Does India Need Ram Raj?

The origin of the Constitution,
not that of any political leader,
is the real issue before the nation.

Gandhi often talked of instituting Ram Raj in free India. Many consider Ram a model ruler who governed as a trustee of society. Ram Raj can be described as one in which local entities control local resources and decision-making, the state respects people’s opinion, ensures transparency, imposes reasonable taxes for providing security and infrastructure, coordinates, but does not interfere or exploit.

Such gram swaraj is thus a four thousand-year old institution of India. The villages functioned as self-sustaining tiny republics. They nurtured the culture, values, philosophy, economic prosperity and happiness of the people. As per Buddhist scriptures and inscriptions on temples of Tamil Nadu, the village assembly consisting of all adult men and women constituted the supreme authority controlling all village resources, officials and decision-making. People enjoyed rights over land and/or its produce on tenure from the village government. This facilitated efficient use of environmental resources and curbed their exploitation.

Women in India thus have been franchised for 4000 years whereas in the West they got enfranchised only in this century. Over India’s long history of civilisation, self-seeking priesthood and vested interests created fissures in these institutions in parts of India. The caste structure based on profession was distorted to one based on birth. Nominated headmen accountable to higher functionaries replaced elected sarpanchs.

Yet, many such village republics were very much alive and vibrant as recently as in the nineteenth century. Sir Charles Metcalfe, the then British Governor General of India, in his famous minute recorded in 1830 observed:

"The village communities are little republics, having everything that they can want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasties after dynasties tumble down; revolution succeed revolution, but the village community remains the same. This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little state in itself, has, I conceive, contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of the peoples of India, through all the revolutions and changes which they have suffered. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence. I wish, therefore, that the village constitutions may never be disturbed and I dread everything that has a tendency to break them up." (Report, Select Committee of the House of Commons, 1832.)

A TATTERED INDIA

The greed of the East India Company caused gradual disintegration of these gram panchayats. The deliberate introduction of ryotwari (tenant of the State), as against the village tenure system (lessee of the village assembly), dealt a deathblow to the corporate life of the village republics. Centralisation of all executive and judicial powers in the hands of the British bureaucrats also deprived the village functionaries of their age long powers and influence. (Prof. Shriman Narayan, Gandhian Constitution for Free India, 1946, View edited copy on our website)

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