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“Ideal Society and its governance”


The very idea of good governance evokes the word "Ramrajya" in common people's mind. There are many popular misconceptions about "What are the basic methods and elements of good governance.”  The human mind, normally, has the tendency to find solutions to its current state in the current frame of reference. The solution often eludes, as the present reference frame cannot provide the right kind of answers to the problems it bred. This article examines such popular misconceptions and looks beyond the rosy terms of "equality", "justice" and "democracy". This article, in the context of India, also makes a serious endeavour to find the ways and means that lead to "good governance". The solutions presented here are not the easiest to implement, but they are the logical solutions to the problem, we have been facing since centuries.

Among the few greatly cherished and yet unfulfilled dreams of mankind, one is that of an ideal society. It has been called “Utopia” and has been one of the common dreams of men, whose hearts bleed at the injustice to the weak and exploitation of the meek. Almost all of the great thinkers and philosophers in the history of mankind have tried to define the conditions, rules and mechanisms of such a society. There is no dearth of ideas regarding how an ideal society should be, but we do not seem to have progressed towards this ideal at all. Such a society still remains as distant as a mirage. 

It is not that there have not been good leaders or rulers, who have not wished to turn their kingdoms or areas of influence into a heaven on earth. It is not that majority of the human beings have not wanted to create or help create an ideal society. Still, the dream remains unfulfilled, and thinkers and people with good intentions remain frustrated. One can see exploitation and suppression, a state of “dog eat dog” or “big fish eat small fish” all around. 

In my opinion, in order to find out the reasons for such a sorry state of affairs, one should examine the very basic questions. One such question could be –“What is an ideal society?” 

Let us consider some simplistic definitions: 

A society where all are treated equally.  

But would it be fair and just to treat an Einstein or a Picasso or a Tolstoy equal to every one else? Should the society not provide more opportunities or accord more status to persons of great talent? Did the scientist who invented electricity not contribute far more towards the betterment of humanity compared to the multitudes? 

No, it would be grossly unfair to consider all men equal simply because they are not. Each one of us is certainly unique, but not equal. If one wishes to have all the plants in his garden, one has to keep cutting down the bigger ones to the size of smaller ones. One cannot make small plants grow to the size of bigger plants simply because it is not in the scheme of nature. Societies and philosophies which have tried to equalize all have faded out. One of the main reasons for the failure of communism was that it disregarded the enterprise in individuals and could not tolerate the men who outgrew their society. The truth of the matter is that talent is an attribute of an individual and not of a group and the societies which have suppressed talent in order to not being discriminatory have failed without exception and much ado. 

A society where there is justice. 

“Justice” is a concept for which true definition has not yet been found. The reason for it is that the basic premises about it differ in different societies. If one examines this issue deeply, it raises too many questions: who defines justice? Are the laws in different countries same today? Are they same in USA and Canada and UK? Are they same in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Are or were they same in China and USSR or Russia? Are they same in two democracies or autocracies or monarchies or communist or Islamic countries? Are they same for all the citizens in the same country? 

It is easy to see that even though all countries are inhabited by human beings, the laws are different and what we call justice in one country may be considered injustice in another. After all, laws are framed by people who are in power and they frame laws to suit themselves. Then they implement these laws and call it justice. They choose not to follow the law framed by themselves, if they later find that it is not suiting them. Take an example of the recent controversy in India about the “office of profit”. As soon as the politicians found out that they may get affected by the law regarding holding more than one offices of profit, they immediately set about to either amend the law itself or exclude certain posts and offices by redefining them. Similar instances of modifying laws to suit the ruling class can be found in almost every country. 

A society where there is peace. 

Let us face the reality. There cannot be peace. Violence, jealousy, hatred, greed etc. seem to be the inherent nature of man. Non-violence, love, altruism etc. are ideals towards which men strive or pretend to strive. The so called peaceful societies are the ones which meet violence with greater violence and cruelty with greater cruelty. The apparent peace is nothing but the peace enforced with fear. Such a society certainly can’t be an ideal one. 

There can be true peace in a society only when its members are free of negative traits like greed and jealousy of human beings. The word “Utopia” again flashes into the mind if one pauses to imagine such a society. 

A society where there is liberty. 

This certainly seems to be a positive one. Freedom is considered to be the greatest human value and rightly so. The more the degree of freedom one enjoys, the greater is the opportunity for him to realize his potential of creativity. Creativity is one of the very few activities, which purges a man of all the dark and negative emotions while he is creative. If one looks at human history, one will find that happiest people lived in the societies which accorded most freedom to its members. However, freedom cannot be unconditional and it must be ensured that one person’s freedom should not encroach upon another’s freedom. Freedom does not and cannot mean freedom to harm, exploit, rob or kill.

The fact, that freedom of an individual in a society has to be regulated, brings up the issue of governance. If freedom is the basic value for an ideal society, then it follows that the form of governance which accords the greatest freedom to individuals should be considered to be the best one. People can only enjoy more and more freedom, if there is less and less governance. If we take this premise to its logical conclusion, we are reminded of Thoreau who said, “The best government is no government at all.” 

It is not very difficult to see that we humans are not yet ready for a state of “No Governance”. We have not matured enough; we are not yet free of our weaknesses and we are still like the kids who start fighting with each other as soon as the teacher leaves the classroom. There remain people amongst us who will not hesitate to take away the freedom of others if given a free hand. We still need to be governed, so there is no escape from authority and therefore we cannot enjoy total freedom. 

The tragedy is that freedom too can be defined, construed and distorted in many ways. The degree of freedom available to us is decided by the powers that be. And even then, the freedom granted by the statutes can be taken away with impunity by those in power. In many cases, the freedom accorded to us is freedom in name only.  

To understand this tragedy properly, let us examine the best considered form of governance – Democracy – in the context of India. India boasts of having a democratic system of governance, and yet the citizens find themselves at the mercy of the powers that be too often. Many would be heard saying that the general governance was better in the times of the British rule. It may not be true, but it certainly conveys a message of frustration with the current state of affairs. 

It is said that democracy allows citizens to enjoy the highest degree of freedom. Compared to other forms of governance, democracy does allow greater freedom. Citizens can change the rulers they don’t like, but this freedom is only apparent and not real. During elections, the public usually has a choice between different rogues. All that the public can do is to keep rotating the dishonest and unscrupulous politicians and thus choose which set of politicians would exploit them next. Men who wish to get rid of them will have to form a party and then fight the elections. The trouble is that campaigning and fighting of elections requires huge sums of money which cannot be arranged by honest people. A great nexus has been formed by the rich and powerful and this hardly leaves any room for good people in politics.  

There are certain glaring shortcomings in the democratic system. Let us examine some of them one by one. 

  1. Every citizen is considered equal and has equal voting rights.

As has been mentioned earlier, all of the citizens should not be considered equal, especially in the matter of electing the rulers.  In a country like India, majority of people have not yet been able to solve their very basic problem of livelihood thanks to the great ruling class India is blessed with. People struggling to eke out their livelihood do not have time, inclination and/or ability to think about the country or society. During elections, they are lured by petty offerings or misled by false promises or influenced by chauvinistic emotions related to castes, regionalism, language or religion aroused by the wily politicians. The thinking voters are far outnumbered by the ignoramuses and influenced or misled voters with the result that the rulers remain the same and nothing changes. It is obvious that there must be some sort of qualification for being able to vote. Simply being born in the country and attaining a certain age should not be enough. 

    2.   Education is not considered for being elected to office of power. 

Even to get appointed as an orderly or a peon, one needs to have some minimum level of education. The higher the position a man wishes to acquire, the higher should be his education. Then what about politicians who occupy the highest seats of power? Shouldn’t they prove their abilities and intelligence beforehand too? 

  1. The rulers themselves frame the rules and laws.

This one is perhaps the greatest shortcoming of a democratic system. This is where the line between democracy and monarchism gets blurred. One of the points on which monarchism is criticized is that the word of the monarch becomes a law. The same happens in the democratic system too. The elected rulers are the ones who create or change the law. It is like allowing the policemen to decide what punishment they should mete out to the criminals.  

Compare the modern system of governance with the system prevalent in ancient India. The laws were laid down by Rishis and Munis (the learned ones), who were the most knowledgeable people and did not hanker after the lucre or power. They were not involved in the business of governance and the kings were not involved in laying down the laws. The king had to follow these laws in governing the kingdom. This ensured that the king could not amend or distort the law for his personal benefits or selfish interests.  

In the modern context, to become a law maker, one needs to get elected. Instead, one should have the requisite and related qualifications to be able to qualify for the role of a law maker. There should be different committees for making or modifying laws related to different fields of life and a qualifying person should become a member of a committee as per his expertise. There should not be elections for parliament but only for the ministry. Let the parliamentarians qualify, and not elected to parliament. 

  1. Citizens do not know who they are voting for.

Voters only elect their representatives and they do not know beforehand what their elected representative is going to become in the government. In the present system even an illiterate person can become education minister; a person having no understanding of financial matters may become finance minister and so on. One may guess the value of contributions of such ministers. 

There should be different electoral colleges for different ministers and they should be elected directly. Why should an engineer be an elector for the health minister? He should be an elector for minister for technology or industry. Only an educationist should be allowed the candidature for education minister and the electors should be the people related to education system. Similarly, the defense minister and his electors should be the people from the defense establishment itself. 

       Apart from these issues related to democratic system in India, there are certain other issues directly related to governance and the society. One very important issue is that of the mind set of the organs of the state which are responsible for governance and maintaining law and order. Take for example, the mind set of the police organization in India. It appears that it has a mind set of forces which occupy some foreign land. The police force in India generally does not have much respect for citizens’ human and constitutional rights. It flouts the norms and rules for dealing with citizens with impunity and gets away with it too easily. The whole system of police force and judiciary was put in place by the British rulers to keep the Indian public under control. Unfortunately, even after decades of political freedom, the system still continues with the same mind set. It is as if they believe that all the citizens are hostile to the state or to them by default. As a result, Indian citizens still fear the law machinery so much that most of them avoid approaching the law and order machinery even when they are in trouble because of the anti-social elements. In too many cases, people have found themselves in a far worse plight after approaching the system for succour. The other public service institutes of the government consider the Indian citizens sheep to be fleeced at every opportunity. 

The Indian police force needs to be thoroughly re-trained, so that they start treating the citizens with respect and value the human and constitutional rights. The corruption prevalent in the government and its organs needs to be rooted out with a strong hand. The authorities need to understand that they are not the rulers of the public. They need to realize that their objective is to serve the society and not to shackle and exploit it. For all of this to happen, it is perhaps necessary that the changes start at the top. Like the great Ganges, corruption and exploitation start flowing from the top and if they can be rooted out at the top itself, the task becomes much easier. There have been numerous instances of good individuals in the positions of power who have shown that a difference can be made if one is willing.  

Then there are certain professions like medical profession, essential to a society, which face a continuous conflict between their purpose and interests. I am reminded here of the suggestion given by Lao Tsu to the then Chinese emperor. Lao Tsu said that professionally, a doctor’s purpose is to keep people healthy. But if the people remain healthy and do not fall ill, the doctor would not be able to earn his livelihood. This situation creates a great conflict in the mind of a doctor as his own personal interest and professional goal clash. Lao Tsu suggested that doctors should be assigned certain areas or families to them. Each family would pay a regular sum of money to the doctor, depending on its income and the number of family members, till no one in the family falls sick. In the event of someone falling ill, the payment to the doctor would be stopped and it would resume only after the sick person becomes healthy. Such a system would align the different interests of a medical man in the same direction and doctors would not find any reason to indulge in malpractices or negligence. 

The same logic could be applied to some other professionals like lawyers as well. This would greatly reduce the no. of pending cases in the courts and ensure speedy justice. 

Lastly, it goes without saying that a society without a proper value system cannot hope to thrive for long. It is true that different societies have different values; however, India does not need to look elsewhere for right values for itself. Our own tradition is rich enough to suggest proper solutions to the ills plaguing our society. Our education system was designed by Lord Macaulay, who had proudly written to his father that Hindus after being educated in the system devised by him would remain Hindus in name only. Here are some of his famous sayings: 

  1. “We must at present do our best to form a class, who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellects”.
  2. “All the historical information which can be collected from all the books which have been written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England ".
  3. “Hindus have a literature of small intrinsic value, hardly reconcilable with morality, full of monstrous superstitions ".

It is sad for the Indian society that we are still continuing with the same educational, political and administrative systems which were put in place by our British rulers. The ruling class of free India chose to continue with the same systems because of the obvious benefits to them. It seems unlikely that they would make some meaningful efforts to bring about changes in the system to benefit the society at large and in turn lose their exalted status. In such a situation, the onus of providing greater and greater thrust to positive forces for change lies on the shoulders of those citizens who dream to see a better India. They should try their utmost to educate the general public so that it is able to exercise the only power in its hands, that of electing the rulers, in a right way to elect persons of good intellect and moral standing.  

I do not claim that the suggestions and ideas presented here are flawless or that they would be easy to implement, but they certainly provide some alternative mechanisms to cure the present shortcomings of the society and its governance. The greatest stumbling block is the ruling class itself. It is the designated vehicle for implementing change but whenever and wherever its interests get threatened; it maneuvers skillfully to protect itself, leaving the citizenry and the country to their sorry fate. The problem is literally the proverbial problem of “Belling the cat”.

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