Hindu Politics: Raj Neeti

‘Sangachadwam, sam-vada-dwam samvo-manaamsi jnaanatam’

Let us move together; let us speak together; let us know each other’s minds
Hindus believe one can speak authentically on a subject related to human life only after integrating its principles in one’s life. In my case, my political principles were gleaned from the Arthashastra of Kautiliya, the various Dharmashastras, and, most important of all, the Itihasasas – the Ramayan, Ramcharitmanas and Mahabharat, but expressed in a western idiom, for our circumstances.
Hindus do not have an absolutist position on rules and regulations, whether on governance or otherwise. Rather, we believe there are the eternal principles of Dharma that have to be applied to the phenomena under consideration, but always taking into cognizance one’s desh, kaal and
paristhiti – place, time and circumstances.
We therefore have to first explain what is ‘dharma’, before we can consider its application to governance or politics. We consider definitions as being too limiting – we prefer to enumerate the lakshanas or attributes of our subjects. In the Shanti parva of the Mahabharata (109: 10-12), there is a very succinct summation of the lakshanas of Dharma:
“(10) All the teachings of dharma are with a view to nurturing, cherishing, providing more amply, endowing more richly, prospering, increasing, enhancing, all living beings: securing their PRABHAVA.
“(11) All the sayings of dharma are with a view of supporting, sustaining, bringing together, upholding all living beings – in a word their DHAARANA.
“(12) All the sayings of dharma are with a view to securing for all living beings freedom from violence – ahimsa. Therefore whatever has the characteristics of prahabhva, Dhaarana and Ahimsa is dharma. This is certain.”
And applying these three principles of dharma to society, we can speak of “Raj Neeti”. For “Raj”, we can maybe substitute what we call today the state.  But rather than ‘politics’, neeti is more properly translated as “political ethics”. ‘Neeti” connotes conduct; propriety; policy; a plan; politics; righteousness; morality. The ethical element of Dharma is always present. If the politics we practice is bereft of these three attributes, then we are practising adharma and, in this instance, tyranny, injustice or anarchy.
How does the State achieve all these noble ends? Our texts/shastras advise that the ruler/executive must possess DANDA (staff) which signifies corporal punishment, chastisement, subjection, control, restraint. In a word, the State must have possess the bala or “power,” “strength,” or “force” to ensure the law of the fish – matsya nyaya” (rule that “big fishes eat little fishes”) does not prevail, from within or without.
The entire purpose of the state is to protect the people: Raksha. “There is no other justification for the king to exist than to protect, in every way, the people. For protection if the first foundation of all social order. It is from the fear of danda that people do not consume each other: it is upon danda that all order is based.” (MhBrt Shanti parva 68:8)
Applying this to Guyana, I have to point out an observation of the writer VS Naipaul that moved me greatly as a young man: he spoke of the ‘unprotectedeness’ of the Indians in our diaspora. Our task is to therefore insist that our political leaders create the conditions to secure our ‘protectedness’. We identified the Physical Security Dilemma of the Indian in Guyana. Indians might have been able to take political office because of our numbers in a democratic system, but unless the leaders possessed the bala to enforce the danda, we would always be at risk because of the matsya. We recommended that they make the Disciplined Forces – the repository of bala – representative of our country’s population.
In his Arthashastra, Kautilya describes the supreme rule to which the ruler must bow: “In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare, his welfare; whatever pleases himself, he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good.” (Bk 1, Ch XIX, 39)
The leaders must be free from arrogance (darpa) from power and authority.
“By abusing his great power, where the king begins to oppress the weak, and takes to adharma, there his officials make that kind of behaviour their means of livelihood as well…Full of such arrogant people, that kingdom is soon destroyed. (MhBht Shanti Parva 931-2)
But during emergencies, when Dharma is threatened (Aapad Kaal), the state must take whatever steps necessary for the survival of the society.