Articles and Commentaries |
January 25, 2013

Rethinking Democracy and Beyond (A Plea For Dharmocracy)

One of the most striking features of contemporary political scenario is widespread popularity of democracy so much so that many people think that there can be no other desirable alternative. They may argue that there is end of history/ideology and with democracy saturation point has reached in political thought. They may assume democracy to be the best form of government that can be conceived by human mind and think that no alternative to democracy is conceivable. There is an end to human rational capacity and there can be no advancement beyond. ‘Thus far and no further’ position seems to be the point of culmination of thought to them.

It may also mean that other forms of governance practiced so far, or being practiced, are either outdated or not good. In the past monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy and several other forms were prevalent as different modes of political organizations and people were not satisfied with their functioning. Though monarchy still continues in some countries it is mostly nominal and on the way out in favor of democracy which is the latest trend. Because it is most modern and has acquired some prestige and putative position it is to be accepted without question.

Both the positions seem to be logically untenable. To take the second viewpoint first, one need not be dogmatic or biased against the past. There may be some merits in other forms of governance practiced in the past and this fact cannot be denied or overlooked.  There may be some positive aspects of history. They need to be revisited for possible service as history has its own lessons to teach. It is not good to regard the past as dead and useless. History is embodiment and carrier of experiences of our ancestors and it is possible that we may be benefitted by them. Of course this does not mean that we have to favour  monarchy or oligarchy or aristocracy.

As regards the first position, to a rational and creative human mind it is irrational to think and talk of end of history or saturation in thinking. To ask reason not to think further is to ask it to commit suicide. Innovative thinking, transformative thinking and radical thinking should be regarded as natural to human mind.

Therefore, with regard to political thinking also there must be rethinking about democracy leading to search for an alternative. To safeguard freedom and justice we shall have to reexamine tenets of modern political thinking, premises upon which it is built and policies upon which it acts. The alternative may or may not be radically different but it must surely be essentially different in the sense that it should transcend all the limitations, deformities, drawbacks and demerits of democracy, particularly the ones of the manifold forms of democracy practiced in modern times. It is not a plea to distrust or reject but to reexamine it, to transform it, to cleanse it and if needed to go beyond it and look for an alternative. It is too well known to argue that all is not well with democracy. The search for an alternative requires newer intuitions, fresh insights and innovative thinking. If necessary, it may call for paradigm shift in end, means and modalities, and consequent structuring of new vocabulary and phraseology. It may involve drawing out new ideas and ideals and practices and disowning the prevalent ones that may not be useful or that may be obstructive. There has been pervasive confusion over the nature of political governance and freedom. James Boward in his book “Freedom in Chains (Introduction, p. 2) writes, “The effort to find a political mechanism to force government to serve the people is modern search for the Holy Grail. Though no such mechanism has been found, government power has been relentlessly expanded anyhow.” One may not fully agree with this pessimistic view, but one cannot also ignore the atrocities committed in the name of democracy. To some extent he is justified in writing that “Nowadays “democracy” serves mainly as a sheepskin for leviathan, as a label to delude people into thinking that government’s ‘big teeth’ will never bite them.” (p.3)


It must be admitted that democracy is the best form of governance evolved so far but it cannot be said to be the best or that there can be or should be no scope for modification or improvement in its theoretical foundations and actual functioning. As Winston Churchill once remarked, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (Hansard, November 11, 1947) There is lot of truth in what Churchill opined. Plato’s well known objections to democracy that it puts power in the hands of ignorant and unwise people also cannot be overlooked. Mahatma Gandhi in his seminal work “Hind Swaraj” referring to British Parliamentary system of democracy writes as follows,

“That which you consider to be the Mother of Parliaments is like a sterile woman and a prostitute. Both these are harsh terms, but exactly fit the case. That Parliament has not yet, of its own accord, done a single good thing. Hence I have compared it to a sterile woman. The natural condition of that Parliament is such that, without outside pressure, it can do nothing. It is like a prostitute because it is under the control of ministers who change from time to time. Today it is under Mr. Asquith, tomorrow it may be under Mr. Balfour.

Reader: You have said this sarcastically. The term, “sterile woman” is not applicable. The Parliament, being elected by the people, must work under public pressure. This is its quality.

Editor: You are mistaken. Let us examine it a little more closely. The best men are supposed to be elected by the people. The members serve without pay and therefore, it must be assumed, only for the public weal. The electors are considered to be educated and therefore we should assume that they would not generally make mistakes in their choice. Such a Parliament should not need spur of petitions or any other pressure. Its work should be so smooth that its effects that its effects would be more apparent day by day. But, as a matter of fact, it is generally acknowledged that the members are hypocritical and selfish. Each thinks of his own little interest.  It is fear that is the guiding motive. What is done today may be undone tomorrow. It is not possible to recall a single instance in which finality can be predicted for its work. When the greatest questions are debated, its members have been seen to stretch themselves and to doze. Sometimes the members talk away until the listeners are disgusted. Carlyle has called it the “talking shop of the world”. Members vote for their party without a thought. Their so-called discipline binds them to this it.  If any member, by way of exception, gives an independent vote, he is considered a renegade.  If the money and the time wasted by the Parliament were entrusted to a few good men, the English nation would be occupying today much higher position. Parliament is simply a costly toy of the nation. These views are by no means peculiar to me. Some great English thinkers have expressed them. One of the members of that Parliament recently said that a true Christian could not become a member of it. Another said that it was a baby.  And if it has remained a baby even after an existence of seven hundred years, when will it outgrow its babyhood?

Reader: You have set me thinking; you do not expect me to accept at once all you say. You give me entirely novel views. I shall have to digest them. Will you now explain the epithet “prostitute”?

Editor: That you cannot accept my views at once is only right. If you will read the literature on this subject, you will have some idea about it. Parliament is without a real master. Under the Prime Minister, its movement is not steady but it is buffeted about like a prostitute. The Prime Minister is more concerned about his power than about welfare of Parliament. His energy is concentrated upon securing the success of his party. His care is not always that Parliament should do right. Prime Ministers are known to have made Parliament do things merely for party advantage. All this is worth thinking over.

Reader: Then you are really attacking the very men whom we have hitherto considered to be patriotic and honest?

Editor: Yes, that is true; I can have nothing against Prime Ministers, but what I have seen leads me to think that they cannot be considered really patriotic. If they are to be considered honest because they do not take what are generally known as bribes, let them be so considered, but they are open to subtler influences. In order to gain their ends, they certainly bribe people with honours. I do not hesitate to say that t6hey have neither real honesty nor a living conscience.” (Pp. 27-29, Fourteenth Reprint, October, 2001.)

About the English voters Mahatma Gandhi wrote as follows:

“To the English voters their newspaper is their bible. They take their cue from their newspapers which are often dishonest. The same fact is differently interpreted by different newspapers, according to the party in whose interests they are edited….” He further writes, “These views swing like a pendulum of a clock and are never steadfast. The people would follow a powerful orator or a man who gives them parties, receptions etc. As are the people, so is their Parliament. “(Ibid, Pp. 29-30)


What Mahatma Gandhi held in 1908 when this booklet was written in Gujarati, that still holds good even in 2012, and it may continue to be so unless there is radical review of functioning of democracy all over the globe.

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya in his booklet “Integral Humanism” very correctly opines about the functioning of democracy in India. He writes, “Consequently, opportunists with no principles reign in the politics of our country. Parties and politicians have neither principles nor aims nor a standard code of conduct. A person feels there is nothing wrong in leaving party and joining another. Even alliances and mergers of parties or their bifurcations are dictated not by agreements or differences in principles, but purely by gains in elections or in positions of power….Now there is complete license in politics. As a result, in public mind there is distrust for everyone. There is hardly any person whose integrity is beyond doubt in the public mind. This situation must be changed. Otherwise unity and discipline cannot be established in society.” (P.4) Whatever is described above regarding England and India holds good about all other countries which practice democracy.


History of political thought has witnessed several forms of political organizations ranging from autocracy to democracy. These various forms need not be enumerated. Some of them continue even now along with democracy.    Of democracy also we find various brands. There are most liberal as well as most dictatorial forms and both call themselves democratic. Democracy is thus the most contested concept. Different people mean different things by democracy with the result that the word democracy has lost its meaning. We have people’s democracy in which people are hardly involved in governance. We have liberal democracies that are most conservative and despotic. We have socialist democracies in which freedom, equality and justice are trampled with. In the name of democracy the powers that be can do anything and everything for self-interest and self- aggrandizement. Opponents and dissenters can be crushed and wiped out. It is quite evident from history that the democratic England promoted colonialism and democratically elected heads of states or prime ministers have become dictators. We have deliberative democracy in which people hardly deliberate. We have guided democracy in which only one or a few persons guide the nation to assume powers. We have propagation of ‘Radical democracy’,  ‘limited or lesser democracy’ (Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia), ‘Committed democracy’ (Mrs. Indira Gandhi), ‘Controlled democracy’ etc. But ‘Purna Svaraj’ of Mahatma Gandhi offers a genuine outline of ‘Dharmic democracy’ which can also be named as ‘Dharmocracy’ in which sovereignty of people is based on pure moral authority.


Theoretically, the essence of democracy consists in people’s participation in self-governance. That is why Abraham Lincoln’s most popular definition is universally accepted as, “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” But this is all in theory only. It has only remained as delusory ideal.  James Boward, in his book “Freedom in Chains”, describes its functioning as “largely an over glorified choice of caretakers and cage keepers” (p.4). Sometimes democratic governments have behaved like ‘lumbering giant bulldozer’. “We the People” has been a vacuous phrase and in the name of supremacy of parliament this has been trampled.  In actual practice no government, even in direct democracies, has truly been representative of people’s will in toto. No form of democracy has been able to ensure all people’s participation genuinely. In thought only in direct democracy it is conceivable but in practice it has never been so. In modern times with large population it is not feasible at all. What we have is not people’s participation by themselves but through their representatives. But it is well known what sort of representatives they are, and how they manage to become representatives. For effecting representation generally adult franchise is used as a mechanism but how it operates is also too well known.  Boward reports (ibid p.112) that Georgia legislature meets only 4o days each year. Most representatives say that they have only weak familiarity with the policies they put into law. He cites observation of California State Senator H.L.Richardson who writes, “Legislators consistently vote on legislation without understanding what is in it, especially when final vote is taken. Every legislature has his own system of judging how he will vote, but reading the bill usually is not part of the procedure”. (What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?, Ottawa, 12, Carolina House, 1978, pp. 38-39). On page 97 Boward compares the functioning of representatives with “two wolves and one lamb voting on what to eat for dinner” (p.97) He quotes on page 100 the opinion of John Cartwright as “that poor consolatory word, ‘representation’ with the mere sound of which we have so long contended ourselves.”. The common opinion is that the pretensions of representative democracy are as hollow as that of bygone monarchs to ‘serve the people’.

Democracy is considered as rule of majority, but how much is the percentage to form the majority is something to be pondered over. Less than half of the people are the voters, less than half of the voters show up for voting at the polls, less than half of the voters who show up understand the issues, and politicians themselves are often unaware of what lurks in the bills they vote for. It is difficult to ascertain majority and that apart majority is not always right. Not only there is ‘illusion of majority rule’ measures are more often decided not according to the rules of justice or public well being but by the superior force of    interested and overbearing majority, silencing the minority even though it may be enlightened and right.

Another feature of democracy is rule of law, but a distinction must be drawn between supremacy of “an authority” and supremacy of a person or group of persons “in authority”, between “law as sovereign’” and “law emanating from sovereign.”  “Rule of law” has been really a very attractive proposition but it has proved to be utopian in democratic framework. Sometimes freedom under law becomes freedom under leashes. The constitution can be said to be ‘an authority’ but it is quite often relegated to the background by the persons ‘in authority’ who become dictatorial. Imposition of ‘emergency’ in India by Mrs. Indira Gandhi can be cited as an example. Constitutions have been mutilated, suspended and overthrown and laws have been misinterpreted mercilessly. It needs to be seriously thought over as to how to preserve and safeguard the supremacy of ‘an authority’ so that sanctity and functioning of constitution is not suspended or abrogated by powers that be who manage to be in authority.

The hallmark of social progress and of civil society is respect for human dignity and human freedom within an ordered cosmos. This involves cultivation of values like liberty, equality, justice and fairness. It should be realized that each individual has immense potentialities and capabilities and should be given freedom and opportunities to manifest them. In different individuals there are diverse capabilities and all are useful for social progress. Every human individual is a potential person and should be given scope to cultivate personhood. Personhood is an achievement concept. A person is one who is knowledgeable, ratiocinative, free and responsible being. He has to be an integrated, creative and freely acting social and moral being. He must know and realize the meaning of life, justify his existence and make it valuable and worthwhile for himself and the society.

The criterion of social progress is realization of the spirit of fellowship, democratic mode of thinking and living and not just democratic form of state or political governance. Genuine democratic spirit prevails only when diversity is fully recognized and well accommodated in an overall unity. In the unity differences are to be protected, preserved and enriched. They should receive natural and reasonable place and respect within the unity. Diversity is an outer expression of inner unity, like seed and tree. The unity in seed finds expression in various forms – the roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits and multiple seeds. All have different forms, colors, and properties. Genuine democratic process should not be suppression of thoughts, feelings and aspirations of any section of people but their enfoldment and reinforcement. In other words social progress has to be in the form of inclusive pluralism, having multiplicity well situated in unity like the organs surviving and thriving in an organism. In the ultimate analysis there should be no difference between ‘I’ and the ’other’. On the front gate of Parliament House of the Republic of India in New Delhi a verse from the traditional Indian culture is inscribed which states that the notions like “This is mine or this is that of others” is nurtured only by  persons of mean mentality and narrow mind. For broad minded persons entire universe is a family. The implication is that instead of viewing differences as “I and the other” they should be viewed as “I and mine”. The other is not to be regarded as an alien, an adversary, a competitor, or a threat to one’s existence but a partner, a companion, a fellow, an aid or help.

Democracy in all its present forms does not ensure any of the above stated aspirations and requirements. In actual functioning democracy in all its three wings of legislature, executive and judiciary is vitiated with multiple and incurable drawbacks, deficiencies and deformities. Though theoretically there is separation of powers among these three, often there are confrontations. Most deplorable has been the functioning of legislature, to which Gandhiji and Deendayalji have referred. To use Indian vocabulary, though Indian democracy is  called svarajya (self-rule) it has never been surajya (good government).  It is debatable whether democracy failed or people failed democracy. Even if it is granted that democracy in itself is good but we could not evolve suitable mechanism to practice it, and this also calls for rethinking about democracy. We have also to think going beyond democracy, if need be. Going beyond does not mean rejecting the basic spirit or merits of democracy. It only means rejecting all that is not good and beneficial, that which is detrimental to well-being, and that which is harmful. It is only rejecting the darker side of it. At any cost people’s participation in self-rule, freedom of expression and rule of law are to be ensured. Important point is that we should at this juncture be willing to rethink the notion of political organization.


There can be several alternatives available. One possible alternative is proposed here for considerations of scholars that a good alternative can be sought and worked out from the age-old organic approach to understand the Reality and its manifestations in myriad social and political and other forms. The analogy of organism may be helpful in drawing out an outline of such an endeavor. It will be natural also as the order and harmonious functioning in an organism is built in it by nature itself. It has a sort of pre-established harmony, to use Leibnitzian phrase. The whole organism, along with its multiple organs, functions smoothly in perfect coordination. It presents a model of peaceful coexistence, of harmonious functioning, of mutual care and share, and of multiplicity co-inhering in unity both at macro and micro levels. It is an apt and rich analogy that may profitably be harped upon.

In an organism there is a built in organization but no outside control and imposition, though there are external influences, some good and some bad. The good ones are to be assimilated and bad ones are to be thwarted. There is no ruler-ruled relationship, no hierarchical order or authoritarianism in the functioning of organism.  It is incorrect to understand that the cerebral system controls the nervous system unilaterally. There is supportive mutualism. Every organ in an organism functions in a natural way and contributes to the functioning of the total organism. The organism nourishes all its organs and is in turn nourished by each one of them. The functioning of organs and the organism is not rights-based. No one organ has any special privilege or position. The organs do not function in isolation or in collision. This is how the whole macrocosmic and microcosmic cosmos functions. In the cosmic process every one performs its assigned role dutifully and naturally.

This analogy has very interesting and promising implications for political thought. Some of the seminal ideas which can be attended in this regard are (a) corporate living with peace and harmony, (b) co-existence and cooperation, (c) mutual caring and sharing, (d) collective functioning, (e) self-regulation and self-control (f) no demands for rights and privileges but only proper discharge of duties and obligations etc.. In organic form of political organization there is no governance but regulation. Every one is equal and every one serves the other with mutual care and respect. Every one acts in cooperation performing the role assigned in the social setup. Though there will be no external authority, there will be a regulatory force and that will be a body of rules and regulations, checks and balances. There will be a set of rules and regulations “in authority” but there will be no person or a group of persons as “an authority” imposing their will from outside, a situation contrary to the present one. It will be rule of law and not of individuals.  Equality, fraternity and intra and inter generational justice will be the guiding principles.  This form of political organization can be termed as DHARMOCRACY or “DARMATANTRA”. This was the ideal of ancient Indian polity where the king at the time of enthronement was required to take an oath that he would abide by dharma and serve as a servant of the people and not as a master. The concepts of ‘raja’, ‘nrpa’ etc. etymologically imply that even if it is rule by an individual he/she has to look after the happiness and well-being of the public who is under his/her protection and not to bother for self-interest. The goal of any human organization, political or otherwise, should be ‘p`alana’ which stands for maintenance, protection and promotion. This is the rule of dharma. In this context the analogy of pregnant woman is put forth who protects and nourishes the fetus in the embryo even at the cost of self-sacrifice. We find many statements in the Mahabharata, the Artha Shastra, Tripitakas and other texts to this effect. Adherence to rules and regulations will be spontaneous and natural and not forced or imposed. Life has to be natural and spontaneous.  It has to be in harmony with other existences. Coexistence, cooperation, reciprocity in help, mutual caring and sharing etc. are hallmarks of a civil society. To talk of conflicts and clashes or to indulge in them is uncivilized, a decadence, a regression and a perversion. There has to be coexistence or confluence of cultures and civilizations. All regulations should be in the form of self-regulation. It means each one minding one’s own business, each one taking responsibility for one’s own actions, each one respecting the person of others and refraining from intruding into the lives of others. All this is possible through proper education of body, mind and will. This is what ethical teachings of seers and saints, particularly of the East, stand for.  In modern times Dada Bhagwan, as he is lovingly and respectfully called,  in his book  “ Aptavani” and Acharya Mahapragya, an eminent saint and scholar in his book “ Kaisi ho Ekkisavi Sadi?” (What should be Twenty-first Century?” have also argued for abolition of state in favour of self-control and self-rule. They advocate cultivation of dharmika individual, dharmika society, dharmika economy and dharmika political order based on cooperation, non-violence, mutual trust and respect, mutual care and share, and universal responsibility.  They appreciate the need for decentralization up to village level, not from top to bottom but from grass root itself. If there can be self-regulation there will be no need of government, they maintain. To govern is to control and to control is to coerce or to use force. It is said that if men were angels no government would be necessary. And why can we not make humans angels. Why can there be no moral and spiritual progress?   Why should education not be human-making? Boward reports (p.26) that the Montgomery County, Maryland, government sought to soften its image in 1985 by dropping the word “government” from the County Seal, from government workers’ business cards, and even from the sides of County government automobiles. County Executive Douglas Duncan justified the change by saying that the word ‘government’ was “arrogant” and “off-putting” and “did not present the image of public service”.  This was the situation in ancient India, as has been reported, when social and political organizations were in the form of “ Panchayata”. In the booklet “Hind Swaraj” there is citation of the views of Sir William Wedderburn Bart in the Appendix and it may be reproduced here for our perusal. It runs like this,

“The Indian village has thus for centuries remained a bulwark against political disorder, and home of the simple domestic and social virtues. No wonder, therefore, that philosophers and historians have always dwelt lovingly on this ancient institution which is the natural social unit and the best type of rural life: self-contained, industrious, peace-loving, conservative in the best sense of the word…. I think you will agree with me that there is much that is both picturesque and attractive in this glimpse of social and domestic life in an Indian village. It is a harmless and happy form of human existence. Moreover, it is not without good practical outcome.”  It is not that we have to imitate the past blindly but, as Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru once opined, it is good to be benefitted by revisiting the past. Of course it is desirable that governance or political organization should be by the people but more basic is that it should be for the people. It must be kept in mind that any organization, political or any other, is for what or for whom. Peace within and peace outside should be the ultimate goal of all human endeavors. Peace and prosperity go together. Prosperity has to be a shareable good and genuine prosperity is holistic and universal based on inter and intra generational justice. State and government are human institutions which can be made and unmade. They are for humans and humans are not for them. H.L.Mencken in “Treatise on Right and Wrong” (1934) (quoted by Boward on page 213) writes, “The great failure of civilized man is his failure to fashion a competent and tolerable form of government”. There has been a saying,” That government is the best which governs the least”. If this is the case then why crave for ‘statism’ and why not to seek alternative. There can be alternative in allowing people to lead their own lives provided people are properly educated from very childhood in the ethics of self-regulation.

In fact this organic model calls for a paradigm shift of values and structuring of a new set of suitable vocabulary. Some vocabulary like that of ‘public servant’ can be retained, if it helps. It further requires a suitable system of education, as the new value system is to be cultivated right from childhood. Education is the best and surest means available to humankind. How education can effectively mould the minds in right or wrong direction can be learnt from the experiments of communist countries like China and North Korea.  The way pet animals are trained and their mindset conditioned the same can be applicable to rational human beings who are more amenable to education and transformation. In the history we have experimented with many forms of governance, and even now we are experimenting with democracy and communism, and it is hoped that this model can also be given fair trial. But care is to be taken that the basic spirit and good features of democracy are not bartered. Only the efficiencies, drawbacks and pitfalls painfully experienced very where are rectified and removed. As the society progresses human mind also develops the capacity of innovative thinking and therefore the question is can we not think of a system better than democracy, a system in which all the merits of democracy are well preserved and demerits negated. Though we have come to stay with democracy as the best so far available form of political governance, this cannot be treated as the end of history. The rational and ingenious human mind should not entertain the idea of end of human reason or thinking capacity. It should be possible for the creative mind to grow, to move ahead and to evolve to think of a state higher and better than democracy, a state which encapsulates all the virtues of democracy and discards its vices and defects.


References and foot notes:

1.            It may be mentioned here that though a distinction is drawn between state and government in political thought, in actual practice the distinction gets obliterated. Functionally state and government coalesce into one reality.

2.           In the state of nature, it is believed, there was no state or government. People lived together either in harmony or in conflict. (opinions differ)  State and government have come into existence much later in human history and they have not really served the intended purpose though there might be some exceptions. In the organic model also there will ultimately be nominal state or government but only regulated organizations.

  1. This model approximates only to some extent the anarchist views of William Godwin, Mikhail Bakumin, Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy etc. All anarchists agree that state is an unnecessary evil to be abolished in favor of a system of voluntary organizations. But the basic premises of this model are different
  2. Some of the ideas, concepts and sayings of ancient classical literature and views of Mahatma Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhyaya,  Jaiprakash Narayana, Acharya Mahapragya etc. may be helpful to develop the alternative model  suggested here.
  3. M. P. Mathai in his “What Swaraj meant to Gandhi ?” very nicely explained the concept of Swaraj in this way.

Although the word swaraj means self-rule, Gandhi gave it the content of an integral revolution that encompasses all spheres of life. “At the individual level swaraj is vitally connected with the capacity for dispassionate self-assessment, ceaseless self-purification and growing swadeshi or self-reliance”. (M. K. Gandhi, Young India, June 28, 1928, p. 772.) Politically swaraj is self-government and not good government (for Gandhi, good government is no substitute for self-government) and it means continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. In the other words, it is sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. Economically, poorna swaraj means full economic freedom for the toiling millions. For Gandhi, swaraj of the people meant the sum total of the swaraj (self-rule) of individuals and so he clarified that for him swaraj meant freedom for the meanest of his countrymen. And in its fullest sense, swaraj is much more than freedom from all restraints, it is self-rule, self-restraint and could be equated with moksha or salvation.” (Ibid, December 8, 1920, p.886 (See also Young India, August 6, 1925, p. 276 and Harijan, March 25, 1939, p.64.) He said: “Real swaraj  will come, not by the acquisition of authority but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.” (Ibid., January 29, 1925, p. 41.)”

  1. The preface to the Fourth Report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission on ‘Ethics in Governance’ (New Delhi, 2007), starts off by asserting that “The Mahatma’s vision of a strong and prosperous India – Purna Swaraj – can never become a reality if we do not address the issue of the stranglehold of corruption on our polity, economy and society in general.” (Ramesh K Arora, Foreword of the book.)
  2. This situation compels us to think about the very significance of democracy. What radical democracy is mentioned by Habermas in “The Cambridge Companion to Habermas” in this way,

“The traditional view of democracy, the “radical” democrats – is the view that democratic participation is an important means of self-development and self-realization. They also hold that more participation will produce individuals with more democratic dispositions – individuals who are more tolerant to difference, more sensitive to reciprocity, better able to engage in moral discourse and judgment, and more prone to examine their own preferences – all questions conducive to the success of democracy as a way of making decisions. For the radical democrat, democracy is always more than a means of checking power and distributing values, as it is for most liberal democrats. Radical democrats hold, in the well-known reversal of Lord Acton’s phrase, that powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. (Ed. By Stephen K. White, p.167)

  1. It is apparent that there are some difficulties in the functioning of democracy. Emile Faguet in “The Cult of Incompetence” taking into account the Montesquieu’s views and says that,

“Montesquieu, for instance, proved that the principle of monarchy is honour, the principle of despotism fear, the principle of a republic virtue or patriotism, and he added with much justice that governments decline and fall as often by carrying their principle to excess, as by neglecting it altogether. (p.1) So, like Buddha’s middle path, proportion is necessary. Regarding the Law of Proportion, Aristotle, remarks not without humour, “Those, who think that they have discovered the basis of good government, are apt to push the consequences of their new found principle too far. They do not remember that disproportion in such matters is fatal. They forget that a nose which varies slightly from the ideal line of beauty appropriate for noses, tending slightly towards becoming a hook or a snub, may still be of fair shape and not disagreeable to the eye, but if the excess be very great, all symmetry is lost, and the nose at last ceases to be a nose at all.” This law of proportion holds good with regard to every form of government.”

  1. In India, we see the lack of the law of proportion in our democracy. In this book, Emile Faguet criticizes the functioning of democracy, which we may easily apply to Indian democracy also, he says that, in democracy,

“it did not even claim the right to nominate the legislature directly. It adopted indirect election, that is, it nominated electors who in turn nominated the legislature. It thus left two aristocracies above itself, the first electors and the second, the elected legislature.

This does not mean that much attention was paid to efficiency. The electors were not chosen because they were particularly fitted to elect a legislature, nor was the legislature itself elected with any reference to its legislative capacity. Still there was a certain pretence of a desire for efficiency, a double pseudo-efficiency. The crowd, or rather the constitution, assumed that legislators elected by the delegates of the crowd were more competent to make laws than the crowd itself.

10. To come out of this problem of democracy, Shri Arora  suggested that though morality shout be practiced at an individual level, but in democracy, the functioning of ethics in governance can also make substantial difference in the scenario. He says that, “The spread of democracy in various countries of the world has brought to the fore the issue of ethics in government and the related need for establishment and proper implementation of governmental procedures and processes. Corruption is a major threat to good governance the world over, and India is no exception. … The day-to-day petty corruption faced by the Common Man is not only a harassment for each sufferer, but also corrodes the moral fibre of the country as a whole. …  When Lord Buddha was asked by his eminent disciple, Anand, to explain what true religion was, Buddha responded, “Forget about all the dogmas and theories of religion, just be good and do good.” When Ram asked about one hundred question to Bharat about the status of people’s happiness in Ayodhya, most of these had ethical connotations. The Shanti Parva of Mahabharat propounded the noble virtues of rulers. Kautilya in his Arthashastra exhorted the rulers to be compassionate to their subjects. Plato’s guardians were expected to be men of wisdom and empathy. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount indirectly entrusted the rulers the responsibility to ensure that their people honoured these twenty canons of good conduct. Prophet Mohammad laid great stress on austerity, integrity and generosity. … And there was Ashoka the Great, who in the words of H. G. Wells, was the greatest of all rulers of all places and all times. Ashoka’s edicts are a testimony to his phenomenal nobility and extra-ordinary devotion to his people. There is no scarcity of references to what an ethical governance implies and manifests. (p.1-2)

In the first substantive essay of the present anthology, based on Sardar Patel’s lecture delivered on 21 April 1947 ( Four months before independence), the civil servants are advised to “maintain to the utmost impartiality and incorruptibility of administration.” The honourable course of action for civil servants, as suggested by Sardar Patel, was to render service without fear or favour and without any expectation of extraneous rewards. (p.2)

Exactly, sixty years after Sardar Patel’s sagacious advice, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prudently declared, “Senior civil servants have a special responsibility to promote a culture of excellence, probity in public conduct and concern for social equity.” It is obvious that the Prime Minister was only reinforcing the ideas and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel.” (p.3)

When nineteen years after independence, the first report of the Administrative Reforms Commission was presented (on 20 Oct. 1966), it concentrated on the creation of the institution of Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas. We have been running and galloping on the path of administrative reforms, but the distance covered has been negligible. Little wonder, when in January 2007, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission presented its report on “Ethics in Governance”, it adopted a comprehensive approach to the eradication of corruption from public life.M. Veerappa Moily, the Chairman of the Second Administrative Reforms Commisssion, in his perceptive preface of the report, pointed out :

“Good governance must be founded on moral virtues ensuring stability and harmony … The art of good governance simply lies in making things right and putting them in their right place.”

The Second ARC’s profound recommendations, presented in the summary form, towards the end of this anthology, raise crucial issues and suggest restructuring of institutions, creating new instruments and transforming the psyche of the administration.”


  1. M. P. Mathai in his “What Swaraj meant to Gandhi?”
  2. M. K. Gandhi, Young India, June 28, 1928, p. 772.
  3. Hind Swraj, M.K.Gandhi
  4. Integral Humanism, Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya
  5. Kaisi Ho Ekisavi Sadi, Acharya Mahapragya
  6. Freedom in Chains, Boward
  7. Aptavani, Dada Bhagwan
  8. Ibid, December 8, 1920, p.886 (See also Young India, August 6, 1925, p. 276 and Harijan, March 25, 1939, p.64.)
  9. Ibid, August 27, 1925, p.297.
  10. Ibid., May 21, 1925, p.178.
  11. Ibid., January 29, 1925, p. 41.
  12. Fourth Report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission on Ethics in Governance (New Delhi, 2007) Foreword of the book – “Ethics in Governance”, Edited by Ramesh K Arora, Aalekh Publishers, Jaipur, 2008.
  13. Mahatma Gandhi: A Father with No Nation – by Bhikhu Parekh
  14. The Cambridge Companion to Habermas, Ed. By Stephen K. White, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  15. The Cult of Incompetence By Emile Faguet. Of the French Academy Translated from the French by Beatrice Barstow New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1912.
  16. Ethics in Governance, Edited by Ramesh K Arora, Aalekh Publishers, Jaipur, 2008.

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