As the country celebrates its 72nd Republic Day, the government is uncertain about how to deal with lakhs of farmers who have been protesting for over two months on the border of Delhi. Bowing to the inevitable, the Delhi Police have granted permission for their ‘tractor parade’ but there is still uncertainty about whether they will be able to reach the Ring Road in the capital. For anyone not familiar with the geography of Delhi, it must be mentioned that the Ring Road is quite far from Rajpath, where the government holds its annual parade showcasing the power of the state. Avoiding a national and international embarrassment on such an important occasion would be of highest concern to the government, particularly if such a ‘tractor parade’ receives more popular participation and media attention than the real parade.
The government tried to bring in the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, but the court wisely left it to the Delhi Police, which effectively comes under the Union home minister, considering it as a ‘law and order issue’. So, the ball is back with the government. The 10th and 11th rounds of talks with the farmers failed and the farmers have rejected an unusual peace offer by the government of delaying the implementation of the three farm laws by 18 months. Now the stage is set for a confrontation, notwithstanding the police permission.
Yet, no one in government has bothered to explain what exactly is wrong in farmers holding a peaceful parade on Republic Day. There is an old tradition of holding ‘Prabhat Pheri’ – an early morning procession – on our Independence Day, with patriotic songs inherited from the days of our freedom struggle sung by school children all over the country. However, Republic Day has been left to the state to parade its military, paramilitary and police forces with a sprinkling of children and tableaus from different states. It is a different matter that the tableaus and dances present a pathetic kitsch in the name of showcasing the diversity of India’s culture.
Our republic came into existence on the day we adopted the constitution, January 26, 1950, about 2.5 years after we obtained independence. It was “We the People” that gave ourselves the constitution that drew up the structure and functions of our government, its purpose and goals.
The Greek word ‘Res publica’ stands for ‘public matter or public affairs’, denoting that ‘a government in which power is held by the people or their elected representatives’ is a public affair and not the affair of any ruler or ruling family. Plato, who wrote the first treatise on ‘The Republic’ over 2,500 years ago, crafted the book in a dialogic form as an enquiry into the nature of justice. He starts with the question as to ‘why do men behave justly? Is it because of fear of societal punishment or due to the notions of divine retribution? Do the stronger elements of society scare the weak into submission, in the name of law? Or do men behave justly because it is good for them do so? Is justice, regardless of its rewards and punishments, a good thing in and of itself? How do we define justice?’ These are the questions that Plato sets out to answer. Thus, the foundational pillar of a republic was defined in terms of justice that it provides to the people.
Further, Plato goes on to identify ‘political justice’ as harmony in a structured political body. An ideal society consists of three main classes of people – producers (farmers, artisans and craftsmen), auxiliaries (warriors) and guardians (rulers); a society is just when relations between these three classes are right. Each group must perform its appropriate function, and only that function, and each must be in the right position of power in relation to the others. Rulers must rule, auxiliaries must uphold rulers’ convictions, and producers must limit themselves to exercising whatever skills granted to them (farming, blacksmithing, etc.). Justice is a principle of specialisation: a principle that requires each person fulfil the societal role which nature fitted him or her and not interfere in any other business.
Today, we are in a situation where the producers are in disagreement or in disharmony with the rulers. This disharmony itself creates a situation of injustice. It does not matter what laws the rulers pass, the very disturbance in the relation of power between these classes results in injustice, said Plato.
The Bhagavad Gita talks of rajadharma and for Kautilya, ‘in the happiness of his subjects lies the Raja’s own happiness’. He goes on to say that ‘an ideal King is one who has the highest qualities of leadership, intellect, energy …and behaves like a sage monarch, a Rajarishi. Among other things – a rajarishi is one ‘who is ever active in promoting the yogakshema of the people and endears himself to his people by enriching them and doing good to them’. The word yogakshema is a compound made of yoga, the successful accomplishment of an objective and kshema, its peaceful enjoyment. Thus, peaceful enjoyment of prosperity, i.e, the welfare of people, is given as much importance as knowledge, self-control and observance of dharma. Of essence is the notion that not only must the king obey his Rajadharma but he must also ensure that his subjects follow their dharma too. For when ‘adharma overwhelms dharma, the king himself will be destroyed.’ Have we reached that moment in our Republic today?
Ravi Joshi was formerly in the Cabinet Secretariat.