Brig RS Chhikara(Retd)
Indian freedom from British rule in 1947, came in a rather hurried sequence of events. During its long and more or less incessant struggle since 1857, the Indian masses had been awakened sufficiently to the undesirability of alien rule. Gandhi galvanized this sense of alienation and converted it into a mass mass political movement for freedom. The advent of Subhash Chandra Bose and his INA on the firmament accentuated this desire for freedom. The trial of Shahnawaz, Dhillon and Sehgal in the Red Fort came as the final straw on the camel’s back. The Indian soldiery were, at once, enthused into rebellion by their patriotic spirit and sacrifice. The British, weakened as they were in the aftermath of the world war, were quick to realize that they could no longer keep India enslaved on the strength of Indian soldiery. Nor did they have the economic muscle to maintain large British forces to help subdue the popular upsurge. Atlee, the then British Prime Minister, went on record to say that India’s Independence is inevitable and it cannot be delayed for long.
The British policy of divide and rule had succeeded in creating a wide chasm among the Muslim and Hindu communities and to some extent in the mind of the Sikh Community who had thus far never thought of themselves as a separate nation. Resultantly the British decided upon the best available recourse; divide India into India and Pakistan and keeping both of them at each other’s throat, retain as much of good will and influence with them individually so that Britain can hopefully exploit them for maximum advantage to itself at a later date. The leadership of the Indian National Congress and M A Jinnah the leader of Muslims were, all along, focused on the tactical requirements of achieving freedom. Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose were perhaps the only leaders who had given thought to the future shape of free India. Unfortunately the two visions were not in synch.
There were three distinct images impressed on the public mind. First the Image of Ram Rajya of which they had learnt through folk lore. Simply put; it envisioned a benevolent ruler guided and controlled by Raj Dharma and acting as the custodian of public welfare, justice and aspirations on the one hand and their safety from outsiders on the other hand. This image was epitomized by Lord Rama, Chandra Gupta and Ashok. The second image was that of the Alien Mughal rulers who, although , they had undergone considerable assimilation as Indians were still exploitative in matters of religion and equity . Yet this exploitation had come to be seen not as a major societal conflict but as a means adopted by autocratic rulers to keep the masses subjugated. It was understood that whatever the spoils of this exploitation, these remained within India. The third image was more recent and fresh. It was a traumatizing image of an alien imperialist ruling power whose sole aim was to maximize the exploitation of India’s human and material resources for the exclusive benefit of an alien nation. Indian wealth was being plundered and the Indian was left starving. This image was epitomized by the salt tax, the Indigo plantations, Indian labour being exported to help Britain exploit other lands in Asia and Indian soldiers being used as gun fodder to promote British interests worldwide.
In the mean while Leaders of the Freedom movement had been exposed to political thought in America, Europe and Russia where differing models of democracy and communism were being debated and experimented with. Each of these leaders had formed their own independent impressions and opinions about the merits and de merits of these political systems. There had been no occasion or opportunity to discuss, debate and synthesize these impressions and ideas and evaluate them on the criterion of their suitability to Indian political, social and cultural legacy.
Of the three images in public consciousness, the traditional concept of Ram Rajya was closest to the concepts of western democracies wherein there were elements of social equality and public welfare alongside rule of law guided and controlled by Raj Dharma through the wise and influential Raj Guru. Yet the element of complete equity in the theory of Communism also appeared attractive and desirable.
It was evident that a country with India’s continental size and intricate diversity of geography, topography, climate, ethnicity, languages, religions and cultures did not lend itself to the concept of being governed on a unitary scale. Historically too, from the days of Rama till the advent of Mughal rule no single ruler had been able to rule the entire country in accordance with a single universal set of laws, rules, systems and practices for any considerable length of time. Ancient rulers ruled through a hierarchy of local rajas, maharajas and Maharajadhirajs, owing allegiance and loyalty to the next superior ruler and paying taxes to the later as proof thereof. The Mughals also ruled through regional satraps while the British ruled through the medium of protectorates in the form of princely states and Zamindars as tax collection agents who drew their power and authority from the Governor through his political agent. In each case the umbrella authority at each level accumulated sufficient power which was utilized to intercede for ensuring continued loyalty of the lower order satraps or to adjudicate intra regional and intra zonal conflicts. There never was any single monolithic nationwide authority to the exclusion of intermediaries who were the actual governing instrumentality.
The system worked largely as a federation of political and governing units in a set pattern of reciprocal rights and duties. At the grass roots level there were the community elders who conducted affairs on the basis of lawful and just voluntary public consensus. Higher order authorities seldom transgressed this consensus. Raj Dharma was but a set of laws, rules ,conventions and protocol designed with the aim of retaining the power of the ruler on the one hand and protecting the honour , well being and safety of the subject/s on the other. The ruler was perceived to be ordained to rule, NOT for his own personal benefit but as custodian, for the time being, for the collective well being of his subjects. Religion was a shared freedom between the ruler and the ruled and not an instrument of state policy.
The Mughals were more autocratic in outlook. The ruler at each level retained first right to resources and kept the subjects dependent on largesse doled out depending on their demonstrated loyalty, usefulness and service rendered. The principle part of their Raj Dharma was not maximum welfare of the people but their maximum exploitation. The system was less participative and more authoritative. Resultantly, the level of disaffection was higher as was the incidence of civil strife and conflict between local and regional satraps. There was constant struggle for individual power and benefit at the cost of collective well being of the common man.
With the advent of the British, systemic emphasis shifted a step or two away from public well being. Maximum exploitation was now resorted to for the exclusive benefit of the foreign ruler. Raj Dharma or rule of law ceased to exist. Law was re written with the sole objective of helping exploitation. There was nothing left of federalism or public aspiration. It was pure and simple colonialism. Levels of disaffection and strife rose in proportion to degree of exploitation.
No wonder then that when independence came and Jawahar Lal Nehru acceded to India’s throne. He chose to put in place a political system based on his personal tentative perceptions, understanding and expectations from what he had learnt about western democracies and Russian Communism. The result was a hasty ‘cut and paste’ job. Portions of American, European and Russian political thought found prominent place in our constitution at the expense of our own indigenous political experience handed down to us through centuries but rusting under the debris of of more recent experiences . He picked up public welfare, socialism, rule of law, federalism et- all, without the political, legal, educational and and social infrastructure that was necessary to achieve the theoretical objectives. For example he picked up universal franchise without ensuring voter education or even awareness. He picked up federalism without the necessary consensus on mutual and binding rights and obligations. He picked up social welfare without changes in the bureaucratic governing instrumentality which was conditioned to exploitation.
That is the dichotomy of our constitution and that is the extent of its flaws. May be, we need to devise an indigenous political system in synch with India’s social, cultural and civilizational experiences. Experience over the last 65 years has clearly showed up the mismatch between society’s aspirations and preferences and the practice of representative democracy as has been witnessed. Is the system amenable to self correction? Is it possible to reform the present system sufficiently by utilizing the existing political and judicial institutions? If not, can India find a way to bring about acceptance of substantive systemic changes with minimal disruption? Or, is a revolution unavoidable