English Writings of D V Gundappa - 9

This article is part 9 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

DVG’s exposition of the philosophical footing of citizenship allures us by its timeless fragrance. Hearing him speak on this subject is like lending our ears to Bhagavan Chanakya, Svami Vidyaranya, or Svami Vivekananda:

According to the religion of the Vedanta, the highest felicity of man on earth is to attain to a full and steadfast vision of the spirit of the universe (Brahman). He should wear out the narrow blinkers of his ordinary individual self and get his soul to expand and transcend the seen and unseen worlds. He must shed the inborn egoism; and the way to do it is by the constant practice of selfless altruism. Identifying oneself with the State or the community, even like identifying oneself with the family and the clan, is a process of education for the soul in the restraining of the lower self and the enlarging of the higher self. Citizenship is a moral discipline, besides being a material privilege; it teaches us habits of thinking and feeling in terms of the lives of the many, whom, but for the bond of the State, we may not count as our own. (p. 44)

               […] Duty towards country and community is implicit in the Hindu conception of Dharma … if one would engage in political and social activities, one should first divest oneself of all forms of selfish and ego-centric calculation. Religion and citizenship so practised are parts of each other; they bless both the man and the community of which he is a member. This is the authentic tradition of public life, coming down from ancient India to modern. Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak has illustrated it in his life, as well as in his erudite exposition of the Gita. (p. 48)

In a brief note titled Canons of Legislation, DVG lists some seminal points that ought to be considered before conceptualizing and implementing a legislation. These eminently practicable guidelines at once portray DVG’s unerring grasp of public affairs and his rootedness in reality:

  1. Is there long-felt serious public need?
  2. Cannot the object be achieved by non-legislative remedies?
  3. Is the public mind prepared for the proposed law?
  4. Is the proposal based upon adequate factual and technical knowledge relevant to the matter?
  5. Is it practicable to enforce the provisions of the law?
  6. Will it be suitable to our social and economic milieu?
  7. How will it affect or be affected by other existing laws?
  8. What are feared to be its unintended after–effects both immediate and ultimate?
  9. Does it contain provisions to mitigate hardships feared by any individual or class?

               Firstly, the need pointed to must be one actually felt by a considerable body of people and not simply a hypothetical or fancied need. It cannot be right to upset a settled order on imaginary ground.

               Secondly, it must be a really public need and not a private one. That is to say, a large or appreciable part of the community must be asking for its remedying. The grievance of a stray person here and a stray person there cannot be sufficient ground.

               Thirdly, it must be a need felt over a considerable period of time. A temporary circumstance or the passing contingency of a day is not enough to justify legislative action.

               Fourthly, the need must relate to a serious matter. It must be one that concerns things essential to what a man generally regards as duty he owes either to himself or to others. It must be such as would, when not satisfied, cause a feeling of frustration and failure or of unnecessary aggravation of the burdensomeness of life. (pp. 85–86)

Unfortunately, most of the legislations brought to effect in modern India seem to have flagrantly violated such guidelines.

            DVG wrote a longform titled Working of the States Ministry in 1949, in the aftermath of Sardar Patel’s integrating the Princely States into the Indian Union. He was all praise for the Sardar’s rock-solid stance in dealing with errant Princes. While DVG had no contention with the final objective of integration itself, he felt that the procedure adopted to accomplish it was rather indecorous. The process, he thought, fanned the embers further and was remindful of the life-sapping treaties that the British had imposed on the Princely States barely two centuries ago. Bemoaning the erratic, noncommittal attitude that the Congress leaders adopted while handling the States’ problem, he observed: “dubiety can only make for drift” (p. 95). The point he makes about preparation for democracy is as relevant today as it was in the day it was made:

Integrating the States with free India and getting responsible government proclaimed in the States is, however, only a part of the task that needed accomplishing in the States. Securing efficient and progressive administration is the other part. Sterilizing autocracy is its negative aspect; the positive aspect is the creation of a sensible and strong democracy. The place vacated by an autocratic Prince is not automatically filled by a good democracy, as new water takes the place of the old in a river. A good democracy is a product of much education and discipline and organization, and thus needs time to come into being. (p. 88)

On the issue of linguistic provinces, he felt that “the optimum size of territory for a single administration is a matter of vital significance”:

While a State or Province should be large enough to be viable, it should not be so very large as to prove too much for the managing capacity of a government. There are limits to the care and capacity that can be expected of a government. After all, if considerations of efficiency in administration did not matter to us, there would be no need at all for dividing India into States and Provinces and endowing each of those entities with a certain amount of sovereign power and autonomy. The whole of India might then be built up as a single unitary State, with no separate and independent local administrations and local legislatures in it, but only a number of districts each presided over by a body of civil servants. The rationale behind the constitution of Provinces or States is definitely the view that there is a regional level of well-being just as there is a national level of well-being for the people, and that in the regional level, affairs are better managed by a regional authority than by the national. By the very same argument it follows that the capacity of a regional authority, too, cannot be unlimited and that there is a lower, but nonetheless equally important, level of popular welfare which is better managed by a municipality or a panchayat than even by a Provincial government. There being thus a maximal as well as a minimal limit to the capacity of an administration to render efficient service, the extent of its charge should be defined according to those limits. (pp. 211–12)

Large swathes of land tend to be unwieldy for administration at all levels. That this straightforward line of logic was lost on our political leaders is unfortunate. In retrospect it can be said that DVG’s stand was justified by the formation of new states: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Telangana to name only the recent examples.

            Although DVG was an ardent advocate of democracy, he was aware of its inherent limitations, especially in the realms in which it should not be imposed. In an article titled The Structure of the Executive, he bats for individual excellence in the formation of the Executive:

[…] The talent furnished by the vote-machine should be supplemented by talent found by well-informed personal choice — made by him who has taken the burden of grievances upon his own shoulders much more than anyone else … At the deliberative and policy-making level, let us have elective democracy, but at the level of action calling for personal gifts, unqualified democracy is not only not necessary, but positively harmful. If democracy would do well by itself, it should remember to keep within its limits. (p. 118)

Animated by the same spirit, he put his foot down on the issue of nationalizing various organizations:

Business management cannot be mechanized. It needs individual gifts of insight and imagination and personal judgment and tact, and that rare faculty which can sense the appropriateness of means to ends, as much as any art does. In short, personality is a factor of importance in the world of business too. How will nationalization or government-management ensure this? Honesty, technical efficiency and personal vigilance are the three indispensable conditions of success in business organization, not merely from the point of view of the balance sheet, but also from that of utility to the public. The supply of these qualities cannot be unlimited for a government in any country. (p. 215)

DVG repeatedly urges us to use independent thinking. His words are the kind that prompt an inward inquiry and give direction to several public movements:     

It is time we in India thought with our own minds rather than with minds loaned from others, to find remedies for our troubles. The first of all our troubles to-day is indeed our proneness to accept for our own use ideas evolved by others out of their different experiences and for their own particular use. Preference for the ready-made and love of the heroic are among the basic impulses of human nature; and it is these impulses that prompt us to jump at any ‘ism’ which has the attraction of being both novel and drastic, as a solvent for our ills. But such is man’s constitution both mentally and physically that a recipe working agreeably in one climate or in one season may not prove half as beneficial in another. (pp. 120–21)

To be continued.




Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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