Let us vote…..Judiciously
India, one of the most populous and enduring democracies of the world goes to polls next month, and very shortly we will have a new government at the center.
India became a democracy in line with the developed countries of the world after it got independence in 1947. In a democracy the will of the people, expressed through votes, becomes the basis of government authority. Every citizen, man and woman, above the age of 18, gets the right to vote and has a say in the affairs of the state and to change the leaders if they don’t perform in the interest of the common man.
The right to vote granted in the constitution, puts on one, the responsibility to use one’s discretionary power judiciously. Thomas Jefferson, the President of America and the principal author of American constitution, once remarked in a letter written to Edward Carrington, that of they fail to keep alive the attention of the people towards state affairs, there was every chance of their exploiting the general public. He wrote, “Cherish therefore, the spirit of the people, and keep alive their attention. Once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature.” Elsewhere he remarked “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” To be eternally vigilant is the price a citizen has to pay if he wants to remain free.
Apparently, the spirit of the common man in India had gone dormant and as per the law of general human nature, the leaders had become wolves when Guru Nanak appeared on the scene. The affairs of the state were deplorably bad. The countrymen had been leading a life of abject slavery under the unjust rule of the foreign conquerors. Guru Nanak, himself being a responsible citizen, was acutely aware of whatever was happening around him. He was a staunch votary of the freedom, not only political freedom but also the freedom of the spirit. He felt pained to see the prevalent state of affairs. His pain finds expression in the following lines in Guru Granth Sahib: ਰਾਜੇ ਸੀਹ ਮੁਕਦਮ ਕੁਤੇ। ਜਾਇ ਜਗਾਇਨਿ ਬੈਠੇ ਸੁਤੇ। The kings are tigers and their officials are dogs, who go out and awaken the sleeping people to harass them. He again says: ਸਾਹਾਂ ਸੁਰਤ ਗਵਾਈਆ ਰੰਗ ਤਮਾਸੇ ਚਾਉ। The kings, reveling in pleasure and sensuality, had lost their higher consciousness. Guru Nanak wanted to jolt the people out of the deep slumber they had been in, for centuries. He warned and enlightened them about the cause behind the whole situation. The cause, according to him, was that the common man was ignorant: ਅੰਧੀ ਰਯਤਿ ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣੀ ਭਾਹਿ ਭਰੇ ਮੁਰਦਾਰ। The ignorant and blind subjects were so afraid that they were worshipping even the graves. While worshipping the dead and the graves, they themselves had become no better than the corpses.
The situation appeared hopeless. But Guru Nanak was not the one to give in to despair. He decided to awaken the public to the responsibilities of a citizen. He gave all instruction in the mother tongue of the common man so that he could be understand life and its problems. In Gurbani, he handled all the issues concerning life and how it should be ideally led. As the political affairs affect all aspects of a citizen’s life, Guru Nanak gave it the attention it deserved. He guided as to what kind of a king a state should have. Gurbani says, “ਤਖਤਿ ਰਾਜਾ ਸੋ ਬਹੈ ਜਿ ਤਖਤੈ ਲਾਇਕ ਹੋਈ। ਜਿਨੀ ਸਚੁ ਪਛਾਣਿਆ ਸਚੁ ਰਾਜੇ ਸੇਈ। Only the deserving should be allowed to occupy the throne. And only they truly deserve to sit on the throne, who follow the path of Truth. Another line in Gurbani defines the duty of a king or a ruler. It says ਰਾਜੇ ਚੁਲੀ ਨਿਆਵ ਕੀ ਪੜਿਆ ਸਚੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ। The line refers to the traditional ritual of cleansing of the body which was believed to carry great spiritual merit. The Guru guides that the real spiritual merit lies in doing one’s duty to one’s best possible capacity. real cleansing act for a king, is to do the duty of imparting justice. A king who does not do this duty towards his subjects does not deserve any spiritual merit, however hard he may try to cleansehis body in any ritualistic manner.
The Sikh faith seeks the betterment of the whole humanity, along with the evolution of the individual to the highest level, by upholding the values of freedom from the oppressive authority, of man over man, of state over man, and of state over state. Religious faith is considered to be the keeper of human conscience for guiding and regulating the exercise of political authority, which should stand for human dignity. Guru Arjan Sahib, the fifth Guru encapsules the concept of an ideal government in the following lines, where he says that the homeland should be built on the unshakable pillars of truth and righteousness:
ਘਰੁ ਬੰਧਹੁ ਸਚ ਧਰਮ ਕਾ ਗਡਿ ਥੰਮੁ ਅਹਲੈ ॥ (SGGS p. 320).
Here ਧਰ stands for righteousness which should be the basis of any religious system.
Judging the present state of affairs in the country from the point of view of the Sikh thought, it is clear that today, when corruption and nepotism rule the roost, neither the citizens nor the rulers are doing their duty. As a result we are nowhere near the ideal of building our homeland on the pillars of justice and righteousness. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” If the state is not being governed well, it is not only the rulers who are to be blamed the citizens too must take equal responsibility for whatever has gone wrong. It is clear that we have not been responsible citizens. Perhaps we have been voting for considerations other than merit. Perhaps we have been lodging the power in the hands of those who are not motivated by a desire to do public good. When each faction among the rulers is driven by its own interest, democracy is likely to be destroyed by the conflicts.
It is time that we take the matter in hand, become responsible citizens. Let merit of the candidate be the only consideration and let us allow only a responsible people to manage the affairs of the country. Democracy is the only form of government that gives the right to the common man to have the rulers of his choice. But let us remember the warning given by Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher. He says, “ ‘Rule by one’ is monarchy in its ideal form and tyranny in its perverted form; ‘rule by the few’ is aristocracy in its ideal form and oligarchy in its perverted form, and ‘rule my many’ is polity in its ideal form and democracy in its perverted form”. Let us not allow the perverted form of ‘rule by many’ to take place. Let us only have polity, an ideal state which is run by, to use the words of Plato, ‘the philosopher kings’, the wise ones. There is no dearth of the wise ones in public life. We only have to make the right choice. Let us elect the representatives who are upright, honest and sincere to the task entrusted to them and are visionaries. The opportunity to do so presents itself only after five years. Let us rise to the occasion and vote…..…judiciously.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All