Elections of five assembly constituencies are round the corner. I have seen few political parties manifestos for upcoming elections. I was flabbergasted to see, how engrained socialist and statist indian political minds are? Almost all of the political parties have promished to provided some thing or other for free. This brings my attention to examine the nature of Indian political economy. Was India always a socialist or welfarist state? I will compare and contrast two ancient emperor namely Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka’s political economy with modern indian republic economic vision.
India’s first large empire came into being under the leadership of Chandragupta Maurya. The political manual for administration of Mauryan Empire was written by the Kautilya. What was the nature of the Kautilayan state? Entire reading of Arthaśāstra(a political treaty for governance) gave us picture of “strong but limited state” . Whereas, strong but limited state mean, state shall take few things entirely in it’s hand and it would have absolute monopoly on these things. It raises the hard question, what are the things that state must do? Broadly, In Arthaśāstra, state has absolute responsibility of internal and external security, monopoly of violence, regulation of activities(like trade, labour code, gambling, drinking, prostitution etc.)¹, enforcement of contract(to avert Matasyanyāya) and currency. Kautilya was not interested in the regulation of people behaviour like marry with whom, when to drink alcohol, what to eat, what to wear etc. But Let me warm you, Kautilaya was not the Robert Nozick. He was not liberaterian from any strech of imagination, neighter he was Rawl with his egaliterian utopia. He was the great pragmatist. Further, Kautilya was very suspicious with the Buraucracy, where he wrote in Arthaśāstra — As it is always difficult to know how much water a fish is drinking in sea, it is impossible to know how much money bureaucrates are eating from state coffer.
Now, Emperor Ashoka, usually considered as Great (questionable in my view) had an idea of welfarist state. where he started regulating almost all the activities of his subjects. He wrote on his rock eddicts — what are duties of citizens, what citizens ought to do on chatumasi or amashya ? He even went one to appoint Dharmamahamanta to guide people for their religious belief. He sent Buddhist missionaries to other countries to propagate the Buddhism. He had established a typical “mai-baap sarkar”. Which I would call the “weak and maximum state”.
Now let us compare and contrast, Republic of India’s statecraft.The First PM of India Shri JL Nehru very fond of Ashoka. He had established a typical mai-baap Sarkar. For example, The constitution of India enacted on 26 January 1946 has part IV namely Directive Principle of State Policy(DPSP) filled of mai-baap features like Article 39, 38, 44, 46, 47, 48. In my humble opinion these Articles are just unncessary burden to constitutional readers, since they are all for controlling the citizens choices. Governement of India has taken the responsiblity of religious reform which Ashoka was very much interested in. It has enacted Hindu code bill to regulate Hindu² marriage, divorce and succession but it failed to reform other communities personal laws. The Nehru was so passionate about socialism that he had almost abolished the Right to Property with so called land reform via 1st & 7th constitutional Amendment. Later Indira Gandhi went on high with this madness of socialism and nationalised all private bank with deposit above Rs. 200Cr, Insurance companies and Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices Act which basically crippled the private sector. But having done all this, What was the India’s economic growth? It was less than aggregate 4% during Nehru and Indira Period. The state control had almost killed the entrepreneurship and established bunch of crony capitalist. What was the result? India had faced deadly poverty with almost unaccounted famine and defeat with china in 1962 like Ashokan empire faced famine and later decimated by the Kharvela³ within 20 yr of his death. Then this raises a question what would have been Indian Republic if it would have followed the path of Kautilayan State post independence? it is very hard to predict the things but few things would have been centainly their. One, Since Kautilya was very obsessed with enforcement of contract, we would have had a very top noch functioning judiciary and pendency in courts must have been less than 35 million. Second, As Kautilyan state is hard on rule of law, the crime rate must have been less, since as pointed out by Constutitional Expert G. Austin — “Law is command of Sovereign backed by Sanction”. People respect rules if they fear the punishment. Third, There would have been no moral policing by state like prohibition, baning of prostitution and gambling and this would have been great source of economic activity. Ban only perpetuate the corruption and excesses by police, it never end the wrong. Fourth, Indian Bureaucracy would have been far more efficient since Kautilya doesn’t see citizens from lens of suspicion as in current state. For example — An Income tax officer is free to raid citizens as per his convenience since state hardly trust it’s citizen. Finally, there must been vibrant industrial growth since Kautilayan state doesn’t kill entrepreneurship, In fact, Kautilayan State awarded the Road Builder in that time.
The Sad Part of current time is – India is still following the Ashokan Model despite it’s complete failure. Reason is simple, we are not interested in our history and we have never learned from it. I call this mentality, The Pritivaraj Chauhan Syndrome.