Delhi violence: The price society pays for violence is immeasurable and enormous

DelhiWritten By: Rachit SethUpdated: Feb 28, 2020, 01:36 PM IST

File photo. Photograph:(PTI)

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Political parties and vested organisations have time and again unleashed riots, as a tool, to attain political interests.

Delhi burnt and almost all our policymakers failed us. Rajdharma is the construct often abused in modern Indian polity. The notion of Rajdharma in the ancient Indian political traditions, as a normative yardstick to evaluate governance, has always been all-pervasive and cherished. Mahabharata speaks of Rajdharma. Kautilya’s Arthashastra – India’s best known secular treatise on how a state and a ruler should be, separates law and religion by explicating Rajdharma.

We, the people of India, should not be surprised when our elected representatives, in most cases, desert us and work against our interests by relinquishing their responsibilities. The hard truth is that they are driven by their interests. Some would be surprised by this theory, but whoever has the slightest IOTA of how government’s interests work, knows that its only interest lies – in holding on to power.

This soulless version of a coercive state disturbs us all in society. The state is supposed to protect us and uphold the social contract, which we as a society have forged with it.

When the state tends to break that social contract, the relationship between the state and the society is strained. Society becomes vulnerable, but the state persists. Many would accuse that this is unnecessarily complicating and theorising. Therefore, this needs to be clearly explained. 

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book about ‘States, Society and the Fate of Liberty’ (The Narrow Corridor), have brilliantly argued that “…for liberty to emerge and flourish, both state and society must be strong.

A strong state is needed to control violence, enforce laws, and provide public services that are critical for a life in which people are empowered to make and pursue their choices. A strong mobilised society is needed to control and unshackle the strong state… without society’s vigilance; constitutions and its guarantees are not worth much more than the parchment they are written on”. 

The state and the society are embattled into a day to day struggle to compete and to cooperate. Repression and despotism by states result in this ‘narrow corridor’ to liberty, where society struggles. Riots are not new to India. Political parties and vested organisations have time and again unleashed riots, as a tool, to attain political interests.

Societies, especially the poor and the vulnerable, have suffered indescribable pain and trauma at the hands of the state. But the lamp of ‘liberty’ in India’s ‘narrow corridor’–the persistent struggle between society and the state has always managed to burn. It can be flickered, but it has not been extinguished. 

The cost of violence unleashed over society is enormous and immeasurable. The trauma of dividing society is impossible to overcome. State dithers and Institutions collapse. State is undeterred and policymakers across the spectrum fail to control it with checks and balances. In this strained scenario, society needs to take control of the social contract. In the information age, where nothing remains hidden and even deep fakes can easily be exposed. Society needs to show the ‘mirror of truth’ –Rajdharma to the state. This can be done if society is aware and can enquire.

Kautilya considers anvikshiki (the science of enquiry) as the central tool ("lamp") for generating valid knowledge and judging ethical behaviour. For Kautilya, anvikshiki is the benchmark for ethical behaviour and it leads to Rajadharma. Arthashastra usually refers to Rajdharma as the ‘dharma of the king’ and not to dharma as a religion.

Rajdharma is essentially 'prescriptions of righteousness applicable to a ruler'. This implies that the ruler ought to bear the responsibility of upholding dharma (law) in society. The duty of the king is not only to observe dharma in person but also ensuring its observation by others.

Rajdharma, therefore, is an all-encompassing construct for the ethical evaluation of the performance of the state and the government.

In modern times, for a strong society, awareness is the prerequisite to make governments accountable for Rajdharma. In an increasingly inner looking society where superficial information becomes the basis of discord, the need to adopt Kautilya’s ‘science of enquiry’ is felt more than ever. Unless, the society becomes vigilant enough to make the state accountable and follow its Rajdharma, the state and its vested interests would prevail, while the society would continue to be strangulated in the ‘narrow corridor’, vying for every inch of liberty and freedom.

Thus, what is happening in Delhi is not only a stark failure of Rajdharma, but also, to a large extent, the failure of society as well, the people of India have somewhere forgotten to practice the ‘science of enquiry’ – the raison d'état of our traditions and strategic culture.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)