For the western world, the origin of political theory began with Greek philosophers, but Vedas show that the principle of representative government was in practice in India at least 1000 before the Greek philosophers were born. Political thinking had already been matured in India when Europeans started regrouping their tribes, and races in to tribal areas, societies and countries. Our Rishies had suggested idea for the ‘Government for the Universe’ even much earlier.
Written Form of Governance
The Vedas and Manusumriti were the foundation, upon which not only Indian, but the Egyptian, Persians, Grecians and the Roman codes of law were built later. The ancient Hindu works on law are a marvel of simplicity and wisdom. The articles of Hindu code are composed and arranged in natural and luminous order. They are numerous, comprehensive and had been investigated with minute attention.
Whoever examined the whole texts cannot deny the efficacy of ancient jurisprudence, and the fact that the same was creation of an enlightened, logical and far-sighted society. Whoever looked into any particular title will be surprised by its minuteness of detail that goes beyond the attention of European legislation even today. There were charters of duties for the rulers, ministers, other officials and subjects as well. Rules of succession were clear and there is no instance where untimely death of a ruler caused a war for succession to go on for decades as it often took place on other parts of the globe.
Raj Guru to oversee Kingship
Dharma was the essence of governance. As a true welfare state, the Prajapati (King) was responsible for providing protection, justice, education, and health care to all the subjects. King was also obliged to adhere to Dharma. The Raj Gurus (Spiritual Mentors) acted as Ombudsmen to pronounce violations of Dharma and no one could be out of their jurisdiction. There was no escape route even for people in high position.
Concept of welfare state
During the epic age the concept of welfare state was visualized with Ram Rajya, a perfect Utopian concept of state governance. Reference exists in Ramayana regarding voluntary abdication of power by the kings to enable younger generation to succeed. Rama sent his brother Lakshmana to Ravana to learn the art of state-craft as soon as the latter fell on the battlefield. To set an example that of an ideal king, Rama banished even his beloved wife when public suspicion was caused against her. Although Caesar’s wife is now quoted to be above suspicion, but how many rulers have dared to emulate that example?
Democratic Form of Governance
India, and certainly NOT England, is the mother of democracy. In fact, there was a democratic deity called Samajnana to whom the last hymn of the Rig Veda makes salutation. Republics existed in India at least as early as the days of the Buddha (6th century before Christ); and continued for at least a thousand years thereafter.
Each Hindu township was, a ‘community-republic’ by itself. The whole of India was one vast federal congeries of such republics – like United States of America. Though evidence for non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, republican states were most common during the Buddhist period. There was a complex vocabulary in Pali, Sanskrit, Buddhist and Brahmanical literature to describe the different types of groups that ran their own affairs.
India had developed a style of local self-government that endured up to modern times. It had developed an amazingly modern system of town and village planning, and almost fool-proof economic and social structure. It kept the country and its culture stable through disturbances and invasions.
There is no other country, ancient or modern, where republics existed and continued for so long a period. That was possible due to the spirit of freedom and democracy, which manifested in many forms among the Indian people from the earliest ages. The benevolent nature of Hindu civilization is proved by the fact that the Hindu settlements colonies and dependencies also enjoyed their own Constitution. India never invaded any country in her last 10000 years of history.
There were many sovereign republics in India. It is pertinent from the Greek evidence, since the Greek writers spoke in a political language that is universally more familiar to the European world. Greek accounts of Alexander’s campaigns portray ‘free and independent’ Indian communities at every turn.
Nysa, a city on the border of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan was ruled by a president named Aculphis aided by a council of 300 persons. Similar development is mentioned by Kautilya also, according to whom there were two kinds of Jana-padas (Republics), called Ayudhiya-praya; (Cantonments) made up mostly of soldiers; and shreni-praya, consisting of guilds of craftsmen, traders, and agriculturalists. Furthermore, power in some republics was vested in a large number of individuals. In a well-known Jataka tale we are told that in Lichavi capital of Vaishali, there were 7707 kings, 7707 viceroys, 7707 generals, and 7707 treasurers!
Diplomacy and Espionage
The history of diplomacy in ancient India commences with the Rig Veda Samhita where the use of spies is sanctioned while pursuing some mission in general interest for the protection of Dharma. There is also an interesting account of a successful espionage mission undertaken and executed by Brahspati’s son Kucha, on behalf of Indra to Demon kingdom in disguise to learn the science of Sanjeevani from Demon Guru Shukracharya. The love triangle between Kutch, Guru Shukracharya’s daughter Devyani and host princess Sharmishtha is the first recorded thrilling instance of knowledge espionage.
Apart from Vedas and Manusumriti, we also come across ‘Vidur Neeti’ during Mahabharata and Kautillya’s ‘Arathshastra’ that contain additional detail about the statecraft, diplomacy, spies, and related aspects of contemporary governance and administration.
The following corner stones of ancient diplomacy are very much relevant to our modern times also: –
- Sama– according reciprocal treatment,
- Dama – implying appeasement as tool to accomplish desired objectives.
- Danda-coercion as tool to enforce own dictates.
- Bheda– with-holding or revealing own intentions to serve own purpose.
Control over Corruption
Rig Veda contains comprehensive instructions for eradication of corruption. Spies (Spasah or Varuna) filled an important role in civil as well as military affairs of ancient India. In addition to their external duties, they were engaged to look after the home officials and those of the royal household.
Only men of wisdom and purity were employed on this errand. They were to be persons above the temptation of corruption. During Mauryan age, young females were brought up on snake poison and employed in assassination of rival chieftains through means of seduction.
Internal Secret Service
In the Ramayana, spies have been described as the ‘eyes of the king’. It may be surprising that In Valmiki Ramayana, when Sarupnakha went to Ravana with her bleeding nose, she chided him for being careless on his spy network, and asked him several questions, the substance of which would form a check list to conduct security audit of even our military installations.
Manusamriti also contains a full chapter on security and diplomacy during military campaigns. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is another comprehensive text-book on matters concerning diplomacy, internal security and intelligence network. The destruction of mighty Nanda Empire by Chankya and Chandragupta Maurya was a remarkable feat in history of sabotage, valor and wisdom.
In Mahabharata, it is stated that cows see by smell, priests by knowledge, kings by spies and others through eyes. Bhishama has listed seven essential qualifications in persons to be sent as ambassadors. They should come from noble heredity, belong to a high family, be skillful, eloquent in speech, true in delivering the mission, and have excellent memory. Mahabharata had galaxy of diplomats and statesmen out of whom Vidura, Krishna, Shalya and Shakuni were prominent.
Apart from Scriptures, it was the famous Indian strategist of the fourth-century BC, Kautilya, who gave the dictum: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Arthashastra predates Sun-Tzu and Christ by centuries. It dwelled at length on the importance of espionage and the creation of an effective spy network. Such details may indicate the high development of the science of diplomacy in ancient India.
Greek Ambassador Megasthenes has stated that Indians were neither engaged in wars with outsiders nor invaded by any foreign power”. There were friendly relations between Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus Nikator. Their successors Bindusara and Antiochus also followed the same. Ashoka and Samadragupta also maintained diplomatic relations with Lanka. Pulaski with Persians, and Harshavardhana established and maintained diplomatic friendly relations with Nepal and China. Certainly, that all had happened well before political awakening came elsewhere.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 47/72 – Hindus are a Nation)