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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 1:59 AM (IST)
Harish Khare
Harish Khare

Ancient wisdom for modern rulers...

Harish Khare

Harish Khare

Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is one of the saner voices in the country today. Though this former union cabinet minister is a BJP Member of Parliament, it is generally known that the BJP does not care for this eminence grise. Left very much to himself, he indulges in the noblest of all pursuits — intellectual reflection. And, his reflections have the stamp of maturity and experience.

The provocation for this little ditty is that Dr Joshi has just written a very insightful, longish piece, entitled: “Rajdharma, How Rulers Must Conduct: Lessons from ancient India.” This important argument has appeared in a magazine called Power Politics, which is brought out by one of my distinguished predecessors, Hari Jaisingh. He was the Editor of The Tribune for over nine years, from 1994 to 2003; and, for 10 years now, he has been editing Power Politics. It is a non-flashy, serious offering.

In his special article, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi has produced a kind of primer for the modern rulers, based on the wisdom in our ancient scriptures like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vedas, and Kautaliya’s Arthashastra.

And surprisingly, what Dr Joshi delineates could well be some of the first principles of modern liberal constitutional order. For example: “Just as one wheel alone cannot move a chariot, the king as a single person cannot run the state,” or, “The king must keep away from darpa (arrogance) and should be free from deviousness and cunning” or, “he was not authorised to oppress people and violate dharma... the king is placed more than anyone else under the fear of danda, law and governance.” This is nothing but the essence of accountable governance. 

In fact, in modern times, the political challenge has come down to the basic task of ensuring that the executive operated within its limits. During the Nixon White House, for example, there was a valid concern that the President was trying for an “imperial presidency.”

Our ancient political wisdom enjoins that a king would observe discipline in exercise of his powers: “The discipline of the king is to be derived from the purpose for which he was invested with the power of governance, and the Mahabharata asks the king (state) to exercise power subject to certain disciplines,” sums up Dr Joshi.

Again, we are told that “Power is not to be exercised arbitrarily but in accordance with the dharma”, a tenet that is at the very heart of the liberal conundrum and modern jurisprudence. As Dr Joshi puts it, “Mahrishi Vyas enjoins, therefore, let the King protect his subjects from their fear of him; from their fear of others; from their fear of each other; and from their fear of things that are not human.” Simply put: rule of law and not a rule of individuals or of kings and princes. 

Curiously enough, the ancient texts define dharma in a manner that is perfectly compatible with what can be called a secular arrangement in modern times: “Dharma is not yet another ‘religious’ faith among many mutually contesting ‘religious faiths’. But neither is dharma antagonistic to any religious faith. Rather, dharma is the foundation of ‘religion’ itself. Thus, religion in its institutional form divides, while dharma unites. 

Dr Joshi’s reflections constitute a reminder that principles of statecraft have certain permanence to them; and, the historians’ burden is to record — for later generations — the consequences of what happens when unwise rulers ignore these principles. 


The political class in India has talked itself into a kind of shaheed corner. Because so much of our politics has come to revolve around nationalism, national security, balidaan, deshbhakti, etc, it has become incumbent upon a chief minister to visit the family of every jawan or officer who loses his life at the India-Pakistan border. 

It was perhaps the first time during the Kargil conflict that clever and cunning politicians sensed electoral dividends accruing from the soldier’s supreme sacrifice and martyrdom. Twenty years later, we are still at an undeclared war with Pakistan, and, now we have a set routine; the politicians must make a beeline to the shaheed’s home; the concerned chief minister has to announced a hefty grant, sometimes he also throws in a petrol pump station or an LPG agency for the martyred soldier’s family; sometimes a sarkaari naukri is additionally demanded — and granted. The politicians convert such an occasion into grandstanding, with the media playing its assigned role of the cheerleader.

The other day, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar found himself chastised in many Hindi newspapers because it took him four days to visit the family of Capt Kapil Kundu in Gurugram. Such visits, predictably, become emotional occasions and the political leaders feel compelled to talk hawkishly.

It was reported in newspapers that when Chief Minister Manohar Lal similarly visited the home of a martyred jawan in Kalanaur, he had to hear a harangue from the bereaved father. The Chief Minister was accusingly told that it was the government that was holding the fauj back and that too for selfish, political reasons; otherwise, it was only a matter of just four hours for the Indian Army to cross over and sort out Pakistan. Not to be left behind, the Chief Minister also upped the rhetorical ante: for every two soldiers killed by Pakistan, India kills 20.

Each such “event” creates a public mood; cumulatively, they manufacture a mood of aggression and violence, at home and in our geopolitical neighbourhood — which, in turn, severely restricts the government’s diplomatic choices. The government finds itself trapped in the rhetoric of balidaan. And, since General Election is within sight, the government cannot be expected to allow itself to be shown as conciliatory towards Pakistan. The chief ministers in this region must be prepared to make many more condolence visits.  


You cannot come to work in Chandigarh and not be told of that wondrous man, MS Randhawa. “Oh, it was Dr Randhawa who thought of planting all these trees and shrubs.” “It was Dr Randhawa who encouraged this garden or that museum.” All little, little things which make Chandigarh beautiful can be traced back to MS Randhawa.

Chandigarh has every reason to be grateful to this man, and it is not an ungrateful city. It had the good sense to remember him on his 110th birthday last week, with a week-long “Dr MS Randhawa Art and Literature Utsav.”

There was also this very tastefully done photo-exhibition at Punjab Kala Bhavan. Dr Randhawa is shown in the company of the high and mighty; but, what struck me was that this lifelong bureaucrat (most of the time dressed in a suit and tie) seemed most happy in the company of artistes, writers, actors, etc. With official functionaries, he is solemn and correct; in the company of the creative crowd, he is at ease, with a faint hint of a smile. Revealing.


As a nation, we seem to be endlessly blessed with absurdities and hypocrisies. Consider this: the other day, the Human Resource Development Minister launched a book written by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, containing ‘Modi mantras’ on how to crack the examinations.

And, no one sees the bizarreness of the whole thing. Here is a man whose educational qualifications remain a matter of mystery; the Union government has gone to extraordinary lengths to snub all those who have asked questions about his degrees. Yet, we all go along with the farce that he has the credentials to give advice to the students.

There is a word in the 
English language for this: megalomania.
And that, sir, calls for a cup of coffee. Join me. 



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