I feel saddened as an Indian to read media reports about the questionable and controversial circumstances of transfer of Justice S Murlidhar from Delhi High Court. I have had a very little exposure to judiciary but what I have come to know over the last one year during my several visits to Delhi High Court, as well as interactions with a larger number of lawyers, that he stood out, at least in the public perception, as a beacon of “Dharma” and “Justice”, as enshrined in the Kautilyan principles of governance, among his peers.
This is not the first case where an upright public functionary has been humiliated under this government for standing up to values of professional ethic and integrity. There are many who have bitten the dust and paid a price for their unfailing commitment to integrity and the country. Some of these actions may appear legally justifiable but these will eventually contribute to our downward spiral both as a nation and civilisation. This has already impaired our collective capacity in a competitive word but it could soon become irreversible if we do not act fast.
A country of India’s size can never be governed by brilliance of a few, howsoever well intentioned or virtuous they may claim to be. Integrity and efficiency of institutions is critical if we are genuinely serious about channelling collective energies of our people towards our great power aspiration both as a state and civilisation. The follies of such self styled brilliants, have gone on unprotested for far too long. If it is allowed a free run, it is certain to doom Prime Minister’s grand vision of resurrecting the great civilisational state of India.
All is certainly not well with most of our governance institutions. This is particularly so with our Judiciary, which has remained trapped in the colonial aura and arrogance while dealing with ordinary citizens. It must probably be the most dysfunctional institution of its kind in the entire democratic world, fairing at times worse than even a few autocracies or authoritarian states. Abnormal delays and routine miscarriages of justice, notwithstanding brilliance of a few judges and quality of some of their verdicts, have crippled the credibility and capacity of our criminal justice system to contain conflict, leading to a larger under-performance of our society and state.
The entire issue of deep-rooted malaise in judiciary needs to be examined and redressed. It would be outright disaster to crush few dissenting voices of sanity on advice of a class of professional cronies, who have flourished in this country for far too long. They have been selling their services to every incumbent in power- from Moguls to Congress and may be even this government. Such flawed advises to top incumbents in power has been nothing but an attempt to camouflage their own individual or collective aspirations. These include perpetuation of their own indispensability in the larger power equilibrium by causing artificial affront to authority of their masters.
Such phenomenon has always brought disaster for every society and state afflicted by it. I am confident that Honourable Prime Minister will take note of it, and make serious endeavour to not merely make amends in such obvious cases but also root out the entire culture of cronyism and middlemen, which has turned out to be the biggest bane of India over centuries and not decades. It is this culture that induced our decadence and degeneration from pinnacles of prosperity, scientific knowledge and cultural advancement, much before the dark ages of medieval era, when we were trampled upon by a few herds of barbaric savages, who had no exposure to anything called civility.
It was culture of cronies and “Charans”, besides debauchery and decadence of most contemporary rulers, that had decayed our civilisational strengths and its eternal values much before the barbarics and even some of their slaves could pretend to rule India by virtue of their capture of Delhi. Of course, significant exceptions like Rana Pratap and Shivaji to several others, avoided our complete annihilation as a civilisation, giving us this day when we can still dream and aspire to not merely revive our ancient glory but also contribute to a better world through strength of our ancient civilisational virtues.
Strength and glory of ancient India stemmed not from some brute and savage force of destruction but from our larger values and principles of governance where political power remained subservient to sagacity, wisdom and ethic. Net result was advancement of science, knowledge, industry and culture under the protective cover of a robust framework of governance including security of state and society. Much before the West could discover and build on the idea of reasonable restraint on arbitrary authority of the ruler, Kautilyan principles of governance had envisaged complete absence of any discretionary or despotic power for the ruler.
Kautilyan King had no authority to force his decision on the council of Ministers, who were always the wisest and the most ethical men of their time. King could merely express his opinion in the council of |Ministers, and often the Kings were elected by an electoral college of wise. Members of the council of Ministers were expected to have sufficient integrity to arrive at a mature consensus, and not a majority vote over minority, through deliberation of issues with an open mind - in spirit of "Vaad" and "Samvad"- rather than prejudiced "Vivad".
Of course we cannot and must never go back to the past. Scientific innovations and advancements in people-centric governance ushered in by the West and practised by independent India have become part of our larger political and cultural strengths. These need to be refined, and not reversed, by incorporating some of our civilisational values in our governance principles. It is strength of our ancient civilisational values that have differentiated us from our rogue neighbour that emerged on the basis of a perverted version of Islam that was exploited and abused by a modern day monster called Jinnah who did the bidding at the behest of a receding colonial power. In the process, a set of philosophical teaching that were certainly more humanist in their context, but had been distorted soon after the death of Holy prophet of Islam, were further defiled.
It will be pity if a secular Hindu India tries to ape medieval Mughal or Turkic Values, where justice, including life,liberty and dignity of citizens or even state functionaries, depended on individual mercy or whim of rulers and their chosen cronies. It was hoped that decimation of certain political formations, that had been reduced to a facade for underhand and illicit brokerage syndicates, would usher in original "Indocracy" based on our eternal principles of “Dharma” based governance. This could have liberated us from the shopkeepers model of superficial Western democracy that has been built on the miseries of colonised people from Asia to Africa and even original Americas but were further distorted in most developing nations. Sadly, such dreams and hopes appear to be on the verge of being of shattered.
We have a long and uphill task to cover if we are serious about resurrection of glorious civilisational state of India as an inspiring pillar and beacon of hope for a more stable, secure and civilised world. Ethical dissidence, aimed at larger public good and collective well-being, would not merely be desirable but should rather be respected in the key institutions. This could be the most critical tool of transformation towards enlightened and efficient governance. Ethical dissidents can never bring down a righteous government and induce instability. But they can certainly usher in some sanity and discipline in the malfunctioning institutions of the country. Incompetent cronies, indulging in dirty machinations, criminal conspiracies and unspeakable forgeries, on the pretext of pleasing political masters, can only bring all round disaster for both society and their own masters. This class has perennially profiteered out of bad governance and it shall always have a vested interest in perpetuating the same to the detriment of agenda of nation building.
It is indeed high time that the government embarks upon a drive for major and sustainable restructuring of all institutions in public domain. A greater integrity, higher efficiency and larger internal and external synergy among governance institutions would be the sole bedrock of a powerful state and society that can unleash collective energies of our people in pursuit of the vision of India that Prime Minister spelled out soon after 2019 poll results.