Indian Democracy and Ancient Republics

Indian Democracy and Ancient Republics 

·         Even Monarchies were either elected or limited but never absolute

·         Bhakti or hero-worship sure road to dictatorship, says Dr.Ambedkar

Dr. Hari Desai writes weekly column “Heritage History” for “Asian Voice”, the Newsweekly of London 18-24 May 2019.
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Indian Democracy and Ancient Republics
·        Even Monarchies were either elected or limited but never absolute
·        Bhakti or hero-worship sure road to dictatorship, says Dr.Ambedkar
Dr. Hari Desai
One should not be surprised that the democratic system of administration was not new to India. Ever since ancient times, India had it and she lost it. Indian school children are being taught about “Kingdoms, Kings and Early Republic” through National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) since last several decades. Hence, one should not be under the impression that the concepts of democracy and Republics are innovative contribution of the west. After India got freedom from the British on 15 August 1947, the Indian Constituent Assembly finalized the draft of the Indian Constitution which was implemented with effect from 26 January 1950 and India became Democratic Republic.
“It is not that India did not know what is Democracy,” Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee told the Constituent Assembly while presenting the final draft of the Constitution, “There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary procedures. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments- for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments- but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times.” (Constituent Assembly Debates Book:5 P:978)
Choosing leaders or rulers by voting is something that has become common during last seven decades in India. But in the past some of the Rajas, kings, were also chosen by the Janas, the people. The system was prevalent in the Janapadas and Mahajanapadas some 2,500 years back. Dr. Ambedkar added: “They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Re Judicata, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in this time.” 
The 16 ancient Indian Mahajanapadas and their Capitals-areas are: Anga (Champa-Modern districts of Monger and Bhagalpur in Bihar), Magadha (Earlier Rajgriha later Patliputra- Modern districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad), Malla (Kusinara and Pawa- Modern districts of Deoria, Basti, Gorakhpur and Siddharthnagar in eastern UP), Vajji (Vaishali- north of the river Ganga in Bihar), Kosala (Sravasti- Modern districts of Faizabad-Ayodhya, Gonda, Bahraich of eastern UP), Kashi (Varanasi- around Modern Banaras), Chedi (Shuktimati- Present day Bundelkhand region), Kuru (Indraprastha- Modern Haryana and Delhi), Vatsa (Kausambi- Modern districts of Allahabad and Mirzapur), Panchala (Ahichhatra, Kampilya-Present western UP up to the east of river Yamuna up to Kosala janapada), Matsya (Viratanagar- Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan), Sursena (Mathura- Around Mathura), Avanti (Ujjaini and Mahishmati- Western India-Modern Malawa), Ashaka (Potana-Between the rivers Narmada and Godavari)), Kamboja (Rajapura in Kashmir- Area of Hindukush-Modern Hazara of Pakistan) and Gandhara (Taxila- Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan).

The first Law Minister of India Dr. Ambedkar, who was considered “Modern Manu”, expressed worry about India getting democracy replaced by dictatorship again since “Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship”. To maintain democracy, he was all for constitutional methods and advised to abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. Dr.Ambedkar told the Constituent Assembly: “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness.”

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