Why do we Need a Systemic Transformation in India?

Most of today’s systems and institutions are a legacy of foreign rule, that are ill-suited to govern this country. But, they have failed to deliver their intended outcomes even after 7 decades of independence.

By Shobhit Mathur , Co-Founder & Dean at Rashtram

Image Source: German Govt. (1943); Stamp produced in Germany in 1943 for Subhas Chandra Bose’s “Azad Hind”. Prepared by the German Government for India, but never issued.

Mohandas Gandhi, in his book ‘Hind Swaraj’ written in 1909 says “when it (India) becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. This is not the Swaraj that I want … It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.” Unfortunately, Gandhi’s fears came true. India never actually became free in 1947. We never achieved Swaraj, and we still haven’t. The British have left our shores, but not our minds. The colonial institutions, systems and worldview rules over the country even to this day. Acknowledging this colonial legacy on 18th May 2014, editor of The Guardian wroteToday, 18 May 2014, may well go down in history as the day when Britain finally left India. Narendra Modi’s victory in the elections marks the end of a long era in which the structures of power did not differ greatly from those through which Britain ruled the subcontinent”. Yet when we reflect back, 2014 was still not the historic moment when we achieved Swaraj. We have been waiting for 70 years now. 

Most of today’s systems and institutions (e.g. political, judicial, administrative etc.) are a legacy of foreign rule, that are ill-suited to govern this country. Consequently, they have failed to deliver their intended outcomes even after 7 decades of independence. Let us look at some of the important systems and institutions we have carried on from the British and other countries after independence. The Indian constitution adopted in 1950 was mainly based on the Government of India Act, 1935. This act was passed in the British Parliament in 1935 to establish the ‘Federation of India’. We adopted the federal scheme, judiciary, office of governor, public service commissions from this act. Other important features of our polity we adopted from foreign countries include – parliamentary form of government and cabinet system from Britain, fundamental rights and independence of the judiciary from the USA, federal set up with a strong center from Canada, concurrent list from Australia, ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity in the preamble from France, election of members to the Rajya Sabha from South Africa. 

Let us take one specific example of the judiciary or the legal system in India. Today India’s judiciary is over burdened with more than 35 million pending cases, litigation is slow, and it is inaccessible geographically, culturally or financially. But it was not always so. India being one of the world’s oldest living civilizations, has had a rich knowledge of law and associated heritage of legal institutions. Katyayana Smriti gives the grades of courts in the following way: Kula (gatherings of impartial persons of the family or caste of the litigants), Shreni (corporation of persons of the same craft, profession or trade), Gana (assembly of persons belonging to one place but to different caste), and Adhikrita (court appointed by the king), Nripa (king himself). The law and methods of interpretation were based on the classical Dharmashastra.  In the constituent assembly debates, there was nobody to advocate the cause of Dharmashastra based traditional decentralized institutions. Consequently, we opted for a centralized administration and the English common law system, that is alien to our polity and has not delivered on its promise. Similarly in other fields of administration (civil services, parliament, school system etc) we never actually designed indigenous systems and institutions to rule ourselves. 

The single minded goal of our freedom fighters was to free us from the British. We never did the required intellectual work needed to establish Swaraj. The disconnect of our polity from the native genius is a consequence of the education system the British imposed on us. Eminent scholar, KC Bhattacharya in his seminal essay ‘Swaraj in Ideas’ written in 1929 elaborates on this. He says: “Our education has not so far helped us to understand ourselves, to understand the significance of our past, the realities of our present and our mission of the future. It has tended to drive our real mind into the unconscious and to replace it by a shadow mind that has no roots in our past and in our real present. Our old mind cannot be wholly driven underground and its imposed substitute cannot function effectively and productively. The result is that here is a confusion between the two minds and a hopeless Babel in the world of ideas. Our thought is hybrid through and through and inevitably sterile. Slavery has entered into our very soul”. This is a salient point that was made 90 years ago and relevant to this day – our soul and mind is colonized. If India has to rise again and our true genius has to shine forth, we have to break free from that slavery. 

Our systems and institutions need to be rooted in our civilizational ethos, i.e. we need Swaraj, to make Bharat a global power yet again. This goal is the animating force or prana of the Rashtram School of Public Leadership. The goal is not easy to achieve. We first need to reconnect to our Indic Knowledge Systems that had once made our civilization prosperous and a knowledge powerhouse. Then we need to adapt the first principles to the modern context and design a new indic polity for the current times. Finally, we need to create a cadre of committed young people who will carry these ideas and dedicate their lives to bring about this systemic transformation. This humongous task will take a few decades and cannot be achieved in isolation. We will need collaborations and a multi-pronged approach. We need to rekindle and fuse the Jnana Shakti, Iccha Shakti and Kriya Shakti of our civilization once again. May the grace of our gurus shower on this mission.

Shobhit Mathur


Rashtram School of Public Leadership    

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