Quote 16: Democracy and the invigourating Gita

(i) I cannot forget the vernal breeze from our classical India

Under our cultural tradition, our polity was always ‘democratic’ and ‘socialistic’. It was ‘democratic’ as there existed no distance between the interest of government and that of our people. J. Bronowski has aptly said: it was this distance between people and government that ruined Babylon, Egypt and Rome. Our ancient polity was essentially democratic and socialistic. Kings were either elected by people, or were accepted on account of their proved worth. They were always subject to Dharma, and were accountable to people. When a king grew anarchic, either he was removed from power, or was destroyed by people. We have several such examples. The type of absolute ‘sovereign kingship’ that we get in the Leviathan of Hobbes, or in The Law of Free Monarchies of James I of England in the 17th century, was unknown. No king in the ancient India said that he was the State ( “L’Etat,c’est moi”). Dharma constituted the basic structure of the constitution, and the king could easily be questioned even by the humblest amongst the people. The ideal, set before the government, was deeply saturated with the egalitarian values (which are now at the heart of our present Constitution). An expert, in her research work, summarizes the objectives, which according to Krishna, were to be pursued by the kings:

“It is the King’s duty to establish new trade and commerce in his land for the benefit of his people. It is possible to improve the economic conditions of people only through new and innovative commercial enterprises. When Krishna saw that the land was rich in cattle wealth, he saw to it that this enterprise was recognized as a profession. Earlier this enterprise was not growing because of the extractive tyranny of Indra who mopped out all its profits. Krishna taught people to stand against this exploitation and tyranny. …. According to Krishna, a king’s supreme objective was only the welfare of his people. He would punish even his relations if they did anything that went against such an objective..”

The classical Hindu political thought stagnated after the advent of Islam. Islam left no impact on our political thought . But the sclerosis that set in during that long period of servitude to the militant imperialism of Islam, continued even during the British period of our history when we adopted the British political institutions and ideas.

The spell of the West has now reached its apogee in the neoliberal thoughts in this era of Economic Globalisation growing apace in our country from the 1990s. The neoliberal gloss on ‘democracy’ has been most pronounced in recent years. As the British view of democracy and the neoliberal view of democracy come from the same matrix of the western thought, I would spell out, first, the driving ideas and the dominant features of the Western view of ‘democracy’.The comprehension of that will help us understand what is happening in our country these days, because we have become wholly trapped in that view of democracy under the neoliberal gloss. But before I set out doing that, I would explore in a few words the collective consciousness of our Constituent Assembly as I see reflected in our Constitution.

(ii) Impact on the collective consciousness of our Constituent Assembly

I have discussed in Chapter 21 of this Memoir that our Constitution has a ‘socialist mission’ as the expression is understood in India’s cultural ethos and its widely shared social mores.

One strange syndrome I have noticed in our country: it is the slave’s syndrome. It is said that a slave, even when freed, loves to wear his chains. Once he struggled to break his fetters, now he enjoys them as ornaments on his flesh. Before the advent of the neoliberal thoughts, we had invoked the Fabian socialism to provide a gloss on our Constitution’s provisions. Once accustomed to think that way, we have been led to accept the assumptions and strategies triumphant in this phase of Economic Globalization. When we reflect on what is being done (partly obvious but mostly under cloak), and what is being said, though more to conceal than to reveal, we have reasons to believe that we have missed the message of our Constitution.

I have considered it appropriate to call our democracy, as conceived under our Constitution, a ‘socialist democracy’ or a ‘democracy’ with socialistic mission to differentiate it from ‘a laissez-faire democracy’ that had been conceived and erected under the U.S. and the British constitutions. I cannot deny that some of the egalitarian objectives were pursued there also, but, in my view, that was not specifically mandated by their constitutions. Those good things were obtained by common people, because the persons in power feared that the conditions of injustice could make even the ‘great beast’, as common people were called, turn dangerous.

Our Constitution did not enact the ideas of a Friedeich von Hayek, or of a Milton Friedman in its text. The Market Economy, it is well known, is founded on the ideas of Frederich von Hayek or of Milton Friedman, or the proponents of the ‘neoliberal paradigm’ at the heart of the present-day corporate imperium. We all know well that the idea of Social Justice runs through our Constitution. But Hayek considers the concept of ‘social justice’ the most powerful threat to law conceived in recent years. Social justice, said Hayek, ‘attributes the character of justice or injustice to the whole pattern of social life, with all its component rewards and losses, rather than to the conduct of its component individuals and in doing this it inverts the original and authentic sense of liberty, in which it is properly attributed only to individual actions’. I have reflected on the egalitarian mission of our Constitution in Chapter 21. I do not think it worthwhile to pursue the point further. I had heard a story at my school. Why does a camel go towards the West, when it finds itself untetherd ? The answer was: “It does so because the area of desert, for which it craves, is in the west.” We have seen how our politicians and thinkers love to glitter in borrowed plumes. They have borrowed the ideas and customs of the western democracy, often to subjugate or confuse our vision of our Constitution’s mission. Hence, I would cast a bird’s eye view on such assumptions and values with utmost brevity.

(iii) The Western view of ‘Democracy’

My reflections have convinced me that there are two crowning assumptions in the ‘democracy’ about which the West speaks in this phase of economic globalisation:

  1. The idea of ‘social equality and justice’ is a romantic nonsense. The ‘Invisible Hand’ at work in the Market must not be hindered or interfered with. The ideas of egalitarianism must be ignored. This view, in the ultimate analysis, ensues from the West’s shared ‘concept of Man’ In the ‘Notes and References’ at the end of this Chapter, I would quote what the great men of the West have said on this.
  2. The governments were structured mainly for two prime purposes: (a) to protect and promote the private property, and (b) to provide free scope for the exercise of liberty for creating and amassing wealth. The function of the government is to provide legal and administrative infrastructure for the twin pursuits. Besides, it must ensure that “the great beast”, as Alexander Hamilton called people (the demos), does not upset the apple cart. In effect, ‘government’ exists to protect the property interests of the dominant class of people.


(iv) The nature and parameters of the Western Democracy

“Democracy dealt with the political aspect of liberty. It was a reaction against autocracy and other despotism. It offered no special solution of the industrial problems that were arising, or of poverty, or class conflict. It laid stress on a theoretical freedom of each individual to work according to his bent, in the hope that he would try, from self-interest, to better himself in every way, and thus society would progress. This was the doctrine of laissez-faire,…..But the theory of individual freedom failed because the man who was compelled to work for a wage was far from free.” Itwasa reaction against autocracy and despotism of the determinate political superiors, be they the churches or the kings. It was not designed to solve the industrial troubles by creating conditions for socio-economic justice, nor was it created to lessen inequality, nor was it a way to deal with growing poverty and bitterness on account of growing class conflicts. In effect, it was more a device to acquire somehow acceptability for the system that worked for the dominant minority wielding economic power. It laid stress on a theoretical freedom of each individual to workaccording tohis bent, and it told all that the individuals can themselves better their lot as they know best how to promote their interests. It was pleaded that such pursuits would create condition for happiness and progress. But it never strove with whole heart to create conditions under which the weal of all could be ensured under the aspects of socio-economic justice (without which formal ‘democracy’ becomes a mere device to deceive by projecting illusions). Even when the doctrine of laissez-faire was not ruling the roost in the West, the government primarily existed for the rich and the privileged. As I have said somewhere, the real victor of World War II was the USA. As the USA worked, in effect, through corporations, the doctrine of the laissez-faire turned supreme after World War II. After much reflection, keeping in view the recent developments in the jurisprudence of the West, I observed in the ‘Introduction’ to my Judicial Role in Economic Globalisation (2005):

“It is clear from the trends and tendencies of our day that Market is planting its kiss on all the institutions spawned by the political realm. It has enchanted the executive to become market-friendly. Its persuaders have not left outside their spell even Judiciary. Richard Posner speaks of the Constitution as an economic document, and proposals have been made to refashion constitutional law to make it a comprehensive protection of free markets, whether through new interpretation or new amendment, such as a balanced-budget amendment.”

And Stiglitz says: “Even within the international institutions, seldom is global policy discussed in terms of social justice.”11 So annoyed was Bertrand Russell with a democracy sans ‘socio-economic justice’ that he said in his Autobiography (p. 515):

“Some ideals are subversive and cannot well be realized except by war or revolution. Political justice had its day in industrialized parts of the world and is still to be sought in the unindustrialized parts, but economic justice is still painfully sought goal. It requires a world-wide economic revolution if it is to be brought about. I do not see how it is to be achieved without bloodshed or how the world can continue without it….. These inequalities rouse envy and are potential causes of great disorder. Whether the world will be able by peaceful means to raise the conditions of the poorer nations is, to my mind, very doubtful, and is likely to prove the most difficult governmental problem of coming centuries.”

How close Russell goes to Mahatma Gandhi, who had provided a talisman for making decisions in our free India, and had warned the capitalists of all hues against the exploitative system. Please read the quotation from the Young India quoted in Chapter 19 of this Memoir.

The victors of the World War fought to protect ‘democracy’ with messianic zeal but they worked to promote a new brand of imperialism which intended to control resources and economic decision-making. Noam Chomsky has perceptively pointed out that certain great powers of our day consider that “the need ….. for colonization is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century” to bring to the rest of the world the principles of order, freedom, and justice to which “postmodern” societies are dedicated ….” And after World War II, nothing has been used so dexterously to promote the agenda of the United States and of the corporate imperium as this, simple sweat, word ‘democracy’. Reflecting on the U.S. strategies, Chomsky rightly says:

“There is ample evidence of Wolfowitz’s passion for democracy and his concern for suffering people, as he lent strong support to some of the most corrupt and appalling murderers, torturers, and aggressors of the late twentieth century.”

It is said that Bentham considered the great Declaration of the French Revolution (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) a mere nonsense on stilts, ‘a metaphysical work — the ne plus ultra of metaphysics’. To our neoliberals, the ‘democracy’ and the ideals stated in the Preamble, as our Constitution contemplates, are nonsensical. For them ‘democracy’ means what it means for the USA. And what it means for the USA can be easily understood. ‘Democracy’ promotes the ‘national interests’ which means, as Chomsky says, ‘the special interests of domestic sectors that are in a position to determine policy.’ Marx rightly said: ‘The state is an executive committee for managing the affairs of the governing class as a whole’. Our Constitution is sui generis as it breaks new ground by expressing ‘democracy’ with a socialist vision. But we see that those, who have worked it, have betrayed our trust. The hiatus between expectation and achievements has widened over three years.

Shiva Kant Jha’s ON THE LOOM OF TIME The Portrait of My Life and Times Chapt. 22 at pp. 314-318


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