ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Manifesto of a Moderate Indian

Drawing on the Mahabharata, a common source of our cultural heritage, this article points out that the epic enunciates what raj dharma, or a ruler's duties, should be. There is nothing esoteric or mystic about them; they are things that we all know. The rules of dharma serve as rules of the limits of power. The rules of dharma are also the rights of the ruled, the right to expect that the State will treat them without fear or favour. Transgressing them leads to tragedy. One hopes our new government is aware of this truism.

The waiting period before the declaration of election results can, indeed, be termed a silly season. Apart from repetitive political theatrics that try to catch the attention of a fickle-minded public, intellectuals, journalists, editors, and retired civil servants have begun to draw up laundry lists of tasks that a new government has to, nay, must take on. From their cushy perches in the US academia, a number of scholars speak down to those of us who chose to live and work in India. Do not worry if a certain gentleman from the west coast of India becomes the head of the one of the world’s largest democracies – as he most certainly will – they assure us. The logic of democratic institutions will curtail even minor impulses to authoritarianism. There is cause for disquiet. Scholars are supposed to tell us where our society has come from, and where it is possibly headed to. They are expected to have a sense of history, not only some flair for spinning sound bites. Other scholars from the US, obviously pitching for the job of advisor to the new government, lay out in detail what this government should be doing in the economic field. Roll back social policy, they tell whoever they address, it is ruinous for the economy. Leave everything to the deity of the market. It will sort out everyone and everything. That the market is peculiarly amoral because it only has place for those who have something to sell and for those who have something to buy with is completely overlooked.

Perhaps it is time for a mere Indian scholar to offer some advice to whoever becomes the new prime minister. I have no formal credentials for doing so. But I take heart from Niccolo Machiavelli, who while sending his magnificently scripted The Prince to Florentine Lorenzo de Medici, wrote thus,

Neither do I wish that it be thought presumptuous if a man of low and inferior station dares to debate and to regulate the rules of princes; for, just as those who paint landscapes place themselves in a lowly position on the plain in order to consider the nature of the mountains and the high places and place themselves high atop mountains in order to study the plains, in like manner, to know well the nature of the people one must be a prince, and to know well the nature of princes one must be of the people.1

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