A New Political System
Based on Indian Ideals
Political thinkers, statesmen, policy makers, strategic visionaries, spiritual and national leaders, and others who are concerned about the future of India, and particularly in how we govern ourselves towards a future that we can be really proud of, would do well to reflect on the fact that the Indian constitution as it currently stands is by deliberate design completely bereft of any insight or input from our 10,000+ history of native governance, during most of which the populace of the sub-continent enjoyed the highest standards of material, social and spiritual living. The current corruption and degradation in the homeland of dharma are directly traceable to our total and willful disconnect from the universal ideals that are founded on that profound concept, and our hope for awakening, correction, redemption, rejuvenation and renaissance therefore rests returning to our own genius in organizing society and nation, instead of having it be outsourced to the template of the alien British constitution, which is what we have slavishly copied and implemented since so-called Independence in 1947.
And since our borrowed constitution is totally out of tune and alignment with our unique character, history, culture, values and ideals — all of which rest on the eternal principles of dharma and svadharma — it cannot but lead us disastrously astray in how we conduct ourselves at home and work, in society at large, and in how we run our nation’s affairs.
We are therefore proposing a new system of governance based on the Indian ideal of dharma. The development of this system is guided by key thoughts culled from the writings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo on topics very relevant to our current political situation, starting with our Constitution.
“The first thing that you ought to do is to change the Constitution in such a way that those people who combine honesty and capability should come to power. Normally, people who are honest are not capable, and those who are capable are not honest. Therefore it is very important that people who combine these two qualities should be able to come to power.”
India the Mother, Sri Aurobindo, p 204-205
In the book The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo has described the quality of the present day politician in prescient terms:
“It is immaterial whether these (the politicians) belong to a governing class or emerge as in modern States from the mass partly by force of character, but much more by force of circumstances; nor does it make any essential difference that their aims and ideals are imposed nowadays more by the hypnotism of verbal persuasion than by overt and actual force. In either case, there is no guarantee that this ruling class or ruling body represents the best mind of the nation or its noblest aims or its highest instincts.
“…the modern politician in any part of the world… 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…”
CWSA Vol26 p 296-297
In the light of the above, and buttressed by our observations of the current Indian political scene, we may now assert that if any dramatic change or real improvement in our governance has to take place, then the first and essential requirement is that the quality of politicians and other decision-makers and power-wielders has to be of a much higher level. Our primary challenge then is to develop a system based on our indigenous genius that will ensure this higher caliber and character of politician. A passage from the Mother’s writings is most noteworthy in this regard as we survey the vicious party politics of the present day.
“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!”
(25 May 1970: CWM, Vol.15, pp.426-28, emphasis added)
In 1969, the Mother had given the following message to the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi:
“Let India work for the future and take the lead. Thus she will recover her true place in the world.
“Since long it was the habit to govern through division and opposition. The time has come to govern through union, mutual understanding and collaboration.
“To choose a collaborator, the value of the man is more important than the party to which he belongs.
“The greatness of a country does not depend on the victory of a party, but on the union of all parties.”
And finally, a passage from Sri Aurobindo on what form of democracy is best for us:
“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)
Desiderata for a Better Democracy
We will now sum up the salient requirements, based on the above guiding thoughts, which a better model for democracy should meet:
1. People in power at all levels, both in the Executive and in the Legislature, need to be both honest and capable. Impeccable character and integrity coupled with high caliber professional competence should be the minimum desiderata for all politicians.
2. Politicians must believe and accept unanimously that our country, our nation’s integrity and welfare is their highest and greatest priority; they must rise above all other loyalties – party or regional or religious or caste driven – to always put the country’s interests first. Patriotism must be their highest mantra and national welfare their primary guiding principle.
3. Politicians should subordinate their party interest and all other narrow interests to the national interest; they should work with concord and unity across party lines, despite differences of opinion or ideology, for the common welfare.
4. Power has to be centralized in the most important and vital aspects of governance at the national level; but in all other areas there must a great deal of decentralisation, right up to the village level.
5. The government must be truly representative of the people, that is to say it has to be really democratic in practice.
The first lesson we have to learn from the ancient Indian ideal of politics is that mass popularity and charisma cannot be the sole basis of political leadership. One of the surprising facts of modern society is that while specific standards of qualification, experience, skill, ability and aptitude are insisted upon for leadership positions in business, industry, commerce, education and other fields, no standards exist at all in the world of politics! How can there be sound politics when the products of mass popularity become politicians and ministers? The simple fact which is unanimously recognised and practiced in all other sections of society – that a leader should have the right ethical values and professional abilities for the role — is totally ignored in modern democratic polity, which elects its political leaders by popular vote without setting any minimum qualifications for them. As a result, there has been a great deterioration in the quality of political leadership in popularity driven democracies.
Cultivating a New Genre of Leaders
In this regard, we may ask: What are the qualities we desire to see in a leader of the new order that we advocate? A short list of essential attributes would include the following:
- He/She must have a consciousness which is higher than that of the mass of the populace.
- He must have exceeded his individual ego: his preferences and emotions, his personal likes and dislikes.
- He should have a sense of the universal consciousness which embraces the interests and aspirations of all who come under his management.
- He must be both wider and higher than the rest. It is only then that he can be trusted to strive for the collective welfare and carry others with him.
- He must identify himself with the true interests of the community and not let his own personal preferences interfere. In other words, he must be able to forget himself! Of course, it does not mean that he should be just a mouth-piece for the commonality.
- He should be a leader whose consciousness is above all manipulation, strong enough to impose itself correctively, warm enough to gain the acceptance and loyalty of right-thinking elements.
How can we cultivate such a cadre of leaders for the Indian body politic of the 21st century?
The first step is to educate citizens and voters on the ideals of true leadership and on the type of leaders who can bring the highest wellbeing to people and society. In this task, modern mass-media with its extensive reach can be a great help in educating the public, provided it can rise above its own agendas and biases to the true standards of professional journalism in a progressive society.
The second step is to ensure that certain basic mental and moral standards are met for contesting elections for public office. Minimum educational qualifications, character attestations, including having no criminal records or charges pending, public service records and accomplishments, and other such indexes of worthiness for public service should be insisted upon before allowing candidacy to contest elections.
The third step is to educate elected officials on the ideals of leadership and governance and help them develop the psychological, moral and spiritual power needed to lead and govern in the right way. For example, in most of the corporates, managers and executives go through regular training and development programmes for upgrading their knowledge and skills, and many of them make systematic efforts to educate and groom their future leaders. Similar programmes have to be implemented in the political domain with immediate effect.
The fourth step is to promote creative thinking and research in political thought, governance and leadership. If there can be a science of management for the business world, we can as well develop a shastra of governance for the world of political leadership. In terms of a creative contribution to the modern era and yet rooted in our native wisdom, we should evolve and perfect a uniquely Indian model which is rooted in the knowledge and practice of dharma.
Designing a New Democracy
After these remarks on the leadership and educational changes needed to arrive at a higher order of democracy, we will now turn to the design of the new system, keeping in mind the following words of Sri Aurobindo:
“A system is in its very nature at once an effectuation and a limitation of the spirit; and yet we must have a science and art of life, a system of living. All that is needed is that the lines laid down should be large and noble, capable of evolution so that the spirit may more and more express itself in life, flexible even in its firmness so that it may absorb and harmonize new material and enlarge its variety and richness without losing its unity.”
CWSA VOL 20P232
We shall therefore propose a new system which is large and noble, capable of evolution to meet our needs organically, and which reflects the temperament and genius of the India psyche. Its features and benefits can be debated in civic forums and it will gradually evolve to a version that best serves our interests. We assert that it must meet two important purposes, whatever be its eventual form:
It must provide all possible facilities for cooperative action, prevent harmful waste and friction, and remove injustice.
It must help secure for every individual a just and equal chance of self-development and satisfaction to the extent of his powers and in the line of his nature.
The Dharma Connection
We will now link these thoughts on a new model of governance with the concept of Dharma. Sri Aurobindo lays out the broad sweep of Dharma thus:
“A greater sovereign than the king was the Dharma, the religious, ethical, social, political, and customary law organically governing the life of the people. This impersonal authority was considered sacred and eternal in its spirit and the totality of its body, always characteristically the same, the changes organically and spontaneously brought about in its actual form by the evolution of the society; and it must be noted that with the Dharma no secular authority had any right of autocratic interference. The Brahmins themselves were recorders and exponents of the Dharma, not its creators nor authorised to make at will any changes, the king was only the guardian, executor and servant of the Dharma, charged to see to its observance and to prevent offences, serious irregularities and breaches. He himself was bound the first to obey it and observe the rigorous rule it laid on his personal life and action and on the province, powers and duties of his regal authority and office.”
CWSA Vol20 p391-392
We may envision Dharma as the Constitution of the Universe, the mode of operation of all natural systems and human beings in concordance with the rta — the right way, the harmonious order — that sustains the worlds and evolves their beings. The word Dharma connotes a combination of meanings from the etymological that which upholds to one’s personal nature and duty to the societal ideal of what is righteous, sustainable and just for the collective. It is all of that and more, as Sri Aurobindo’s quote above reveals to us. The sages have told us that while there is an eternal dharma, the Sanatana Dharma, guiding cosmic evolution, there are also time and space and person specific dharmas that apply to individuals and groups in ways relative to their unique evolutionary levels. The purpose of dharma is to align each individual, given his or her unique position in the evolutionary ladder, with a mode and culture of living that will rapidly advance that person’s ascent up that ladder, while also serving society’s best interests with their special talents. Dharma is, in effect, the law of progressive evolution at work through individuals and nations, guiding each soul to find its perfection and fulfillment in the symphony of the divine that is playing through all beings. Hence the veneration of dharma in Indian civilization through all of history, and till recent times.
Dharma in Practice: A Lesson from the Ramayana
Turning now from general principles to how dharma at the leadership level worked in the past, in practice at the ground level, and to learn some vital lessons – eminently valid to our current problems — that our own history can teach us, let us recall a telling episode from the Ramayana. As the dharma avatar of Maha Vishnu, Sri Rama was the very embodiment of dharma. The Ramayana is a narrative of the perfect exemplification of dharma at every stage through the royal story of Rama — from his youth exploits to his marriage to Sita and exile to the forest, then the abduction of Sita concluding with his victory over Ravana to rescue her, followed by his glorious coronation, and then his sad parting with Sita. For our purpose here, it is that last part — the poignant and controversial story of Devi Sita’s exile – which is most instructive.
Sri Rama, to dispel the persistent gossip among some of his subjects about Sita’s chastity due to her imprisonment under Ravana’s control for a long time, asks her stoically to leave the palace, though his own heart is broken in the process. In asking Lakshmana to escort her to the forest, Rama was fulfilling his royal duties as a king, the Raja Dharma – the dharma of the king that demands that he abide by the wishes of his subjects and do his utmost to please them, without any consideration for his personal love or pain in any situation. Such was the power of dharma in those days.
Contrast that with today’s politicians who will smugly and ruthlessly cling to their power even in the face of any number of proven cases of egregious corruption or massive maladministration involving them. They will challenge you to bring a majority vote complaint by ballot to unseat them if you can, as compared to Rama who sacrificed Sita for the sake of a handful of disgruntled peasants. No matter the numbers or the societal level of the complainers, the hold of dharma was so strong in its embodiment Rama that he acted in the only way he could to abide fully by the higher authority it exercised even over him as the king.
Of course, Sri Rama has by this act become a target of feminists and gender activists for his cruel treatment of Devi Sita. While the application of a modern perspective may raise controversial issues when used to analyze the past, this should not detract us from realizing that a critical lesson of dharma is being taught here, in this heart-rending moment when the Avatar of Vishnu in human royal form has to ask his Sri, his Lakshmi in the form of Sita, to be gone to redress a few citizens’ complaints. The story illustrates powerfully and poignantly that a dharmic ruler will put the call of dharma above his personal interests. He will place duty above rights or personal interests, no matter how dire the consequences, and no matter how history may judge him.
We quote again below the last para from Sri Aurobindo’s excerpt above, which may now be read in a new light with Sri Rama in mind as the supreme exemplar of political dharma:
“…the king was only the guardian, executor and servant of the Dharma, charged to see to its observance and to prevent offences, serious irregularities and breaches. He himself was bound the first to obey it and observe the rigorous rule it laid on his personal life and action and on the province, powers and duties of his regal authority and office.”
CWSA Vol20 p-392
Codes of Conduct Based on Dharma
In the modern context, we may broadly construe Raja Dharma as the duties, responsibilities and obligations expected of those aspiring to positions of public service or power. Obviously, these are to be defined so as to serve the highest national interests and welfare. So defined specifically for various levels of leadership from the national to the local, and for different branches of the executive, legislature and judiciary, modern codes of conduct based on dharma can be developed for all politicians, bureaucrats and other power-wielders of the land, both elective and appointed. The sincere willingness and commitment to adhere to, uphold, and abide by the dharmic code of conduct that applies to them would be a necessary qualification, guaranteed by an oath if necessary, for all aspirants to public service in the new model we are proposing here. Rigorous mental and moral education and discipline of leaders would also be a requirement to enable them to uphold the code of conduct, i.e. to uphold their individual dharmas as national servants.
Such changes will contribute greatly towards harnessing the highest intellectual, moral and spiritual energy of the community for uplifting the political life. In ancient India, councils of ministers would comprise people of the highest character, wisdom and experience for guiding the ruler. Guidance from the wisdom of seers and seekers of spiritual knowledge was also a priced input for making difficult decisions. Value and respect for our traditional modes of governance is an integral part of the new system we would like to see bloom out of these time-tested dharmic practices.
The Varna Approach to Eliminating Corruption
Most political observers would agree that some form of corruption is endemic to most modern democracies. In India the disease is particularly virulent and pervasive at all levels, to a degree where corruption is the accepted modus operandi for surviving and thriving in power and business. The misuse and abuse of power by politicians and bureaucrats, babus and peons, clerks and magistrates, telephone technicians and 4G tycoons, to name a few have led to the mix-up of political and money interests so much as to have cost our nation thousands of lakhs of crores of rupees through various scams, preferred allocations, benami transactions, and a whole slew of egregious frauds perpetrated on our public assets and resources in the last two decades.
How can we root out this toxic virus of corruption when it has infected our national psyche so deeply? How can this culture of corruption be changed, if its root is at the top of the national pyramid of leadership and its branches cascade down through various layers, like in the legendary asvatha tree, to the levels of the common man at the base of the structure? This brings us to the issue of conflict of interest. Any corruption incident also entails automatically a conflict of interest for at least one of the two involved parties, most often the person accepting a bribe or other payoff. He or she has to violate their fidelity to their job title, role-based duties and responsibilities, i.e. their dharmic code of conduct as we have defined it above, to partake of the bribe or other opportunity for corruption. Since the root cause of corruption is thus conflict of interest in the first place, the direct and most effective way to uproot this disease is by eliminating conflicts of interest totally.
If we look around modern society in so-called democracies, and this could apply to communist and despotic regimes as well since all regimens are happily addicted to corruption, we find that everything everywhere is tinged by conflicts of interest. As a short list of examples, consider these diverse scenarios: politicians and other so-called public servants in India routinely siphon the best lands, forests, mines, and other resources to their families and cronies at ridiculously low prices; businessmen, and even corporations, are allowed to fund elections so that they can bankroll the victory of candidates who will promote their interests over public welfare; university researchers, on salaries and tenure, want a share of the profits that will come out of commercializing their discoveries and inventions made on public money. In each of these instances, the conflict is broadly between a public interest and a private interest. Corruption occurs when dharma is violated to pander to the private vested interest. The role-based responsibilities or duties, or dharmic code is sacrificed to take care of their greed or other needs.
In its original principle and proper application, the varna system of organizing society on four broad classes or categories of professions was the brilliant way devised by the rishis to avoid totally such conflicts of interest that are the root enablers of corruption. In its broad principle and proper application, the varna system classifies human professions into four natural categories determined by their own innate inclinations and aspirations, called their svadharma, or individual dharma. In modern terms, these classes are: a) the knowledge class comprising those who seek learning and wisdom of all kinds, as also teaching the same; b) the power class of politicians, leaders, bureaucrats, public servants, soldiers and other defense personnel; c) the money class of businessmen, agriculturists, traders and other wealth generators, and d) the service class comprising those who serve the other three professions in some useful capacity, such as providing labour.
This system created a harmonious mode of transaction and interaction within the members of each class and between them, without placing people in the situations of conflict of interest and temptation that are the hallmark of our loosely organized professional society today. In other words, the roots of corruption are avoided in such an ordering or work groups and professions. This was accomplished by:
- Assigning duties and responsibilities specific to each varna and requiring adherence to one’s chosen svadharma, i.e. one’s voluntarily chosen profession,
- Providing clear guidelines to each class as to its do’s and dont’s to avoid conflict within the group and with other professions,
- Creating guild-like forums to self-monitor and enforce norms and rules organically within the group,
- Ensuring that each person in society would know the perimeters of allowed, i.e dharmic, behavior relative to their role and the consequences of violating the same, and
- Providing a path of migration across the classes if a person wanting to transfer is proven to have the qualities for the new class,
Based on these lessons from the varna system that can help us root out corruption, we recommend the following measures for practical implementation to start addressing this problem seriously across the four mixed-up and conflicted classes of today:
- Establish and demarcate the boundaries of duties, responsibilities, rules and norms of behaviour for the ruling class (administrators, rulers, politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, public servants, etc.) such that only people of impeccable character and moral standards, with a passion for public service and a commitment to national interest over all else are allowed to be a part of this group.
- Businessmen and others with avowed interests in other professions would be disqualified from belonging to the ruling class. In particular, politicians with assets disproportionate to their legitimate sources of income would be automatically disqualified from contesting elections or standing for public office at any level.
- Build a firewall between business interests and government officials, politicians, etc. such that money cannot influence or buy power, as is the norm today. In particular, not a single rupee of corporate funding will be allowed to taint the public interest through financing of election campaigns of individuals.
- Screen and remove from the public payroll anyone whose main allegiance is not to his or her job, organization and nation. Public jobs should not be entitlements to exploit for side income and then retire comfortably. Rather they should be seen as ways to serve the national interest through self-less dharmic duty.
- Establish clear rules of conduct and standards for knowledge workers, so that their search for truth and knowledge is not tainted by coveting after money or power. Ensure that people who are in roles of advisors or consultants to governments, think tanks, economic councils, etc. are not subject to conflicts of interests due to their role as investors, corporate employees, business lobbyists, and other vested interests.
Shifting to a Presidential System
The benefits of a dharma based system are more likely to be realized if we shift our Parliamentary system to a Presidential system, as was advocated by Sri Aurobindo in one of the quotes above. This move would separate the legislative and the executive branches so that they will be independent of each other, thus removing undue influences or conflicts of interest between them that can lead to corruption or compromise governance for the national interest.
In our proposed new system, The President will be the Chief Executive, elected directly by the people. The President must fulfill the following essential qualifications, in addition to the leadership qualities we have listed earlier: 1) He/She must have had at least twenty years of eminent public service in any capacity. 2) He/She must have a record of impeccable character.
It is inevitable that there will be a few candidates who will stand for the Presidency. One can then adopt the French system of successive elections. However since our country is large and it will be very costly to have run-offelections, we propose that voters should indicate their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences. If after the first count, one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, he is elected. If not, the candidate getting the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated, the second preference voters who voted for him are then assigned to the other candidates, and so on till one of them gets more than 50%.
The President‘s term will be of a duration of five years and he can be removed only by impeachment. He/she may be allowed to stand for two terms only. The President will select ministers from any qualified citizen of India, as per the criteria we have listed earlier. Ministers must not be part of the Legislature. If selected from that body, the candidate must resign from the Legislature before assuming the minister role.
Ministers must have a long record of public service in any field; there must be no criminal case filed in any court against them. If there is any case pending, the Supreme Court must dispose it off within three months. If a minister is convicted, he/she loses the post and has to resign, otherwise they may continue. Ministers will be allowed to attend and participate in the Legislature; however they will not be allowed to vote.
The present system of elections may continue. However, it must be made clear that the legislators have only one work to do and that is to make the laws for the country; their whole concentration should be focused on this and this alone. Therefore they should be debarred from holding any office of profit or other post. They should be paid their salaries and nothing else. All laws made by Parliament will have to be finally approved and signed by the President. Voting as a duty must be made compulsory.
Here too there must be a careful scrutiny of those who aspire to be legislators. Candidates must have some a record of public service in some field in addition to professional qualifications and character credentials, and no criminal record. If there is a case against a legislator, the Supreme Court must dispose it off within three months. If convicted, the legislator loses the right to contest future elections.
It is important that the legislators represent the different classes and to ensure this a system of reservations may be introduced. In other words, the Lok Sabha must represent the four professional classes: the wo/men of knowledge, power, money and service. As a suggestion, we could reserve 100 seats for each of the four classes. Thus 400 seats will be reserved and the remaining 142 seats will be open to all citizens of India.
We have made the case that the governance of India must be based on time-tested and effective lessons from our own history and genius of dharma based polity. The ideals of dharma have to be re-introduced to guide the welfare of the nation. We must make dharma the touchstone of the new political order. There must be stability and continuity in government from the currently corrupt and inefficient pseudo-democracy to the new dharmic model that is designed to avoid the root causes of corruption and ineffectual governance. The present system may continue till the changes we propose are discussed by concerned citizens and leaders at all levels and implemented in a wise sequence to make the new dharma based democracy a reality in India within a generation. In this alignment with the natural order lies our renaissance and fulfillment as a great civilization, culture and country in the 21st century.
Om Tat Sat