sarakāra harigolu, teresuḻigaḻattitta ।
sure kuḍidavaru kelaru huṭṭu hākuvaru ॥
birugāḻi bīsuvudu, janaveddu kuṇiyuvudu ।
uruḻadihudaccariyo!- maṃkutimma ॥ 308 ॥
Government is akin to a coracle. Whirls and currents lash it on either side.
Drunkards are in charge of the oars.
Storms billow. People erupt in frenzied dance.
It is a surprise that the boat doesn’t collapse—Mankutimma ||
This pithy verse couches the brutal reality of the brand of democracy that India began to embrace with unthinking fervor as the colonial British began to progressively grant greater representation for Indians in political institutions. DVG published Mankutimmana Kagga in 1943. However, most of the verses in it were written on scraps of paper several years prior to its actual publication. The foresight is truly remarkable: at a time when majority of the Indian masses were unaware of and generally indifferent to democracy and alien institutions that would decide their destiny, DVG unerringly spotted the pitfalls and warned these masses of the dangers of hasty adoption. However, the greater distinction of this verse is the stamp of absolute authority it brings with it because its truth derives from an immaculate mix of learning and labour culminating in experiential wisdom. And few people were as qualified as DVG to write this verse: he not witnessed the political upheavals of the period but was an active participant in the political process for more than three decades and a detached but sharp observer and trenchant critic for the remainder of his life. Like the woeful minority of eminences of his nature, DVG remained a freedom fighter who refused to become a politician after India attained independence.
One of his more insightful essays titled Swarjayadinda Surajyakke (From Freedom towards Good Governance) delineates an impressive range of ideas on the true meaning of freedom among other topics. With his trademark simple and direct style, DVG says, “without surajya it is doubtful that that swarjaya will even survive.” It is a truth and a prophecy which has eerily rung true. The history of India of the last seventy-two years is its living proof. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kokrajahar to Kalinga, the number and hues of forces that are actively, violently waging war against India as a sovereign nation and civilisational state is not only uncountable but have grown to become a frightening menace. The freedom that “India wrought for” in Annie Beasant’s terminology, stands threatened on a scale and intensity never witnessed before in her long history. The precious geographical and political unity attained in 1947 stands on a precipice given the manner in which almost all key institutions have been subverted from within. This is the direct outcome of throwing surajya to the winds. However, surajya is not merely “good governance.”
The Daily Bath in Public Life
DVG provides a great analogy to emphasize the indivisible link between freedom and governance. Surajya is akin to maintaining one’s body which gets dirty each second by washing it, by cleansing it with at least one bath daily. While this reminds us of the famous quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” the jurisdiction in which DVG deals with the theme is wider and more profound.
Swarajya or freedom or self-rule is neither a constant nor is it assured as the millennium-long history of India tragically shows. Neither is surajya merely good governance nor merely eternal vigilance but a constant process and execution of a spirit of national self-awareness. The big threats and lethal blows to a nation occur rarely in the history of any country because they can reasonably be foreseen. However, it is the unseen but gradual weakening of the national spirit in a million ways—that is, the accumulated, uncleaned daily dirt in DVG’s words—that causes the fatal downfall.
Wisdom of the Ages
Cutting through the dense verbiage of intellectual argument and copious theorizing, DVG revives the straightforward definition of surajya from the annals of ancient Indian wisdom: dushta nigraha (punishment of the evil) and shista paripalana (protection of the good), and correctly says that beyond this, the government should not interfere in the ordinary citizen’s life. This is an eternal truth and because eternal truths are to be realized in practice, they do not require elaborate tomes to uphold their validity. A fact that DVG cautions in just two words: ativāda kūḍadu (arguments of an extreme nature are not advisable). And then he distills the practical application and implication of this ancient Indian ideal of surajya in just a short paragraph dripping with the “wisdom of the ages.”
According to our ancients, real progress of the society should and will occur from the genuine strength, energy, vitality and virtue inherent in its people and not by the force of eternal authority…People must have the freedom to enjoy and spend what they have rightfully earned…courts must be easily accessible to resolve disputes in the shortest possible time; anti-social elements like thieves must be apprehended and protection must be guaranteed. If this is made available by the government, the ordinary citizen motivated by the natural desire for leading a comfortable life will become industrious and set aside a small portion for social good and will enjoy a happy life. In this manner, the condition in which people lead a worry-free life by enjoying their incomes earned according to their ability is known as contentment.
DVG rounds off this exposition with a beautiful application of a timeless Sanatana prayer, vinā dainyena jīvanam—a life that is free from groveling before others: “our ancients defined surajya as a government that facilitated such a condition of contentment.” An anecdote from DVG’s illustrious life is relevant in this context. A relative once requested DVG to use his influence in the government to help him secure a promotion. In reply, DVG wrote the following subashita (wise sayings):
agatvā khalanamratām |
anutsṛjya satāṃ vartma
yat svalpamapi tad bahu ||
Inflicting no hurt on others
Not bowing before petty people in positions of authority
Not abandoning the honest path that naturally comes to good people
The livelihood that one earns in this fashion
No matter how materially poor it is,
It is the only way that is deserving of respect.
To be continued
 D V Gundappa: Rajyashastra, Rajyanga—DVG Kruti Shreni: Volume 5 (Govt of Karnataka, 2013) pp 442
 D V Gundappa: Rajyashastra, Rajyanga—DVG Kruti Shreni: Volume 5 (Govt of Karnataka, 2013) p 443