Ancient tales of the Panchatantra, composed in Sanskrit about 200 BC in Kashmir, provide a fascinating insight into the intricate world of basic knowledge and wisdom through ageless fables which, if grasped in the right sense and spirit, could make life “richer, happier and fuller”. Historically, these stories are said to have been on the natives’ lips for more than five thousand years.
I often glance through Arthur W. Ryder’s Panchatantra which is an English translation from Sanskrit (Jaico Publishing House) for possible clues and pointers to the present complexities of the rulers and the ruled, of vices and virtues, of loyalty and royalty, of sacrifice and greed, of truth and falsehood, of good and evil and so on. Amidst the varied pulls and counter-pulls man is subjected to, what makes a difference between true human happiness and beastly thrills of greed, avarice and intrigues is the use of intelligence and the spirit of freedom.
For, if there be no mind
Debating good and ill,
And if religion sends
No challenge to the will,
If only greed be there
For some material feast,
How draw a line between
The man-beast and the beast?
The Nitishastra and other holy scriptures tell us candidly life’s secrets and guide us as to what is right, just and fair and what is wrong and unfair. However, somewhere down the line, we seem to have lost the path of wisdom shown by the Panchatantra where the animal characters cleverly expose all that is humbug and falsehood and the intrigues of those who go astray while in command.
The basic problem in our country is the never-ending drift and the sharp deterioration in the quality of governance. The phenomenal rise in corruption and corrupt practices speaks volumes about the depth of decadence.
Not that the total system has failed, but a number of misdoings and visibly corrupt practices have shattered the people’s confidence in fairplay and the justice system we have sustained for the past 72 years.
What will be the quality of democracy conducted on the basis of shady deals and falsehood? Wouldn’t tainted money produce tainted democracy? Haven’t black money operations given rise to a “parallel democracy” controlled by operators, manipulators and mafia gangs?
This cannot be called rhetoric. Danger signals can be seen everywhere and in every segment of public activity. Look at the massive machinery of bribery at play.
Examine closely illegal transactions and shameless trading of jobs. Look at money laundering and political links and the underworld. Have a critical look at the electoral money pipelines. Their sources would put people with a conscience to shame.
The question here is not only of quantum but also of the very dimension of such operations which are eating into the vitals of our nation. This raises the fundamental question of values and morality of persons at the helm in different segments of public life.
Values are under attack as the country is caught badly in the crossfire of conflicting interests of varied shades. Indeed, what can be more tragic if wheelers and dealers were to decide people’s fate in the name of democracy? For, it needs to be borne in mind that bribery and shady deals endanger not only the economy but also the polity.
Should this mean that there is no hope? I don’t subscribe to this theory of helplessness and disgust. I see a silver lining in every situation, howsoever gloomy and horrifying.
I have said earlier that the nation is still vibrant and the public vigilant. All that is required is to keep up public pressure through free flow of information, transparency and closer monitoring of murky goings-on in all areas of governance.
Secretiveness is conducive to an atmosphere of intrigue and unhealthy curiosity. It indirectly aids corrupt practices and corrupt persons.
Less of secrecy and more of openness along with accountability are the basic requirements for building a corruption-free society. Such an approach alone can strengthen the roots of democracy. Everyone in position of power, including the judiciary, needs to take due notice of this plain truth.
I would once again like to reproduce below a saying from the Panchatantra, narrating the basic message in the fable of how an intimate friendship between “the forest lion” and “the bull” was “estranged” for the “greedy and malicious ends” of a jackal. The nasty situation could have been saved by the right advice to “the master” by counselors around him.
Where the parlance harbours servants
Kindly, modest, pure
Death to enemies and deaf to
Foes may struggle but the royal
Honour is secure.
Speak the truth, though harsh it be
Blarney is true enmity.
And yet again:
When royal servants, asked or not,
Indulge in pleasant lies
That lead the royal mind astray.
The royal glory dies.
Looking beyond, the challenge before us to build a good and just society.
I was reminded of these tales from the Panchatantra after reading a news item in Indian Express of September 4 wherein a great intellectual and veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi talked about a larger issue of governance and leadership at the memorial meeting for Congress leader and former Union Minister S. Jaipal Reddy who died on July 28 in Hyderabad. Present at the event were Vice-President N. Venkaiah Naidu and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
What has impressed me most is Dr Joshi’s observations while giving a tribute to Dr Jaipal Reddy who was part of a key parliamentary forum for discussion on Intellectual Property Rights in the 1990’s. Dr. Reddy would often veer from the then government’s line of thinking.
In that context, Dr Joshi said:
“I believe that today there is a dire need of a leadership which expresses views clear, can debate with the Prime Minister based on principles, without any hesitation and not worrying about making him happy or sad”.
This is saying a lot on the state of affairs prevailing today amidst “a climate of fear”. I do not wish to dwell at length from gaurakshaks to online trolls which often give wrong signals to the people from the ruling establishment.
Ironically, murky business makes our society look more sick than before. I do not blame the Prime Minister. He has many qualities of heart and mind. I expect him to act firmly in cases which go against the people’s right of free speech and expression granted under Article 19(1) of our Constitution.
A proverb in a Panchatantra tale says:
“When those appointed to advise
Speak wholesome truth
They cause a surprise.
But one prepared to hear
Or speak unwelcome truth
Is far to seek”.
Dr Murli Manohar Joshi has rendered a great service to the nation by raising governance issues which are relevant to the country’s quality of democracy. It is for us to think as to how and where we are going wrong!