambaram from the Hindu April 2 2007

M.R. Venkatesh from Rediff.com April 11 2007

There must be a group CWM Vol 13 p 361

The Indian  system : Talks with Sri Aurobindo Nirodbaran Vol 1 p65

Nowdays people want: February 2 1939.

AT&C  Aggregate technical and commercial losses

What in needed now: CWSA Vol 7 P 939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new political system for India

Introduction

On the 15th August 1947, India attained its independence from British rule and Sri Aurobindo was requested to give a message on that occasion. Here is an extract from the message:

I have been asked for a message on this great occasion, but I am perhaps hardly in a position to give one. All I can do is to make a personal declaration of the aims and ideals conceived in my childhood and youth and now watched in their beginning of fulfilment, because they are relevant to the freedom of India, since they are a part of what I believe to be India’s future work, something in which she cannot but take a leading position. For I have always held and said that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power and prosperity, – though these too she must not neglect, – and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other people, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race. (SABCL VOL 26 P401)

Sri Aurobindo worked actively in the political field for the freedom of India and for awakening her to her mission of leading the world towards spirituality. His political career was short – only four years from 1906 to 1910. But the Indian nation was always in his consciousness and he strove to raise it to its highest destiny. In the words of the Mother: “Sri Aurobindo always loved deeply his Motherland. But he wished her to be great, noble, pure and worthy of her big mission in the world. He refused to let her sink to the sordid and vulgar level of blind self-interests and ignorant prejudices”. (CWM VOL13  25 April 1954vol13)

Sri Aurobindo retired from active political life in 1910. But this did not mean, as it was then supposed, that he had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any further interest in the world or in the fate of India. It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning.

Consequently even in his retirement, Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action.

The Mother too kept a close watch on developments in India and openly intervened now and then; at other times she sent messages to Indian leaders or sent answers to disciples on questions relating to India.

In 1970, Mother made some observations. We are quoting some portions of those remarks:

What must be done to pull the country out of its difficulty? Sri Aurobindo has foreseen all the troubles and he has given the solution. Just now we are approaching his Centenary; it seems arranged, you know, divinely arranged, because this would be a wonderful occasion to spread his teaching all over the country: the teaching, the practical teaching, his teaching about India, how to organise India, the mission of India.

And it is only this that gives a clue to all these difficulties. About all that has happened and all that is happening now, he has said clearly that to go back to it is useless. We must give the country its true position, that is, the position of relying on the Divine. And this is above politics, you see. It is above all politics. It is to organise the country beyond politics. And it is the only way. In politics it is always fight and ugly fight—ugly.

And it has become so bad. He was telling me always that things would become worse and worse, because it is the end of this age. We are entering into an age where things must be organised differently. It is a difficult time because of that. Because we know what will come, we can help to make it come sooner and with less turmoil. There is no hope in going backwards; it would make things last endlessly. We must go forward, absolutely, and go beyond, beyond party. And nobody can explain that better than Sri Aurobindo, because he was so much, so much beyond party; he saw the advantages and disadvantages of all parties and he stated them exactly. If you read carefully what he has written—so much—you will find the answer to all these questions. And at the same time you will know that you will have the full support of the Divine Power. The Power that was behind him is behind this transformation. It is time for transformation. We can’t cling to the past.

The best way to go beyond politics is to spread the message of Sri Aurobindo. Because he is no more a political element wanting to take power; there are only his ideas and ideals. And, of course, if people could understand and realise his programme, the country could be very strong, very strong. 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!

In the following articles, we are making an attempt to study some of the problems which India is facing today and suggest solutions in the light of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.

The present state of India

It is 60 years since India attained its independence. It will be useful and instructive to do some stock taking and see what India has achieved in these six decades and then to see what more needs to be done.

Let us start with the positive elements.

Soon after attaining independence, India gave herself a constitution and became a democratic and socialistic Republic. India became formally a Republic on 26 January 1950 and has since been governed by its Constitution. This   was indeed a great achievement more particularly when one looks at some of the countries in our neighbourhood and even around the world. For it established a system of governance, a sound legal system and a fairly sound basis for a democratic socialistic society where elections were held regularly and the popular mandate was respected.

We may thus say that the democratic system has been fully established and accepted as an indispensable part of Indian political life; undoubtedly there are some serious shortcomings and these need to be corrected sooner or later. But the very fact that democracy has become an integral part of Indian political life is a positive and great gain. There are sometimes doubts cast on this system suggesting that a dictatorial system – often referred to as enlightened dictatorship – would have served India better. This proposition is doubtful although one can admit its necessity in certain exceptional circumstances. On the whole however, a democratic system is always more desirable. The justification for this can be found in the following statements of Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo writes in the Human Cycle:

Man needs freedom of thought and life and action in order that he may grow, otherwise he will remain fixed where he was, a stunted and static being. If his individual mind and reason are ill-developed, he may consent to grow, as does the infrarational mind, in the group-soul, in the herd, in the mass, with that subtle half-conscient general evolution common to all in the lower process of Nature. As he develops individual reason and will, he needs and society must give him room for an increasing play of individual freedom and variation, at least so far as that does not develop itself to the avoidable harm of others and of society as a whole.( CWSA-VOL 25 p211.)

Similarly in the first decade of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Bandemataram:

“Socialistic Democracy is the only true democracy for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distributions of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development”.

Along with this democratic structure we have adopted, India has taken great strides in many other areas.

A strong industrial base has been developed.

Agriculture production has increased greatly and we have become more or less self sufficient in food production.

In the economic field there is great progress and India is being viewed as one of the super powers in the next few decades.

In the scientific and technological fields, India ranks among the leading powers whether it is in space research, bio-technology or information technology.

Even in education, we have made great strides with an educated population of over 150 million Indians.

India has become the third largest reservoir of skilled scientific and technical manpower, the fifth military power, the sixth member of the nuclear club, seventh in the race for space and the 10th industrial power.

Consequently, India’s voice is being heard today on the international plane with respect. That s a great gain and portends well for the future.

Despite all these positive factors, there are whole areas in which there is a lot to be disturbed about; consequently there is a great deal of despondency in the country. Many intelligent observers are wondering as to where we are going and sometimes the question is even asked whether India as a nation will remain united and survive. In this context, I am paraphrasing portions of an article written by Aparajita Mehta: She writes: “Numerous technological, scientific and other significant achievements have definitely taken place in our country. From automobiles, to satellites and to computers and the internet, the list is endless and deserves praise. But will computers alone, however sophisticated and all embracing, bring about the desired multisided revolution that is envisaged in the next decade or two? She moves on to point out some of the serious shortcomings in India today.

“With several antinational and secessionist trends gaining strength, India has in recent years, developed several fissures and fractures, some of them highly disconcerting in character. The hope of reversing these negative trends is vanishing and the prospects for the future seem disheartening. Must India break up into splinters and fragments?

There are more fractures in Indian society today, than bonds of unity; there are more splits and discords than wholesome fraternal bonds and accords. Communal wrangling continues to persist, despite all the tall talk of cohesion. Behind the dazzle and display of prosperity, lie the fears, miseries and deprivations of millions.

Since independence, much of our social structure has been torn by hatred, tensions and inter-caste rivalry; and this is not all! India’s vast area, illiteracy and the massive burgeoning population is one big cause for alarm. Clashes over religion are prevalent. Corruption is reigning in every field of national activity. Sincerity, honesty and the true spirit of service, which can help check these negative trends, are not much in evidence. Politics at the state and national level, is fast losing it’s motto of “patriotism and duty.”

Today, the image of the political class in India is very poor; even the present Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, had this to say recently: “the images of “intrigue, venality, disorder and anarchy” held by people about politicians needed to be corrected urgently”.

Here is another extract from an article by M.R. Venkatesh.  He starts his article with a quote from Winston Churchill:

“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw.” Winston Churchill on the eve of Indian Independence.

Sometimes facts speak louder than comments. The following are some extracts from the Approach Paper to the 11th Five-Year Plan, prepared and published by the Planning Commission last year.

Coming from the highest echelons of the government, these remain an authentic and a grim reminder of what has gone wrong since Independence. Consider these dismal facts from this document of the Planning Commission:

  • Official poverty stands at 28 per cent. Significantly, one has to appreciate that the current definition of poverty is hopelessly inadequate. It is defined on the premise of whether a person can afford to consume 2,400 calories of food in rural India or 2,100 calories of food in urban India per day. Naturally, this limited definition ignores the other bare minimum necessities required for a decent living. Obviously, if one were to consider a more realistically defined poverty line, based on the basic needs for a decent living, the number of poor in India could be far more than the officially stated figure of 30 crore (300 million).
  • The abhorrent practice of manual scavenging continues even today.
  • Quality of education and curative health services are beyond the reach of the common man and those provided by the private sector are costly and of variable quality.
  • A major institutional challenge is that even where service providers exist, the quality of delivery is poor and those responsible for delivering the services cannot be held accountable.
  • In the health and education systems, there is a large number of staff vacancies that have not been filled up due to resource constraints.
  • The cost of displacements of our tribal population is high and the compensation tardy and inadequate.
  • Corruption is now seen to be endemic in all spheres and this problem needs to be addressed urgently.
  • The legal system in India is respected for its independence and fairness but it suffers from notorious delays in dispensing justice. Delays result in denial of justice.
  • Literacy rate is still below 70 per cent.
  • The most difficult task is to ensure good quality of instruction and the position in this respect is disturbing. A recent study found that 38 per cent of the children who have completed four years of schooling cannot read a small paragraph with short sentences meant to be read by a student of class 2. About 55 per cent of such children cannot divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number.
  • Drop out rate in primary schools for the country as a whole was at a staggering 31 per cent in 2003-04.
  • While some of our institutions of higher education compare well with the best in the world, the average standard is much lower.
  • India’s infant mortality rates, under-five mortality rates, maternal mortality rates and immunisation rates are higher than that of Sri Lanka, China and Vietnam.
  • The biggest constraint in achieving a faster growth of manufacturing is the fact that infrastructure — roads, railways, ports, airports, communication and electricity — is not up to the standards prevalent in our competitor countries.
  • Indian roads are very accident-prone and claim a large number of lives representing an enormous human and economic loss.
  • The Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) initiated in 2001 was expected to bring down AT&C losses to 15 per cent by the end of the Tenth Plan. In fact, the average for all states is closer to 40 per cent.
  •  

The net result is that today India languishes at the bottom half of the global Human Development Index (HDI) wedged between underdeveloped countries like Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Solomon Islands. Even countries endowed with lesser amount of natural resources and lower calibre of human capital have performed better, perhaps even miraculously. This has been largely due to effective, responsive and effective governance. India definitely deserves better.”

I have quoted these extracts just to highlight the sense of despondency that is prevalent and widespread among many serious political thinkers in India.

In sum, the problems facing India are:

  • A political system borrowed from the West which is hampering all progress and dividing the polity.
  • Serious anti-national and secessionist trends
  • A society deeply divided in the name of religion, caste and even gender
  • Corruption at all levels and particularly at the higher political levels; India ranks high among the corrupt nations.
  • An absence of national feeling leading to regionalism and parochialism where local interest becomes more important than the national interest.
  • The enormous gap between the rich and the poor despite a vigorous economic growth.
  • The dangers emanating from our neighbourhood, where most of the nations are facing serious tensions and seem to be heading towards being called “failed States”.
  • The shortcomings in the educational system both in quality and quantity and its failure to uplift the nation as a whole.

We shall now try to see where the root causes for this situation lie. For, it is only after finding out the causes that we can think of applying the remedy.

Viewed from the point of view of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the root of the problem is as follows:

  • The first cause is the adoption of the present political system
  • The second cause is the acceptance of the Partition of India as final and not merely as a temporary aberration and an accident of history.

There are undoubtedly other causes, but these two are the primary causes.

.We shall start with the first problem, that is to say the political system.

The political system in India

The first and most pressing problem that the nation is facing today lies in the constitution and consequently the political system that we have adopted. In this article we shall try to analyse the political system and suggest some remedies, both short term and long term.

The political system that we have adopted in India is basically the modern version of Democratic Socialism; it has been developed first in the western nations more particularly in Great Britain and has been adopted with some variations in almost all the countries of the world. It should however be noted that democracy is not something new to India. History shows us that ancient India had a vigorous democratic system. Indeed there was a strong democratic element and even institutions that present a certain analogy to the parliamentary form; but in reality these features were of India’s own kind and not at all the same things as modern parliaments and modern democracy. It did not in any way resemble the scrambling and burdensome parliamentary organization of the party system and veiled oligarchy, which is what the modern period truly represents.

The one principle permanent in ancient   Indian polity was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom.

However that be, our present political system has been mainly taken from the British system, the Parliamentary form of government.

Individualist Democracy in the light of Sri Aurobindo

Since we have taken our political system mainly from the British and other Western powers, it will be necessary to understand the fundamental principles on which it was based and how it applies to the Indian nation.


The principles of Democracy in the modern world

The modern age of mankind may be characterised as an attempt to discover and work out the right principle and secure foundations of a rational system of society. It was in Great Britain that the first attempts on the social and political plane started and this led to the system of individualist democracy. This system developed naturally as a direct consequence of the Renaissance and the Reformation. In the period before the Renaissance and the Reformation, Faith and Religion were the chief pillars of society; but, as a consequence of these movements, Faith and Religion were dethroned and Reason was enthroned as the supreme instrument of knowledge. Modern democracy is founded upon a few basic assumptions. These may be summed up as:

  • The conviction that the highest instrument of knowledge at the disposal of man is Reason.
  • Human society can best progress and grow by the application of Reason to all the details of individual and collective life.
  • In the individual life of man, each one has the right to live his own life governed by his reason, as long as he respects the same right in all other individuals.
  • In the collective life of man, it is the collective reason that has to be applied.

Individualistic Democracy

The application of these principles created the modern political system of individualistic democracy, whether of the Parliamentary or the Presidential form. It was believed that with the application of Reason to human life, we would eventually arrive at a harmonious and ideal society.

However, in its application to society there was a shortfall in the expected results. The reasons were firstly, that a large number of individuals in the society had not yet developed their rational faculties and secondly that even those who had developed them did not generally use them for the search of truth; rather, reason was used more to justify the satisfaction of their interests, desires and preferences.

The inevitable corrective to this situation was the introduction of universal education; for if man was not by nature a rational being, he would by education become one. However, even after the introduction of universal education, a new problem has revealed itself. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:  “But here a new and enormous defect has revealed itself which is proving fatal to the social idea which engendered it. For given even perfect equality of educational and other opportunity,—and that does not yet really exist and cannot in the individualistic state of society,— to what purpose or in what manner is the opportunity likely to be used? Man, the half infrarational being, demands three things for his satisfaction, power, if he can have it, but at any rate the use and reward of his faculties and the enjoyment of his desires. In the old societies the possibility of these could be secured by him to a certain extent according to his birth, his fixed status and the use of his capacity within the limits of his hereditary status. That basis once removed and no proper substitute provided, the same ends can only be secured by success in a scramble for the one power left, the power of wealth. Accordingly, instead of a harmoniously ordered society there has been developed a huge organised competitive system, a frantically rapid and one-sided development of industrialism and, under the garb of democracy, an increasing plutocratic tendency that shocks by its ostentatious grossness and the magnitudes of its gulfs and distances. These have been the last results of the individualistic ideal and its democratic machinery, the initial bankruptcies of the rational age”.(CWSA VOL25 P199-200)

The Socialistic Principle

The natural corrective to this state of affairs was the introduction by Reason of the principle of Socialism. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, the aim and justification of Socialism is as follows: 

“Socialism sets out to replace a system of organised economic battle by an organised order and peace. This can no longer be done on the old lines,an artificial or inherited inequality brought about by the denial of equal opportunity and justified by the affirmation of that injustice and its result as an eternal law of society and of Nature. That is a falsehood which the reason of man will no longer permit. Neither can it be done, it seems, on the basis of individual liberty; for that has broken down in the practice. Socialism therefore must do away with the democratic basis of individual liberty, even if it professes to respect it or to be marching towards a more rational freedom. It shifts at first the fundamental emphasis to other ideas and fruits of the democratic ideal, and it leads by this transference of stress to a radical change in the basic principle of a rational society. Equality, not a political only, but a perfect social equality, is to be the basis. There is to be equality of opportunity for all, but also equality of status for all, for without the last the first cannot be secured; even if it were established, it could not endure. This equality again is impossible if personal, or at least inherited right in property is to exist, and therefore socialism abolishes —except at best on a small scale—the right of personal property as it is now understood and makes war on the hereditary principle. Who then is to possess the property? It can only be the community as a whole. And who is to administer it? Again, the community as a whole. In order to justify this idea, the socialistic principle has practically to deny the existence of the individual or his right to exist except as a member of the society and for its sake”. He belongs entirely to the society, not only his property, but himself, his labour, his capacities, the education it gives him and its results, his mind, his knowledge, his individual life, his family life, the life of his children. Moreover, since his individual reason cannot be trusted to work out naturally a right and rational adjustment of his life with the life of others, it is for the reason of the whole community to arrange that too for him. Not the reasoning minds and wills of the individuals, but the collective reasoning mind and will of the community has to govern. It is this which will determine not only the principles and all the details of the economic and political order, but the whole life of the community and of the individual as a working, thinking, feeling cell of this life, the development of his capacities, his actions, the use of the knowledge he has acquired, the whole ordering of his vital, his ethical, his intelligent being. For so only can the collective reason and intelligent will of the race overcome the egoism of individualistic life and bring about a perfect principle and rational order of society in a harmonious world”.(CWSA VOL25 P 200-201)

But even at its best the collectivist idea contains several fallacies inconsistent with the real facts of human life and nature. The central defect through which a socialistic State is bound to be convicted of insufficiency and condemned to pass away before the growth of a new ideal, lies in the pressure of the State organisation on the life of the individual; in fact many political commentators complain that it has reached a point at which it is ceasing to be tolerable.

Again in the words of Sri Aurobindo: “If it continues to be what it is now, a government of the life of the individual by the comparatively few and not, as it pretends, by a common will and reason, if, that is to say, it becomes patently undemocratic or remains pseudo-democratic, then it will be this falsity through which anarchistic thought will attack its existence.

But the innermost difficulty would not disappear even if the socialistic State became really democratic, really the expression of the free reasoned will of the majority in agreement. Any true development of that kind would be difficult indeed and has the appearance of a chimera: for collectivism pretends to regulate life not only in its few fundamental principles and its main lines, as every organised society must tend to do, but in its details, it aims at a thoroughgoing scientific regulation, and an agreement of the free reasoned will of millions in all the lines and most of the details of life is a contradiction in terms. Whatever the perfection of the organised State, the suppression or oppression of individual freedom by the will of the majority or of a minority would still be there as a cardinal defect vitiating its very principle. And there would be something infinitely worse. For a thoroughgoing scientific regulation of life can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing mechanisation of life. This tendency to mechanisation is the inherent defect of the State idea and its practice. Already that is the defect upon which both intellectual anarchistic thought and the insight of the spiritual thinker have begun to lay stress, and it must immensely increase as the State idea rounds itself into a greater completeness in practice. It is indeed the inherent defect of reason when it turns to govern life and labours by quelling its natural tendencies to put it into some kind of rational order”.

(CWSA VOL25  P 212-213 )

Modern India

In India the Central Government has not adopted the Socialistic system in its purity and entirety. However, in some States like West Bengal and Kerala where the Communists have been in power, a more or less complete Socialistic Government has been functioning.

The Central Government has pursued the middle path adopting the democratic socialist system.

While this seems to be the most rational way, there is today in India a great deal of dissatisfaction with the present political system. Many political commentators are wondering whether a change in the system is necessary and even inevitable.

“And just as the idea of individualistic democracy found itself before long in difficulties on that account because of the disparity between life’s facts and the mind’s idea, difficulties that have led up to its discredit and approaching overthrow, the idea of collectivist democracy too may well find itself before long in difficulties that must lead to its discredit and eventual replacement by a third stage of the inevitable progression. Liberty protected by a State in which all are politically equal, was the idea that individualistic democracy attempted to elaborate. Equality, social and political equality enforced through a perfect and careful order by a State which is the organised will of the whole community, is the idea on which socialistic democracy stakes its future.

If that too fails to make good, the rational and democratic Idea may fall back upon a third form of society founding an essential rather than formal liberty and equality upon fraternal comradeship in a free community, the ideal of intellectual as of spiritual Anarchism”. (CWSA VOL25  P 202-203)

Before we proceed further, let us see what are the gains the democratic system that we have adopted in India.

 

The Gains of the Democratic System

Let us now see what the gains of the parliamentary system in India are. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

“Parliamentarism, the invention of the English political genius, is a necessary stage in the evolution of democracy, for without it the generalised faculty of considering and managing with the least possible friction large problems of politics, administration, economics, legislation concerning considerable aggregates of men cannot easily be developed. It has also been the one successful means yet discovered of preventing the State executive from suppressing the liberties of the individual and the nation. “ (VOL 25 CWSA P472-473)

 The other gain of modern democracy is a full freedom of speech and thought. And as long as this freedom endures, the fear of a static and unprogressive condition of humanity and subsequent stagnation seems to be groundless,— especially when it is accompanied by universal education which provides the largest possible human field for producing an effectuating force. Freedom of thought and speech—the two necessarily go together, since there can be no real freedom of thought where a padlock is put upon freedom of speech—is not indeed complete without freedom of association; for free speech means free propagandism and propagandism only becomes effective by association for the realisation of its objects. This third liberty also exists with more or less of qualifying limitations or prudent safeguards in all democratic States including India.

The limitations of the democratic system

The dissatisfaction with the present democratic system is raising some questions. These may be summed up as follows:

Is the present democratic system truly democratic?

Is there not the danger of constant instability in the present form of Government?

A third point that is constantly raised in the Parliamentary form of government is the very slow process of decision making which accords ill with the need of efficient government. And so far, it has not yet been found possible to combine the parliamentary system and the modern trend towards a more democratic democracy; it has been always an instrument either of a modified aristocratic or of a middle-class rule. Besides, its method involves an immense waste of time and energy and a confused, swaying and uncertain action that “muddles out” in the end some tolerable result. This method is contrary to the more stringent ideas of efficient government and administration that are now growing in force and necessity and it might be fatal to efficiency in anything so complicated as the management of the affairs of such a large country as India.  To illustrate this point, here is an extract from a news item: 

“Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has decried the “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” having innumerable checks and balances that often “paralysed decision-making,” leading the country to accept “sub-optimal solutions” with enormous costs in terms of time and money in implementing a programme. Pointing out that China owed its progress to its “one country, two systems” theory, he regretted that India followed “one country, one system and as many interpretations as there are political parties.” This “Indian brand of deliberative democracy” must change and the time had come when, in the case of development programmes, the country, after due deliberations, must adopt a system and work it to the best advantage of the people, eschewing conflicting interpretations”.

Again, Parliamentarism means too, in practice, the rule and often the tyranny of a majority, even of a very small majority, and the modern mind attaches increasing importance to the rights of minorities.

Finally, the party system is creating great obstacles to the development and growth of India.

As a matter of fact the sole democratic elements today are, public opinion, expressed through the media or through public agitations, periodical elections and the power of the people to refuse re-election to those who have displeased it. The government is really in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the professional and business men, the landholders, —where such a class still exists,—strengthened by a number of new arrivals from the working-class who very soon assimilate themselves to the political temperament and ideas of the governing classes”.

In a comment on democracy, Sri Aurobindo writes:

Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government march steadily towards such an organised annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems. It may be that from the more violent and brutal forms of despotic oppression which were associated with those systems, democracy has indeed delivered those nations which have been fortunate enough to achieve liberal forms of government, and that is no doubt a great gain.

It revives now only in periods of revolution and excitement, often in the form of mob tyranny or a savage revolutionary or reactionary repression. But there is a deprivation of liberty which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading. The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar phrase and its deadening effects have been depicted with a great force of resentment by certain of the modern intellectuals;  but what the future promises us is something more formidable still, the tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units.(VOL 25 CWSA P 508)

In this context, we are quoting some extracts from a very insightful article written by Dr. Sajitha Bashir. She writes:

The only logical political power that the people are given in all these countries is the right to vote and hence formally speaking, the power to elect a government of their choice. How even this power is circumscribed by the electoral mechanism and the political process in which political parties play a dominant role in the choice of candidates will be examined later. The main issue at stake is that beyond the right to vote that is given to them every few years, there is no other constitutional power that the people enjoy in terms of the governance of their society once they have voted, they surrender all their powers to the elected representatives. Thereafter, they are effectively forbidden by law to participate in the governing of society. Political power formally derives from the people but in practice vests in Parliament, and in a much smaller group of people called the Cabinet. What is meant by popular sovereignty in a parliamentary democracy is, in fact, the sovereignty of the legislature. At all times, except at the instant of casting a vote, political power is actually wielded by the representatives of the people, with the people themselves being only the subjects of the rulers.

In the course of the development of parliamentary democracies, even the sovereignty of Parliament, or of the elected representatives, has been eroded and today the real sovereign power is vested in the government of the day. The emergence of the party form of  government and its concomitant, the modern system of cabinet government, has meant that after the elections, the party with the majority of seats in parliament virtually controls the entire legislative and executive authority of the state The role of parliament from one of acting as the tribunal of the people with the role of controlling the executive and removing it in cases of abuse of power, has been reduced to one of ventilating grievances and airing opinions or as in our country offering some vulgar entertainment to the populace. The original power of parliament as the initiator of legislation and control over the executive has been all but eliminated. Today, it is common practice for the government of the day to initiate all legislation. Further, the executive is in practice not bound by Parliament, let alone by the electorate, for as long as it commands a majority of’ votes in Parliament either through party mechanisms or through the medium of money power, its position is unassailable.

All this only goes to show that the modern democratic system, despite all appearances, is hardly democratic and is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. The question naturally arises: How do we make the democratic system truly representative of the people and their aspirations?

Since the democratic system is based on the governing of life by Reason, it follows that only when the population has more or less developed the power of Reasoning, can it be truly effective. As of now, a very large section of the people have not yet developed this faculty as they have not been given sufficient opportunities to get educated. The first step therefore is to provide universal education which will lead to a rational education.

The tremendous importance of the power of thinking was underlined by Sri   Aurobindo in a letter written in 1920. This is what he wrote:

“It is my belief that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or religion, but a diminution of the power of thought, the spread of ignorance in the birthplace of knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think – incapacity of thought or thought phobia. This may have been alright in the medieval period, but now this is the sign of a great decline. The medieval period was a night, the day of victory for the man of ignorance; in the modern world it is the time of victory for the man of knowledge. He who can delve into and learn the truth about the world by thinking more, searching more, labouring more, gains more power”.(translated from original Bengali in A&R April 1980 p1-10).

But there arises another problem. Even in those who are getting a sound and good rational education, there is a glaring deficiency. For what after all is a rational education? Sri Aurobindo writes:

But a rational education means necessarily three things, first, to teach men how to observe and know rightly the facts on which they have to form a judgment; secondly, to train them to think fruitfully and soundly; thirdly, to fit them to use their knowledge and their thought effectively for their own and the common good. Capacity of observation and knowledge, capacity of intelligence and judgment, capacity of action and high character are required for the citizenship of a rational order of society; a general deficiency in any of these difficult requisites is a sure source of failure. Unfortunately,—even if we suppose that any training made available to the millions can ever be of this rare character,—the actual education given in the most advanced countries has not had the least relation to these necessities”.(CWSA VOL 25 P198)

The Parliamentary debates today are very illustrative of this shortcoming. We see clearly how the power of Reason is being used only for narrow party interests even at the cost of national interest and worse still even of Truth. The political class seems to be only interested in their smaller goals most often at the cost of the nation. Much worse they take full advantage of the simplicity and gullibility of the ordinary people who have not yet developed their power of reasoned understanding. Sri Aurobindo describing the modern politician writes: “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”.(CWSA VOL 25 P 299)

 In a book written by  G.S. Bhargava, titled Star Crossed India: Let Down by Leadership, the author points out the failure of the political class right from 1970 onwards. Reviewing this book M.V. Kamath writes:

Reading this book is like re-living the history of India from 1970 onwards in all its foul details, the chicanery of politicians, the various riots and the pig-headedness of petty politicians. Bhargava’s contention is that “India is star-crossed because its leaders undoubtedly great and promising individually, repeatedly failed the people…turning out to be persons with clay feet”.

The Party system

India adopted the system of democratic socialism immediately after attaining independence. For the first few decades after independence, it seemed to be working reasonably well; the Congress Party won a two- thirds majority in the first few elections and consequently there was political stability.  But with the maturing of Indian democracy, many other parties have come up and today it seems that there is no chance of a single- party majority in the near future. All signs point to an era of coalition governments. As of now it is affecting the stability of the political system. Therefore many political observers feel that it is necessary to have a two party system or at the most three or four recognized national political parties. In their opinion, all other regional parties or smaller parties should not be allowed to contest the national election. While appreciating the intention behind these proposals, it seems to be an ill judged endeavour which is not likely to succeed. For this goes against the very grain of the Indian temperament. The Indian subcontinent which is so vast has such a tremendous diversity in every detail that it is almost impossible to have a unified system political, economic or cultural. There will inevitably be parties with differing perceptions which will not only play a role in their states, but also would like to be heard in the national arena. We have therefore to find another solution which respects the Indian temperament of unity in diversity and yet ensures political stability.

More important, the party system is proving to be very divisive and is hampering all development and growth.

To sum up, these are the deficiencies of the present Parliamentary democratic system being practiced in India.

  • As seen already, the democratic system can function only when the capacity and habit of reasoning becomes universal. Unfortunately, even today a very large number of Indians are lacking this faculty because of lack of educational opportunity. The consequence is that that a very large number of Indians are being taken for a ride and cheated by political parties by slogans and catchwords.
  • It is not truly democratic, for power rests in the hands of a very small number of persons who are in some way supposed to represent the people of India. The decision making process is in the hands of a small coterie. The present parliamentary system has in practice come to mean the rule and often the tyranny of a minority, even of a very small minority. Here is an extract from a speech in Parliament by    P.C. Alexnder,: “we may create an oligarchical system where a few people will be benefited while the integrity and strength of the country as a whole would have got eroded”.   
  • The party system is proving to be very divisive.
  • The parliamentary method is very slow and takes a very long time with all its inevitable consequences.
  • A habit of Machiavellian statecraft has replaced the nobler ethical ideals of the past; aggressive ambition is left without any sufficient spiritual or moral check and there seems to be a coarsening of the national mind in the ethics of politics and government. This tendency which manifested itself quite some time back was held in abeyance by a religious spirit and high intelligence, Dharma. It needs to be revived so that politics can be raised to a higher level.

 

 

 


The Solution

Where then is the solution? Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1914:

“Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatana Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force, which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajñanam [ignorance]. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong samskaras [imprints] and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force. Hence all that orgy of political oratory, democratic fervour, meetings, processions, passive resistance, all ending in bombs, revolvers and Coercion laws…. God has struck it all down, — Moderatism, the bastard child of English Liberalism; Nationalism, the mixed progeny of Europe and Asia; Terrorism, the abortive offspring of Bakunin and Mazzini…. It is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions.”[1]Archives and Research December 1977,p84)

Later, in another conversation dated 27 December 1938, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Parliamentary form of government:

“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)

On 6 October, 1969, the Mother gave a message to 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”.

 

Regarding the application of spiritual ideas to collective life in the past history of India and more particularly to political life, Sri Aurobindo writes:

“The spirit and ideals of our civilisation need no defence, for in their best parts and in their essence they were of eternal value. India’s internal and individual seeking of them was earnest, powerful, effective. But the application in the collective life of society was subjected to serious reserves. Never sufficiently bold and thoroughgoing, it became more and more limited and halting when the life-force declined in her peoples. This defect, this gulf between ideal and collective practice, has pursued all human living and was not peculiar to India; but the dissonance became especially marked with the lapse of time and it put at last on our society a growing stamp of weakness and failure. 

And now survival itself has become impossible without expansion. If we are to live at all, we must resume India’s great interrupted endeavour; we must take up boldly and execute thoroughly in the individual and in the society, in the spiritual and in the mundane life, in philosophy and religion, in art and literature, in thought, in political and economic and social formulation the full and unlimited sense of her highest spirit and knowledge. (VOL 20 CWSA P 91)

At the same time Sri Aurobindo points out the difficulty in the attempt to bring higher ideals in society and politics. He writes:

“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—subject to a necessary evolution first of his lower physical, vital and mental nature —as a frame and means for that discovery and for man’s ascent from the ignorant natural into the spiritual existence. This dominant idea India has never quite forgotten even under the stress and material exigencies and the externalities of political and social construction. But the difficulty of making the social life an expression of man’s true self and some highest realization of the spirit within him is immensely greater than that which attends a spiritual self-expression through the things of the mind, religion, thought, art, literature, and while in these India reached extraordinary heights and largenesses, 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. The coordination or true union of the collective outward life with Moksha, the liberated spiritual existence, has hardly even been conceived or attempted, much less anywhere succeeded in the past history of the yet hardly adult human race. Accordingly, we find that the governance by the Dharma of India’s social, economic and even (though here the attempt broke down earlier than in other spheres) her political rule of life, system, turn of existence, with the adumbration of a spiritual significance behind,—the full attainment of the spiritual life being left as a supreme aim to the effort of the individual—was as far as her ancient system could advance. This much endeavour, however, she did make with persistence and patience and it gave a peculiar type to her social polity. 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”.(VOL 20 CWSA P397-398)

The question that presents itself to modern India is: How do we incorporate the higher spiritual ideals into Indian political life? What are the practical implications of these statements?  For that we must first understand what is meant by Spirituality, and then how to bring Spirituality into politics.

In that context, Sri Aurobindo writes:

If India is to play its true role in the world and fulfil its higher destiny,” it must insist much more finally and integrally than it has as yet done on its spiritual turn, on the greater and greater action of the spiritual motive in every sphere of our living.”( VOL 20CWSA P 32)

The meaning of Spirituality

But first let us say what we do not mean by this ideal of spirituality. For there is a great deal of misunderstanding and sometimes even a refusal to understand the true meaning of spirituality

  • Firstly, it does not signify that we shall regard earthly life as a temporal vanity so that we may become all of us as soon as possible monastic ascetics, and frame our social life into a preparation for the monastery or cavern or mountain-top or make of it a static life without any great progressive ideals but only some aim which has nothing to do with earth or the collective advance of the human race.
  • Secondly, spirituality does not mean the moulding of the whole type of the national being to suit the limited dogmas, forms, tenets of a particular religion; clearly such an attempt would be impossible, in a country full of the most diverse religious opinions and harbouring too three such distinct general forms as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, to say nothing of the numerous special forms to which each of these has given birth.
  • Spirituality is much wider than any particular religion, and in the larger ideas of it that are now coming on us even the greatest religion becomes no more than a broad sect or branch of the one universal religion, by which we shall understand in the future man’s seeking for the eternal, the divine, the greater self, the source of unity and his attempt to arrive at some equation, some increasing approximation of the values of human life with the eternal and the divine values.
  • Thirdly, it does not mean the exclusion of anything whatsoever from our scope, of any of the great aims of human life, any of the great problems of our modern world, any form of human activity, any general or inherent impulse or characteristic means of the desire of the soul of man for development, expansion, increasing vigour and joy, light, power, perfection. Therefore spirituality will not belittle the mind, life or body or hold them of small account: it will rather hold them of high account, of immense importance, precisely because they are the conditions and instruments of the life of the spirit in man. Necessarily  we would like modern India to seek the same end in new ways under the vivid impulse of fresh and large ideas and by an instrumentality suited to more complex conditions; but the scope of her effort and action and the suppleness and variety of her mind will not be less, but greater than of old.

Spirituality is not necessarily exclusive; it can be and in its fullness must be all-inclusive.

What then is the place of political and social and economic development from this point of view.

Politics, Society and Economics

In the first form of human life, politics, society, and economy are simply and arrangement by which men collectively can live, produce, satisfy their desires, and enjoy life and progress in bodily, vital and mental efficiency.

But the spiritual aim makes them much more than this. It makes them:

  • First, a framework of life within which man can seek for and grow into his real self and divinity,
  • Secondly, an increasing embodiment of the divine law of being in life,
  • Thirdly, a collective advance towards the light, power, peace, unity, harmony of the diviner nature of humanity which the race is trying to evolve.
  • This and nothing less, this in all its potentialities, is what we mean by a spiritual culture and the application of spirituality to life.

The application of these aims will mean a radical change in our attitude to life. The commercial and materialistic aims of society and the nation will have to be replaced by the higher spiritual aims. Evidently this is a task of no mean order and to expect the whole nation to move in this direction is like asking for the moon – it is just not possible. But it should be possible that a small section of the Indian nation, the elite of Indian society from all walks of life, including the political class, the administration, the judiciary and all others who have a stake in the development of the nation should be able to grow into this attitude and show it in their life style as a living example for others to emulate.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo wrote in one of his articles:

“What  is  needed now is a band of spiritual  workers  whose tapasya will be devoted to the liberation of India for the  service of humanity. We need an institution in which under  the guidance  of  highly spiritual men workers will  be  trained  for every field,  workers for self-defence, workers for  arbitration, for  sanitation,  for famine relief,  for every species  of  work which  is needed to bring about the necessary conditions for  the          organisation  of  Swaraj. If the country is to be free, it must first organise itself so as to be able to maintain its freedom.  The winning of freedom is an easy task; the keeping of it is less easy.

Similarly, the Mother had stated in 1954, that there has to be a group which could manifest the Divine will. She writes:

“There must be a group forming a strong body of cohesive will with the spiritual knowledge to save India and the world. It is India that can bring Truth in the world. By manifestation of the Divine Will and Power alone, India can preach her message to the world and not by imitating the materialism of the West. By following the Divine Will India shall shine at the top of the spiritual mountain and show the way of Truth and organize world unity”.

February 1954

Today, there are in India a large number of idealistic youth who have formed groups and are trying to bring in a different atmosphere based on a sincere and deep national feeling. It would be a great step forward if all these groups could pool their resources and work together. They should accept the spiritual ideal and move in this direction and that by itself will make an impact on the polity of the nation.

However, it will be far more effective immediately if a section of the political class accepted this ideal and put it into practice. It will indeed be a great day for the nation when the Prime Minister, the leaders of all the parties and important dignitaries who are the decision makers can state loud and clear that their only aim in life is to manifest the Divine and work for it in their own ways and in their own areas. That, by itself, will mark a turning point in the history of India.

The Union of Parties

The next question is:  how do we bring about a system where there is a union of parties?

The union of parties can come about only by moving towards the spiritual ideal, where the national interest is paramount, and not the party interest, local interest or self-interest.  India will have thus to evolve its own political system.

The paradigms of the party system

The present party system that we have borrowed from the West is based on two fundamental assumptions.

The first assumption is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore there has to be a constant vigil on the ruling power and the way to do that is by creating an opposition party.

The second assumption is that each political party represents an ideology. An ideology is in this view a mental principle arrived at by the process of a rational and scientific study. We have thus in the economic and political fields, the ideologies of Democracy and Socialism, Public sector and Private sector, Globalisation and Swadeshi and so on. All these ideologies are pitted as representing opposing viewpoints and one has to choose between them.

Let us briefly analyse these two basic assumptions.

There is no doubt that in the present state of human consciousness power does corrupt and that consequently checks and balances have to be constantly kept in place. This has resulted in the creation of an opposition with the aim of keeping a constant vigil on the ruling party. But unfortunately this has been carried to the point where opposition is made for the sake of opposition and the consequence of this is that the party has become more important than the nation. This is visible in the political life of almost all nations and more so in India. It is therefore indispensable that, while admitting the need of an opposition, an element of harmony leading to consensus is brought into the political system. The present system that encourages vote bank politics has to be replaced by a system, which reflects the national aspiration. This is of great importance and it is imperative and urgent that political parties come together to work out a solution.

The second principle, which is based on the assumption that the mind and reason can give us the whole of Truth is an error and yet contains a truth. 

Indian culture and psychology have always known that although the mind and reason are powerful and useful instruments of knowledge, they cannot arrive at the whole of Truth. The reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can neither get to the root of things nor embrace the totality of their secrets; it deals with the finite, the separate, the limited aggregate, and has no measure for the all and the infinite. But at the same time it is evident that the reason does give us one aspect of the Truth. Each system or ideology represents one aspect of the Truth, but not the whole Truth. Therefore insisting on one side of the Truth does not help a nation or society to progress. On the contrary, it is only in the harmonious blending of opposites that any true progress can take place. There has to be an attempt to synthesise these apparently opposite ideas. Freedom and discipline are not contrary ideas; rather both of them are needed for the progress of a society and nation. In the same way we can see that democracy and socialism, globalization and Swadeshi, development and ecology have to be synthesized and harmonized. In fact, one might say that the art of life and in particular of political life lies in harmonizing opposites.

All these issued are reflected in the manifestos of political parties. Unfortunately, the mind being what it is, the natural tendency is to stress on one of these ideas at the cost of the other. But life cannot be based on one idea alone; each idea has to be given its due importance and place. As a result of the party system and the natural stress on one idea almost exclusively, there comes in the natural principle of compensating reactions. The law of action and reaction, which is valid in physical Science, is in human action, which always depends largely on psychological forces, a more constant and pervading truth. That in life to every pressure of active forces there is a tendency of reaction of opposite or variative forces which may not immediately operate but must eventually come into the field or which may not act with an equal and entirely compensating force, but must act with some force of compensation, may be taken as well established. It is both a philosophical necessity and a constant fact of experience. For Nature always works by a balancing system of the interplay of opposite forces. When she has insisted for some time on the dominant force of one tendency as against all others, she seeks to correct its exaggerations by reviving, if dead, or newly awakening, if only in slumber, or bringing into the field in a new and modified form the tendency that is exactly opposite. After long insistence on centralisation, she tries to modify it by at least a subordinated decentralisation. After insisting on more and more uniformity, she calls again into play the spirit of multiform variation. The result need not be an equipollence of the two tendencies; it may be any kind of compromise. Or, instead of a compromise it may be in act a fusion and in result a new creation, which shall be a compound of both principles. This is visible in the political history of independent India. Without elaborating in any detail, the change of governments in the last three decades testifies to this truth and law of action and reaction.

Much worse is the blatant misuse of the leaders of the parties to promote their party interests in the garb of ideology in the most shameless manner at the cost of the national interest. All the most specious arguments are used to justify their own positions and the more intelligent one is, the more blatant is the misuse of their reason. The only way to get rid of this disease is to create a system where there will be a national government.

The need of a national government

One might therefore reasonably conclude that it is only by the harmonizing of all these apparently opposite viewpoints that one can arrive at a settled and secure national growth and development. The political system must reflect this vision of things and only then can we move on a sound and stable curve of progress and fulfillment. Probably, Nature herself is pushing India in this direction by the formation of coalition governments at the Centre. Let us therefore collaborate with Nature and move ultimately towards a national government, which will inevitably create a harmonious synthesis of ideas overriding all narrow political interests.

Some suggestions for putting this into practice are being given here.

  • It is most urgent and imperative that the whole population should be given a sound educational basis; otherwise the democratic process will not function properly. Universal education must be a priority. It must be also noted that a rational development is in the mass the first step to a higher spiritual growth.
  • In the present system the Prime Minister is elected by the party winning the largest number of seats. It is suggested that the Prime Minister should be elected by all the members of the Parliament and not by the majority party.
  • The Ministry should be formed by the Prime Minister and should include members of all parties having more than 20% of the electoral vote. That might mean a Ministry made up of two or three parties. It will be the first step in the union of parties.
  • The method of proportional representation should be introduced in the electoral system
  • A far greater decentralisation of power giving much more autonomy to the States should be seriously considered. This should be discussed in some detail by the political parties and States. As a first step the Panchayats should be empowered. Sri Aurobindo writes: Nowadays people want the modern type of democracy—the parliamentary form of government. The parliamentary system is doomed. We should begin with the old Panchayat system in the villages and then work up to the top. The Panchayat system and the guilds are more representative and they have a living contact with people; they are part of the people’s ideas. On the contrary, the parliamentary system with local bodies—the municipal councils—is not workable: these councils have no living contact with the people; the councillors make only platform speeches and nobody knows what they do for three or four years; at the end they reshuffle and rearrange the whole thing, making their own pile during their period of power”.( Feb 2 1939)

Here is  another quote from Venkatesh to illustrate this point:

The solution to this over- centralization of power lies in thinking beyond the current template. This can be done through a grand design of involving the Panchayathi Raj Institutions (PRIs) as a delivery mechanism. Unfortunately, PRIs are largely ornamental pieces of legislation in an otherwise sublime Constitution. We need to leverage these institutions and churn the system so as to make the development projects the responsibility of these local bodies and ‘un-bundle’ the State and central governments of the same.

Unfortunately, under the present three-tiered Constitution, responsibilities are mostly vested with the Central or the State or both, with very little functional mandate extended to the third tier, viz., the PRIs.

The spirit of Part IX of the Constitution, which deals with the PRIs, goes beyond the concept of political empowerment. It is a majestic idea towards self-governance. By design it is the State (hence eminently suited for the purpose) in all its majestic manifestation but with a vital difference — by its very design it will be ‘participatory,’ especially in a country like India.

The time for unleashing the power of the idea of PRIs has come. It has to be noted such an empowerment of the PRIs must include direct fund transfer by both the State and the central governments — of all possible developmental programmes.

Importantly, the crucial role of developmental process must be piloted by the PRIs. Naturally, it would at once trigger a movement for grassroots democracy and with it developmental economics to flourish.

Our resistance to change and vested interests that feed on the extant system mean that the PRIs are essentially non-starters even after two decades since their introduction in the statute book.

It has to be noted that the ideas as suggested above, though illustrative, could well trigger a massive movement as the programmes are meaningfully under the control of the intended beneficiaries. One sincerely believes that this is the only way out to deal with imperial demand of India’s social sector. Else Winston Churchill will continue to chuckle.

It would be well to remember that in India the one principle permanent in the political system was the principle of an organically self-determining communal life,—self-determining not only in the mass and by means of the machinery of the vote and a representative body erected on the surface, representative only of the political mind of a part of the nation, which is all that the modern system has been able to manage, but in every pulse of its life and in each separate member of its existence. A free synthetic communal order was its character, and the condition of liberty it aimed at was not so much an individual as a communal freedom. We should try to reproduce this in modern India.

  • Probably the most important suggestion is that there should be a group of persons in Parliament itself who will come together and state clearly that their allegiance is only to the nation and not to any party. It will be good if they contest the elections on a non party plank with national interest as their sole ideology.
  • A very important step in governance is transparency. A step in this direction has been taken by passing the Right to Information Act. This must be carried to its logical conclusion. This will reduce corruption to a great extent.
  • Serious thought must be given to changing the present Parliamentary system to the Presidential system. A national dialogue should be initiated. Probably, in the Indian context, the Republican system or Presidential form of government will be better. In fact, in ancient India there are many instances of this form of government being practised.
  • In one of his conversations Sri Aurobindo said: “The old Indian system grew out of life, it had room for everything and every interest. There were monarchy, aristocracy, democracy; every interest was represented in the government. While in Europe the Western system grew out of the mind: they are led by reason and want to make everything cut and dried without any chance of freedom or variation. If it is democracy, then democracy only—no room for anything else. They cannot be plastic. India is now trying to imitate the West. Parliamentary government is not suited to India. But we always take up what the West has thrown off….When Sri Aurobindo was asked: What is your idea of an ideal government for India? Sri Aurobindo replied:  My idea is like what Tagore once wrote. 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”. (Dec 27 1938)

It is our hope that all political parties will make a sincere attempt to realise these ideals and evolve a system suitable to the genius of India.

One point needs to be emphasised strongly and remembered constantly. It is that all these suggestions and proposals that have been made deal with changes in the system and are therefore external in their nature. But spirituality is by its very nature inward and demands a change of attitude in the psychological being. But it is hoped that with this system the legislators will be compelled to work together and as a natural consequence will gradually learn to work together. In this case we are proceeding from the outer to the inner. However, it is evident that whatever the value of the system and however one might fine-tune it or refine it, ultimately it is the psychological change that is needed. Without this inner change, any system can be exploited for narrow and selfish ends. It is also evident that one cannot expect this change from the mass or even from a large number of persons immediately; but the elite of the nation and especially those who are in power and who are the decision makers must rise up to this level and standard.

As an intermediary step before attempting the spiritualization of the collective life of man, it is indispensable to take into account the ancient Indian ideal of the Dharma. The Indian concept of life was that spirituality is only the last step in the psychological evolution of man. They knew that the initial movement of life is that form of it which develops the powers of the natural ego in man; self-interest and hedonistic desire are the original human motives,—kama, artha. Indian culture gave a large recognition to this primary turn of our nature. These powers have to be accepted and put in order; for the natural ego-life must be lived and the forces it evolves in the human being must be brought to fullness. But this element must be kept from making any too unbridled claim or heading furiously towards its satisfaction; only so can it get its full results without disaster and only so can it be inspired eventually to go beyond itself and turn in the end to a greater spiritual Good and Bliss. An internal or external anarchy cannot be the rule; a life governed in any absolute or excessive degree by self-will, passion, sense-attraction, self-interest and desire cannot be the natural whole of a human or a humane existence; this is the first truth that the political class must become aware of.

Next, they must become aware that different types of men cannot have the same law. The man of knowledge, the man of power, the productive and acquisitive man, the priest, scholar, poet, artist, ruler, fighter, trader, tiller of the soil, craftsman, labourer, servant cannot usefully have the same training, cannot be shaped in the same pattern, cannot all follow the same way of living. All ought not to be put under the same tables of the law; for that would be a senseless geometric rigidity that would spoil the plastic truth of life. Each has his type of nature and there must be a rule for the perfection of that type; each has his own proper function and there must be a canon and ideal for the function they have to perform. There must be in all things some wise and understanding standard of practice and idea of perfection and living rule,—that is the one thing needful for the Dharma. A lawless impulsion of desire and interest and propensity cannot be allowed to lead human conduct; even in the frankest following of desire and interest and propensity there must be a governing and restraining and directing line, and guidance. There must be an ethic or a science, a restraint as well as a scope arising from the truth of the thing sought, a standard of perfection, an order.

If this much is practiced with sincerity and steadfastness by the legislators and the political class in general, the nation will be ready for the next stage of evolution – the governing of collective life by the principle of spirituality.

It is only on this basis that the beginning of a true development and unity of India can be brought about.

It is therefore necessary to start making the necessary corrections.

However, it is our firm belief and conviction that whatever our human shortcomings, India will finally and definitely rise to the height of its mission. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “For this thing is written in the book of God and nothing can prevent it, that the national life of India shall meet and possess its divine and mighty destiny”.

 

 

M.V. Kamath from The Organiser April 1 2007

Chidambaram from the Hindu April 2 2007

M.R. Venkatesh from Rediff.com April 11 2007

There must be a group CWM Vol 13 p 361

The Indian  system : Talks with Sri Aurobindo Nirodbaran Vol 1 p65

Nowdays people want: February 2 1939.

AT&C  Aggregate technical and commercial losses

What in needed now: CWSA Vol 7 P 939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


       

 

 

 


       

 

 


       

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