Among the few greatly cherished and yet unfulfilled dreams
of mankind, one is that of an ideal society. It has been called
“Utopia” and has been one of the common dreams of men, whose hearts
bleed at the injustice to the weak and exploitation of the meek.
Almost all of the great thinkers and philosophers in the history of
mankind have tried to define the conditions, rules and mechanisms of
such a society. There is no dearth of ideas regarding how an ideal
society should be, but we do not seem to have progressed towards
this ideal at all. Such a society still remains as distant as a
It is not that there have not been good leaders or rulers,
who have not wished to turn their kingdoms or areas of influence
into a heaven on earth. It is not that majority of the human beings
have not wanted to create or help create an ideal society. Still,
the dream remains unfulfilled, and thinkers and people with good
intentions remain frustrated. One can see exploitation and
suppression, a state of “dog eat dog” or “big fish eat small fish”
In my opinion, in order to find out the reasons for such a
sorry state of affairs, one should examine the very basic questions.
One such question could be –“What is an ideal society?”
Let us consider some simplistic definitions:
A society where
all are treated equally.
But would it be fair and just to treat an Einstein or a
Picasso or a Tolstoy equal to every one else? Should the society not
provide more opportunities or accord more status to persons of great
talent? Did the scientist who invented electricity not contribute
far more towards the betterment of humanity compared to the
No, it would be grossly unfair to consider all men equal
simply because they are not. Each one of us is certainly unique, but
not equal. If one wishes to have all the plants in his garden, one
has to keep cutting down the bigger ones to the size of smaller
ones. One cannot make small plants grow to the size of bigger plants
simply because it is not in the scheme of nature. Societies and
philosophies which have tried to equalize all have faded out. One of
the main reasons for the failure of communism was that it
disregarded the enterprise in individuals and could not tolerate the
men who outgrew their society. The truth of the matter is that
talent is an attribute of an individual and not of a group and the
societies which have suppressed talent in order to not being
discriminatory have failed without exception and much ado.
A society where
there is justice.
“Justice” is a concept for which true definition has not
yet been found. The reason for it is that the basic premises about
it differ in different societies. If one examines this issue deeply,
it raises too many questions: who defines justice? Are the laws in
different countries same today? Are they same in USA and Canada and
UK? Are they same in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Are or were they
same in China and USSR or Russia? Are they same in two democracies
or autocracies or monarchies or communist or Islamic countries? Are
they same for all the citizens in the same country?
It is easy to see that even though all countries are
inhabited by human beings, the laws are different and what we call
justice in one country may be considered injustice in another. After
all, laws are framed by people who are in power and they frame laws
to suit themselves. Then they implement these laws and call it
justice. They choose not to follow the law framed by themselves, if
they later find that it is not suiting them. Take an example of the
recent controversy in India about the “office of profit”. As soon as
the politicians found out that they may get affected by the law
regarding holding more than one offices of profit, they immediately
set about to either amend the law itself or exclude certain posts
and offices by redefining them. Similar instances of modifying laws
to suit the ruling class can be found in almost every country.
A society where
there is peace.
Let us face the reality. There cannot be peace. Violence,
jealousy, hatred, greed etc. seem to be the inherent nature of man.
Non-violence, love, altruism etc. are ideals towards which men
strive or pretend to strive. The so called peaceful societies are
the ones which meet violence with greater violence and cruelty with
greater cruelty. The apparent peace is nothing but the peace
enforced with fear. Such a society certainly can’t be an ideal one.
There can be true peace in a society only when its members
are free of negative traits like greed and jealousy of human beings.
The word “Utopia” again flashes into the mind if one pauses to
imagine such a society.
A society where
there is liberty.
This certainly seems to be a positive one. Freedom is
considered to be the greatest human value and rightly so. The more
the degree of freedom one enjoys, the greater is the opportunity for
him to realize his potential of creativity. Creativity is one of the
very few activities, which purges a man of all the dark and negative
emotions while he is creative. If one looks at human history, one
will find that happiest people lived in the societies which accorded
most freedom to its members. However, freedom cannot be
unconditional and it must be ensured that one person’s freedom
should not encroach upon another’s freedom. Freedom does not and
cannot mean freedom to harm, exploit, rob or kill.
The fact, that freedom of an individual in a society has to
be regulated, brings up the issue of governance. If freedom is the
basic value for an ideal society, then it follows that the form of
governance which accords the greatest freedom to individuals should
be considered to be the best one. People can only enjoy more and
more freedom, if there is less and less governance. If we take this
premise to its logical conclusion, we are reminded of Thoreau who
said, “The best government is no government at all.”
It is not very difficult to see that we humans are not yet
ready for a state of “No Governance”. We have not matured enough; we
are not yet free of our weaknesses and we are still like the kids
who start fighting with each other as soon as the teacher leaves the
classroom. There remain people amongst us who will not hesitate to
take away the freedom of others if given a free hand. We still need
to be governed, so there is no escape from authority and therefore
we cannot enjoy total freedom.
The tragedy is that freedom too can be defined, construed
and distorted in many ways. The degree of freedom available to us is
decided by the powers that be. And even then, the freedom granted by
the statutes can be taken away with impunity by those in power. In
many cases, the freedom accorded to us is freedom in name only.
To understand this tragedy properly, let us examine the
best considered form of governance – Democracy – in the context of
India. India boasts of having a democratic system of governance, and
yet the citizens find themselves at the mercy of the powers that be
too often. Many would be heard saying that the general governance
was better in the times of the British rule. It may not be true, but
it certainly conveys a message of frustration with the current state
It is said that democracy allows citizens to enjoy the
highest degree of freedom. Compared to other forms of governance,
democracy does allow greater freedom. Citizens can change the rulers
they don’t like, but this freedom is only apparent and not real.
During elections, the public usually has a choice between different
rogues. All that the public can do is to keep rotating the dishonest
and unscrupulous politicians and thus choose which set of
politicians would exploit them next. Men who wish to get rid of them
will have to form a party and then fight the elections. The trouble
is that campaigning and fighting of elections requires huge sums of
money which cannot be arranged by honest people. A great nexus has
been formed by the rich and powerful and this hardly leaves any room
for good people in politics.
There are certain glaring shortcomings in the democratic
system. Let us examine some of them one by one.
is considered equal and has equal voting rights.
As has been
mentioned earlier, all of the citizens should not be considered
equal, especially in the matter of electing the rulers. In a
country like India, majority of people have not yet been able to
solve their very basic problem of livelihood thanks to the great
ruling class India is blessed with. People struggling to eke out
their livelihood do not have time, inclination and/or ability to
think about the country or society. During elections, they are lured
by petty offerings or misled by false promises or influenced by
chauvinistic emotions related to castes, regionalism, language or
religion aroused by the wily politicians. The thinking voters are
far outnumbered by the ignoramuses and influenced or misled voters
with the result that the rulers remain the same and nothing changes.
It is obvious that there must be some sort of qualification for
being able to vote. Simply being born in the country and attaining a
certain age should not be enough.
2. Education is not considered for being elected to
office of power.
Even to get
appointed as an orderly or a peon, one needs to have some minimum
level of education. The higher the position a man wishes to acquire,
the higher should be his education. Then what about politicians who
occupy the highest seats of power? Shouldn’t they prove their
abilities and intelligence beforehand too?
themselves frame the rules and laws.
This one is
perhaps the greatest shortcoming of a democratic system. This is
where the line between democracy and monarchism gets blurred. One of
the points on which monarchism is criticized is that the word of the
monarch becomes a law. The same happens in the democratic system
too. The elected rulers are the ones who create or change the law.
It is like allowing the policemen to decide what punishment they
should mete out to the criminals.
modern system of governance with the system prevalent in ancient
India. The laws were laid down by Rishis and Munis (the learned
ones), who were the most knowledgeable people and did not hanker
after the lucre or power. They were not involved in the business of
governance and the kings were not involved in laying down the laws.
The king had to follow these laws in governing the kingdom. This
ensured that the king could not amend or distort the law for his
personal benefits or selfish interests.
In the modern
context, to become a law maker, one needs to get elected. Instead,
one should have the requisite and related qualifications to be able
to qualify for the role of a law maker. There should be different
committees for making or modifying laws related to different fields
of life and a qualifying person should become a member of a
committee as per his expertise. There should not be elections for
parliament but only for the ministry. Let the parliamentarians
qualify, and not elected to parliament.
not know who they are voting for.
Voters only elect
their representatives and they do not know beforehand what their
elected representative is going to become in the government. In the
present system even an illiterate person can become education
minister; a person having no understanding of financial matters may
become finance minister and so on. One may guess the value of
contributions of such ministers.
There should be
different electoral colleges for different ministers and they should
be elected directly. Why should an engineer be an elector for the
health minister? He should be an elector for minister for technology
or industry. Only an educationist should be allowed the candidature
for education minister and the electors should be the people related
to education system. Similarly, the defense minister and his
electors should be the people from the defense establishment
Apart from these issues related to democratic system
in India, there are certain other issues directly related to
governance and the society. One very important issue is that of the
mind set of the organs of the state which are responsible for
governance and maintaining law and order. Take for example, the mind
set of the police organization in India. It appears that it has a
mind set of forces which occupy some foreign land. The police force
in India generally does not have much respect for citizens’ human
and constitutional rights. It flouts the norms and rules for dealing
with citizens with impunity and gets away with it too easily. The
whole system of police force and judiciary was put in place by the
British rulers to keep the Indian public under control.
Unfortunately, even after decades of political freedom, the system
still continues with the same mind set. It is as if they believe
that all the citizens are hostile to the state or to them by
default. As a result, Indian citizens still fear the law machinery
so much that most of them avoid approaching the law and order
machinery even when they are in trouble because of the anti-social
elements. In too many cases, people have found themselves in a far
worse plight after approaching the system for succour. The other
public service institutes of the government consider the Indian
citizens sheep to be fleeced at every opportunity.
The Indian police force needs to be thoroughly re-trained,
so that they start treating the citizens with respect and value the
human and constitutional rights. The corruption prevalent in the
government and its organs needs to be rooted out with a strong hand.
The authorities need to understand that they are not the rulers of
the public. They need to realize that their objective is to serve
the society and not to shackle and exploit it. For all of this to
happen, it is perhaps necessary that the changes start at the top.
Like the great Ganges, corruption and exploitation start flowing
from the top and if they can be rooted out at the top itself, the
task becomes much easier. There have been numerous instances of good
individuals in the positions of power who have shown that a
difference can be made if one is willing.
Then there are certain professions like medical profession,
essential to a society, which face a continuous conflict between
their purpose and interests. I am reminded here of the suggestion
given by Lao Tsu to the then Chinese emperor. Lao Tsu said that
professionally, a doctor’s purpose is to keep people healthy. But if
the people remain healthy and do not fall ill, the doctor would not
be able to earn his livelihood. This situation creates a great
conflict in the mind of a doctor as his own personal interest and
professional goal clash. Lao Tsu suggested that doctors should be
assigned certain areas or families to them. Each family would pay a
regular sum of money to the doctor, depending on its income and the
number of family members, till no one in the family falls sick. In
the event of someone falling ill, the payment to the doctor would be
stopped and it would resume only after the sick person becomes
healthy. Such a system would align the different interests of a
medical man in the same direction and doctors would not find any
reason to indulge in malpractices or negligence.
The same logic could be applied to some other professionals
like lawyers as well. This would greatly reduce the no. of pending
cases in the courts and ensure speedy justice.
Lastly, it goes without saying that a society without a
proper value system cannot hope to thrive for long. It is true that
different societies have different values; however, India does not
need to look elsewhere for right values for itself. Our own
tradition is rich enough to suggest proper solutions to the ills
plaguing our society. Our education system was designed by Lord
Macaulay, who had proudly written to his father that Hindus after
being educated in the system devised by him would remain Hindus in
name only. Here are some of his famous sayings:
- “We must at
present do our best to form a class, who may be interpreters
between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons,
Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions,
in morals and in intellects”.
- “All the
historical information which can be collected from all the books
which have been written in the Sanskrit language is less
valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement
used at preparatory schools in England ".
- “Hindus have a
literature of small intrinsic value, hardly reconcilable with
morality, full of monstrous superstitions ".
It is sad for the Indian society that we are still
continuing with the same educational, political and administrative
systems which were put in place by our British rulers. The ruling
class of free India chose to continue with the same systems because
of the obvious benefits to them. It seems unlikely that they would
make some meaningful efforts to bring about changes in the system to
benefit the society at large and in turn lose their exalted status.
In such a situation, the onus of providing greater and greater
thrust to positive forces for change lies on the shoulders of those
citizens who dream to see a better India. They should try their
utmost to educate the general public so that it is able to exercise
the only power in its hands, that of electing the rulers, in a right
way to elect persons of good intellect and moral standing.
I do not claim that the suggestions and ideas presented
here are flawless or that they would be easy to implement, but they
certainly provide some alternative mechanisms to cure the present
shortcomings of the society and its governance. The greatest
stumbling block is the ruling class itself. It is the designated
vehicle for implementing change but whenever and wherever its
interests get threatened; it maneuvers skillfully to protect itself,
leaving the citizenry and the country to their sorry fate. The
problem is literally the proverbial problem of “Belling the cat”.
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