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I-Day Spl | Governance lessons from Ramayana to make India a real Vishwa Guru

KE Radha Krishna | Updated on August 14, 2021

Ramayana’s Ayodhya Kanda, in its 100th Katchit Sarga, containing Rama’s advice to Bharata in governance is not a mere didactic preaching. It is relevant for all times.

India woke up to the ‘Haven of freedom’ (Tagore) in 1947, August 15th, and sculpted its own “Tryst with destiny” (Nehru). Ably led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his indomitably honest colleagues, the nation began building itself. Nehru, Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpeyee and Manmohan Singh, made their signal contributions to convert the nation once branded as the snake charmers' abode to a country of formidable capabilities.

But since 2014, a paradigm shift has been underway. Prime minister Narendra Modi frequently invokes the idea of making India not just prosperous but a ‘Vishwa Guru’. He used the Ram Mandir foundation-laying ceremony as a symbol for this aspiration of ‘Vishwa Gurutwa’.

But a careful study of the Valmiki Ramayana may offer some governance lessons to help us tread the path to becoming a Vishwa Guru in the real sense.

Ramayana’s Ayodhya Kanda, in its 100th Katchit Sarga, containing Rama’s advice to Bharata in governance is not a mere didactic preaching. It is relevant for all times.

Followed by a large entourage of family members and courtiers, Bharata arrives to meet Rama in the forest. Rama was anxious to know about the efficacy of Bharata’s governance and encounters him with a barrage of questions beginning with the word “Katchith” meaning did you or didn’t you do it and explains to him the basic rules of governance.

One of his first questions is “do you treat your servants with dignity? Do you give salaries and provide them food at the prescribed time?” Because a dissatisfied worker will cause disaffection. “Do you offer the same food, to your cooks that you eat?”. To treat with dignity all sections of the workforce is the basic duty of a ruler. A wise king should never enjoy the festivity and food without sharing with others.

The qualities prescribed by Rama for the appointment of ministers cannot be dismissed as impractical, as our own country has seen men of impeccable integrity holding such positions. The ruler should select, well qualified, courageous, learned, incorruptible and the insightful men as ministers. Decisions should be taken in consultation with them and never singlehandedly. One wise man’s counsel is better than thousands of self-seeking sycophants. One good minister can achieve things that cannot be achieved by thousands of self-servers. The best who are capable of discharging critical tasks, should be appointed as executives. According to one’s capability, a person should be assigned to appropriate jobs. They should be absolutely honest and corruption in any form is adharma. The ruler should dismiss a doctor who skilfully fleeces money and the servant who is always disgruntled. Soldiers who exhibit exemplary bravery should be publicly honoured. His ministers should be morally capable of standing against the ruler if and when he wavered from the path of dharmic governance.

His ambassadors should be well-versed in rajaniti (politics) and vyavahara (conduct), truthful, patriotic, capable of using their own intelligence, but never exceeding the brief.

He should keep away himself from the scholars, who indulge in acrimonious arguments but should encourage and support independent thinking scholars, who have the courage to differ from him.

The ruler must use his resources like a trustee and develop projects that have permanence by using less resources and implement them without causing unnecessary delay. Appropriate publicity should be given to bring them into the public awareness, but the ruler should never indulge in self-aggrandizement. Agriculture and animal husbandry, the backbone of economy, should be protected. The ruler should earn the respect of business class, as progress in commerce brings sukha to the nation. He should solve their problems in a timely fashion. His treasury should be in surplus and expenditure should not exceed income. The treasury (Kosha) should never be squandered to please underserving people.

Indulging in disproportionate punishments, punishing an innocent person in violation of law, setting free a thief caught red handed, considering someone guilty without proper evidence, and favouring the strong against the poor in a dispute are unpardonable judicial sins. Greed and excessive desire for material wealth would destroy a nation’s judicial system.

Eka chintana or taking decisions without consultation, lies, anger, procrastination, alasyam or laziness, non-implementation of approved projects, and association with unwise will bring doom to the nation.

It is not just in Rama, the ideal king we find characters of a Vishwa Guru.

Even in Ravana’s court, we see encounter several wise people. Shurpunakha, otherwise known as a spoilt monster, finds fault in Ravana squandering his treasury in pursuit of earthly pleasures.

Kumbhakarna, a fascinating character, accuses Ravana of taking decisions without any consultation and then forcing it upon on the nation. He accuses ministers for not protesting against Ravana’s misadventure.

When Rama was to be anointed the crown prince, the world of Dasharatha was already in shambles. But willingly accepts to go to in exile, and adheres into the path of truth and righteousness. During the exile, he journeys through the autonomous province ruled by Guha, a hunter. He traverses through Kishkindha, a land of anarchic Vanara tribes and transformed it into a state ruled as according to dharma. In the end, he destroys the hollow dictatorial state run by Ravana and crowns Vibhishana as the king and sows the seeds of Vishwa Guruness.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, for who Rama was an icon, even if a dream, Rama Rajya is a great dream where the prince and the pauper get the same justice. Ramayana declares the tears of common people, would destroy the kingdom and the king along with his family.

Though a great ideal, India can never become a Vishwa Guru with mere slogans. Sustaining domestic strength with magnanimity, dousing the flames of hatred and creating a society based on mutual respect or at least by tolerance are the essential conditions to becoming a Vishwa Guru.

The author is a former principal of Seshadripuram and Surana colleges in Bengaluru.

Published on August 14, 2021

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