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Book Review – Krishna Rājya : An alternate system of government for modern India

Book Review – Krishna Rājya : An alternate system of government for modern India
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Krishna — India’s unsung unifier

As far as characters from the ancient or hoary past go, Krishna, one would say, has been one of the most written about and discussed. The plethora of literature on Krishna, straddling his multi-faceted persona of the boy wonder, mischievous son, steadfast friend, indulging in thieving butter, companion of the gopis, friend and philosopher of the Pāṇdavas and above all, the one who gave the world the timeless Bhagvad Gītā. How is Krishna Rājya, written by Prafull Goradia and Jaganniwas Iyer, published by Bloomsbury India, different?

The authors themselves offer sufficient insight into this latest work on Krishna in the book’s introduction, wherein they explain why Krishna has been chosen as the central subject for what is a study of polity, with strong emphasis on how a state ought to be administered and what its relations vis-à-vis other states. Herein, in an incisive foreword by Dr. Koenraad Elst, a renowned Belgian Indologist and internationally acclaimed scholar, as well as a detailed epilogue by him, the reason for Krishna Vāsudeva, the chief character on whom the book is based, is an exceptionally lucid exposition of why Krishna is to be studied as the exemplar of state-building. Prafull Goradia, a former Member of Parliament (he was a BJP MP the Rajya Sabha during the tenure of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government) and one of the two authors explains in “Why this Book?” his reason for choosing Krishna.

Vāsudeva, explains Goradia, was the one who not only someone who underscored the need for a unified state, but strove to create a unified India, and made unhesitating and often times, remorseless use of realpolitik to realize his aim. Interestingly, Goradia also says, drawing from his own experience as a politician and parliamentarian, that it was realization that India can be governed effectively only by an Indian system, and not by one that has been built with imported bricks and unsuited to India’s ethos. Goradia perhaps alludes to the current Indian constitution, which is largely based on Government of India Act of 1935, which is a product of British India. In his quest for an Indian system and polity, the author says that his mind first dwelt on Rāma and then on Krishna.

The reason for choosing Krishna might come as a surprise to most Indians, who though familiar with Krishna’s persona as a raas leela adolescent, flute-playing cowherd and later Pandava warrior Arjuna’s friend, philosopher and guide, are arguably, oblivious of his much more versatile avatar as a general, a military thinker, a political strategist, a diplomat and what not. Krishna Rājya not only brings out all these in generous detail, but underlines a hitherto untouched aspect of Krishna’s life — of being one of India’s earliest political unifiers. This might understandably come as a surprise to most readers and also invite derision from those accustomed, out of their ideological volition, to being dismissive of ancient India’s history as myth, but the historicity of Krishna is more or less a given. Ideological arraignment to the contrary therefore, ought to be treated more as polemics, and more often than not, an agenda-driven exercise. As Dr. Elst explains in the book’s foreword, the strictest application of academic rigor will yield the inescapable conclusion that of all major civilizations in the world, the Hindu vision of India as a single land and cultural entity remains the oldest, and has found undeniable expression in myriad ways, irrespective of what today’s secularists might like to pretend or believe.

Krishna Rājya’s authors Goradia and Iyer have chosen to highlight, after much research on the subject, this aspect of Krishna’s life and mission and indeed, his most important one. It is revealing to read in India battled political fragmentation as well as external threats and also armed invasions. The authors through their treatment of the then prevailing political circumstances have been successful in bringing out in Krishna Rājya how Vāsudeva Krishna not only resolutely battled the perils and those seeking to erase dharma from society, but also how he dealt with external enemies who sought to erase the Indian way of life.

Then, as of now, there was no dearth of opportunist and adhārmic Indian rulers who had no qualms in making common cause with aliens to satiate their ambitions. In Krishna’s lifetime, the evil but powerful Jarāsandha of Magadha menaced a substantial part of India, a powerful Greek invader Kālyavana for a while threatened to extinguish dharma and the Indian way of life for good. It is safe to say that Krishna’s defeat and eventual destruction of the twin threats that menaced India that is Bharat, have not received the study they merit. Even less known his strategic leadership in freeing India’s western regions from the stranglehold of competing civilizations — Krishna and his people had to fight the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians to wrest control of what is today’s Saurashtra in Gujarat. His flight to Dwaraka along with the Yādavas in search of safety from imperial Magadha is no mere legend, but a historical fact, bolstered by adequate references. It is understandable that these events of Krishna’s life have remained obscured in the dazzle of his divinity. The influence of the Bhakti age on Indian society is preponderant over political and strategic thinking.

A particularly salient aspect of Krishna Rājya is its emphasis on the need for a strong, centralized state, but one based on the tenets of good governance and ethical polity, exactly what Krishna strove for throughout his sojourn on earth. Juxtaposed against Rāma Rajya, which remains the Indian ideal for a just and benign state, Krishna Rājya—a concept authors Goradia and Iyer have introduced for the first time—is a treatise of a realist state. The authors have drawn out parallels elsewhere in the ancient and modern world, namely ancient Greece, in which Plato’s classic Republic lays down the need for and nature of a state, 20th century American scholar Hans Morgenthau’s vision of a realist state based on ethical values, the historic endeavours of the iron-willed Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck in unifying the fragmented Germanic principalities into a single state, 19th century American President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle and supreme sacrifice to keep the United States of America united and India’s iron man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s still unsung saga of defeating nefarious forces and unifying India politically are a salient part of Krishna Rājya. The distinction of what a dhārmic state, which does not mean a religious one, and an adhārmic one, has been suitably explained in the form of two contrasting models. Krishna Rājya therefore, merits being called an experiment on India-based political science; one cannot think of many such efforts. Kautilya’s Arthashastra was perhaps India’s first major treatise on political science, and that was written some 25 centuries ago. As the authors have mentioned, India has an enormous treasure of philosophy beginning with the Rg Veda. Willy-nilly because of the several millennia of its life and the size of the subcontinent, Indian history is vast. Philosophy and history are the parents of political science. It therefore remains a wonder why they have not produced more offspring. Krishna Rājya is an endeavour in that direction.

One may argue, and not without justification, that the book has not devoted enough space to explaining the nature of dharma and particularly Krishna’s vision of dharma, for that was what he strove for. There might well be ample merit in this criticism. Yet, the authors have not been entirely oblivious on this score. They have eschewed legend and focused on Krishna the versatile colossus. Krishna’s own abstinence from the temptation of power, in not allowing his own community the Yādavas to become the central pole in India’s polity but empowering the virtuous Pāṇdavas instead, are the manifestation of his vision of impartial dharma. India’s experience in the post-Krishna ages, under the Mauryas, Sungas the Guptas and Harshavardhana are pertinent. Only a strong state could repel invasion; the fragmentation thereafter laid open the country to alien intrusions. Krishna Rājya reinforces the message in an unmistakable way.

Aswini K. Ray  The Sunday Guardian

Aswini K. Ray
is a retired -professor of the Jawaharlal -Nehru University

Krishna Rajya by Prafull Goradia and Jaganniwas Iyer
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Price: Rs 699

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