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How the Indian concept of nation-state is truly democratic in nature

Ramrajya is a true democracy in which the weakest citizen could be sure of swift and simple justice

The nation-state in Ramrajya derives its legitimacy and authority from morality. Image courtesy McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons

The modern concept of nation-state is ascribed to Western political thinkers. Nation-state, as we think in common parlance, is constituted of Western political thought. There has been a debate among the political thinkers, both Western and oriental, with respect to the ideal form of nation-state and government. The moot question is what is the authority or legitimacy of a nation-state run by its machinery known as government? Why should we obey the government and what is the basis of the authority of the government? There are divergent views on it the world over.

Ancient Greek political thought tried to give its version of authority to the nation-state. Plato gave the answer to this question in the form of ‘Philosopher-King’ who had the idea of ​​the ultimate truth and whatever actions he takes, he takes in the interests of the people. He divides the society into three categories in which common people are like sheep who are guarded by the watch-dogs whom he equates with soldiers and finally the shepherd who is the philosopher-king. No doubt, he gave the concept of an all-pervasive, powerful king, who on the basis of his supreme knowledge can lead the society and state to its full potential. It was an ‘organic view’ of the state where the state is an all-pervasive organ and citizens are just a part of the whole and thus have no right against the all-powerful nation-state. King was hailed as ‘the march of God on earth’ and he had a divine right to rule and the citizens had a divine duty to obey him. This view was all-pervasive in the minds of the political philosophers till the 17th century when after the Renaissance, it gave way to other political thoughts.

Then came the ‘social contract theory’ which gave power to the ruler on account of a notional contract between the ruler and the ruled which became the philosophical basis of driving power from the ‘people’ or society by the government. The third prevailing view was the ‘mechanistic view’ which corresponded to the industrial revolution and machine period where government was seen as devised by the people like a machine to serve them. The nation and state were ‘invented’ by the people to help them. So, people had rights against the state.

However, the Bharatiya political thought has been entirely different and unique in its entreaty as it does not fit into any of these categories of power and legitimacy of the nation-state. The Bharatiya thought has evolved over centuries where the nation-state is equated with Ramrajya. Ramrajya is an ancient political thought which has been in our national consciousness for eons. King Ram is hailed as ‘Maryada-Purshotam’ which can be translated as an ideal person who has set self-moral boundaries. He is ‘Aadarsh-Pursh’ which means that he is an ideal human personified. Rajya means nation-state. Therefore, Ramrajya as a political concept means the nation is ruled by an ideal ruler and has ideal citizens.

At a societal level, Ramrajya is an ideal social order which is just, moral and legitimate. There is no basic conflict or antagonism among various citizens. It rules out that the basis of development is a conflict or antagonistic or dialectical as championed by either communists or Hegelians. Neither the sole guiding principle is a self-centred profit which is the ethos of capitalism. So, an ideal society is a prelude to an ideal nation.

On the economic level, it does not presume like communism that man is primarily a materialistic animal and all relations are the superstructure of the prevailing economic relation. It aims at the well-being of all leaving none. The ideal of economic activities and distribution of the wealth of national resources in Ramrajya is on the principle: “Each according to his ability and each according to his needs.”

The raison d’etre of the existence of a nation-state is the all-around development of the citizens and not me materialistic welfare. The aim of the individuals is to develop four Purusharthas — Dharma (righteousness), Artha (material well-being), Kama (pleasures) and Moksha (salvation). Only through making good character of the citizens, an ideal society can be developed. This concept was resonated by Swami Vivekananda who also extolled Vyakti Nirman Se Rastra Nirman (Nation can be made only through making character of the individuals). So, the state is not just an economic welfare state but a welfare state in the true sense.

If we draw parallel to the modern concept of nation-state which is constituted of four elements namely citizens, land, government and sovereignty, Ramrajya has all the four elements. The people or the citizens who are the subjects are ideal, moral and truthful. They have a high moral character and feeling of nationalism. They have loyalty and love from the nation. It has a definite boundary and a landmass. Bharatvarsha is composed of a definite geographical boundary. The geographical-element of the land is full of natural resources and wealth. It is ruled by a government which derives its power from morality. The government is a welfare government whose sole purpose is to serve the citizens. Furthermore, it has sovereignty both internal and external and is not subservient to any foreign power or ruler. Here, both ruler and the ruled are ideal. This ideal is the moral basis of the power of the state, its legitimacy and even its sovereignty.

Lord Ram is hailed as an ideal human being, he is also an ideal king who knows the best of his citizens. The people and the society composing of these people are also ideal, just and righteous. It is a just society of just people ruled by a just ruler! As a form of government, Ramrajya is an ideal form of government, a government where the ruler treats his citizens as his children and they enjoy a parent-child relationship. They have complete faith and trust in the ruler and can access and approach the ruler anytime with whatever problem they have. The ruler is bound by his moral duty to protect and promote them. He does all his secular duties as part of his moral obligation. Unlike the social-contract theory of the Western-European political thought where the power is derived as a result of a notional contract between the ruler and the ruled, in Ramrajya, this power of the state is represented by the King is derived from his ‘ Dharma’ ie destined duty as divined.

Unlike the concept of the organic-view of nation-state, where man is reduced just as a part of the whole and part has no right to go against the whole and has no existence beyond the whole; the nation-state in Ramrajya derives its legitimacy and authority from morality. The ruler is to be obeyed because it has just authority. The ruler derives its sovereignty from the moral and ethical code known as Swadharma. Since, the ruler has a moral duty and it is his Dharma to serve his citizens, he does not discriminate between his subjects and treats all his/her subjects with equal compassion and love. It ensures equal rights to both prince and pauper-a state where ‘the prince and the peasant and the rich and the poor, are all on the same level. The basis of the state is not a common-racial origin but a shared culture and common ancestry, with a feeling of loyalty for a nation.

The ultimate purpose of the government led by the ruler is maximum happiness of the maximum people and the happiness starts from the last on the ladder of economic-development. It’s a state where no decision is taken that harms even a single person, where every voice is heard and where justice is swift and accessible to even the poorest, the weakest and the marginalized. Ramrajya is a true democracy in which the weakest citizen could be sure of swift and simple justice.

Certain characteristics of Ramrajya as described in the Ramayana are:

1. All the citizens have good moral character. All are engaged in virtue.

2. Ramrajya is free from any fear of war, disease or any other danger. It was the duty of the King to protect and promote all. Every creature (even non-human) feels pleased.

3. The relationship per se between the citizens is cordial. Turning their eyes towards Ram alone, creatures did not kill one another.

4. While Ram is ruling the kingdom, people survived for thousands of years, with thousands of their progeny, all free from illness and grief.

5. There is economic prosperity. Trees there bore flowers and fruits regularly, without any injury by pests and insects. Clouds were raining on time and the wind was delightful to the touch.

It is definitely Swarajya where everyone is following Swadharma. So to strive for an ideal of Ramrajya, we citizens have first to be ideal.

The writer is an independent columnist. Views expressed are personal.

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