Hava Nagila!

Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid

Governance and Administration

Elected Monarchy in Ancient India

There is a controversy as to whether, in the earliest times, a king was elected or not. References in Rig Veda, X.173 and Atharva Veda, VI.87 and 880 (1-2) are taken by some to refer to elected kingship. In the AV III.42, however, there is clear reference to election by the people. In the AV.III.5, 7 there is a reference to election by nobles, king-makers, sutas and village-headmen, chariot-makers, and skilled metal-workers. They are called ‘ratnins’ in some Vedic texts. The Taittiriya Brahmana (I.73) refers to the election of a king by ratnins.
In the Ramayana, those who approved the appointment of a king were called raja-kartarah (king-makers). In the Mahabharata (Adi 44.6) it is stated that all the citizens of the capital elected Janamejaya as king. Hiuen Tsang informs us that, after Rajyavardhana’s death, minister Bhandi called as assembly of ministers, and made a proposal for Harshavardhana to assume royal power: it was approved by all ministers and magistrates.

Similarly, in South India too, after the death of Parakramabahu II of the Pallava dynasty, the subjects chose a king. According to the Rajatarangini (V.461-63), Yasakara, a poor man, was chosen by Brahmans.
From what has been seen above, it can be derived that, at one time, a system similar to social contract prevailed for governance. The Mahabarata (Santi, Chaps.59, 67) deals with the subject. Mahabharata Santi Parva chapter 67 describes how people assembled, and made compacts among themselves and whoever would act unjustly or indulge in sensual pleasures, and break the compacts, made by the people, would be abandoned.

Ancient Indian governance indicates a long history of Government by discussion in which citizens make decisions that affect their lives through debate, consultation and voting. The king was the ruler with the prime responsibility for peace, justice and stability as mentioned in Artha Sastra5. While monarchy was the principal mode of government, Greek and Roman accounts of ancient India mention large areas which were democracies6 Ancient India had a system of cooperative self-government as evidenced in the uttaramerur copper plates inscription of the King Paraantaka (907-47 AD), which refers to different classes of Village Committees appointed by Vote7.

Evidence of non-monarchial self governances is indicated in the vedas itself8. The ancient texts also describe various bodies or organisations that independently perform self-governance. They were variously called as gana, sanga, Sreni, Puga or Vrata, Stronger of such groups became the republic9. From the statements of Megasthanes, the Greek ambassador to the Mauryan court in the 4th century BC, it is seen that the entire northern part of Indian sub-continents had large number of republics10. These republics were called ‘Janapadas’. Kautilya describes two kinds of Janapadas: first “ayudhiya praya”(made up of soldiers) and second sreni-praya (comprising of guilds of craftsmen, traders and farmers – a much wider group) 11. The antiquity of the gana structure is validated by the reference in the Mahabharata. The Santi Parva criticizes the participation of too many people in the affairs of the state and addresses that the leaders of the gana only should decide vital matters and too much diffusion of authority would lead to decay12. By the time of fifth Century BC, the gana structure of the republic had got stabilised such that there was different terminologies for almost all aspects of corporate decision making. Panini mentions about the terms for the vote, decisions reached by voting, quorum in a meeting, division of the assemblies into political parties, etc13. The Pali Buddhist canons like Maha – Pari nibbana Suttanta, the Maha vagga and the Kulla Vagga give information on the development of democratic governance in ancient India14. The Pali texts also delineate the various situations which require various types of voting – decisions needing unanimity of a full assembly, general unanimity, majority voting, decision that need reference to a jury or a special committee etc. The techniques seen on the Buddhist Sanga reflect a sophisticated political culture based on popular assembly15.

It is very interesting to note that the administration of justice at the time of Kautilya bears a close resemblance to the present system of judicial administration. There were two kinds of Courts. Dharmastheya (Common and Cannon-Law Courts) and Kantaka Sodhana (Administrative and Police Courts) presided over respectively by officers with a panel of Three, bearing respectively the title of Dharmamatya and Pradestara . The first type of Court decided the disputes between the two citizens whereas the second type had special functions like (1) Standing Commission for serious cases (2) Courts with power to override ordinary law and prompt disposal (3) Special Courts to investigate official oppression and misconduct16.

The ancient Indian organizations like guilds and administrative networks functioned smoothly because of the scientific method in their organizational structure. The ancient Indian guilds, (Srenis) were large corporate bodies, often having as many as one thousand families which followed the same profession, headed by an Alderman called Pramukha. They were powerful autonomous bodies with internal constitution, performing various functions like conducting trade and commerce, keeping money deposits and sometimes even maintaining an armed force.

That the King could not be self-willed is clear from Manusmriti (VIII-336) and YajnaValkya Smriti (II-307). These enjoin upon the King to impose a heavy fine upon himself for illegal exaction or punishment Artha Sastra (1.4, Pp-3) declares that an autocratic King would fall a victim of popular fury and would lose his life.

According to Kautilya, the State itself was a corporate unit consisting of seven companies, viz. the King, the minister, the territory, the fortified city, the treasury, the army and the ally. Kautilya maintains that ‘one wheel is not enough to move a cart’ and hence the king has to be assisted by an elaborate administrative hierarchy, consisting of eighteen functionaries, including the crown prince, priest, commander-in-chief, superintendents and the like. This ensured delegation of duties, collective decision-making and decentralization of power to a certain extent. We have to relearn these lost habits to evolve effective functioning of our organisations.

According to Artha Sastra, though the Samaharta, a royal officer was in overall control of rural administration, yet much of the powers was delegated to the Village Assembly called ‘Grama Vridhas’, who have considerable powers of Civil Administration (Artha Sastra 2.1.27, 3.5.20, 3.9.3, 3.12.12 etc.) Village Committees are described in early Buddhist Works of the Seventh Century17. Thus from the above, it can be seen that governance and administration in early India was of a highly enlightened level.

It is interesting to note some of the qualities prescribed by Artha Sastra for the ministerial staff. They should possess a ready wit, have energy and power, be devoid of fickleness and stiffness and should not create animosities. In addition, it should be easy to hold them in check, presumably so that they do not exceed the brief (Artha Sastra 1.9.1). It also prescribes certain tests for assessing their qualities such as piety, lust, avarice, fear etc. (1.10.3-1.10.22). Wareham mentions a somewhat similar list of qualities under the head ‘The ten elements that comprise the anatomy of Great Executives’. Taken together, the above elements emphasize the need for a balanced approach to management18.

Valmiki devotes an entire chapter to discuss various aspects of statecraft. A good idea of this management tool could be generated by analysing the Chapter 100 of Ayodhya Kandam, for instance the following slokas in Chapter 100 delineate different managerial perspectives:

Financial Perspective : Slokas 32, 33, 54 & 55
Customer Perspective : Slokas 13, 40, 41, 42 & 53
Internal Process Perspective : Slokas 11 to 21, 62 to 72.
Learning and Growth Perspective : Slokas 18 to 31.

Previous | Next

Abstract | Introduction | Important Heritage Texts | Organizational concepts in Indian Heritage | Conceptual Model of Management | Governance and Administration | Governance and Administration in Tamil Sangam Heritage | Duties of a ruler as in Tamil Heritage Text | Fiscal Administration in Tamil Heritage Texts | SWOT Analysis | Knowledge Management | The learning of attitudes | Leader’s role in learning culture | Learning Models | The need for holistic knowledge | Conclusion | References


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