This week, as our new government shapes up and various ministers set agendas for themselves, what agenda should we as Indian citizens set for our newly elected government?
The big message of Elections 2009 is that we, the people of India, that is Bharat, want stability, law, order and development. We are sick of bad news and bad people. If a focus point is needed to strengthen our resolve each time we are in a realpolitik dilemma or a personal choice between what is correct and what is expedient, we need only think of the Dharma Chakra in the middle of our flag. It upholds a fine agenda for India.
So let’s refresh our minds of what we all know so well of Emperor Asoka, the Indian whose four-fronted ‘lion capital’ is stamped in gold on our passports. We today know Asoka through his edicts.
There are Asokan edicts scattered over more than 30 places in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the Brahmi script. The languages they use are ancient Magadhi and Sanskrit, though one bilingual edict in Afghanistan is reportedly in Aramaic and Greek! There are 14 big rock edicts, seven big pillar edicts, minor pillar and rock edicts and the Kalinga rock edicts.
Amulyachandra Sen, CD Sircar and DR Bhandarkar did the major Indian translations. In 1837, James Prinsep deciphered a stone pillar in Delhi. He identified a king who called himself ‘Devanampiya Piya-dassi’, the beloved of the gods. This name was found on several other rocks and pillars.
In the decades that followed, more edicts by the same king were discovered. Scholars began to wonder if this was the famous Mauryan king Asoka praised in Buddhist literature. Not until 1915, when another edict was discovered, actually naming Asoka but matching the rest in content, could they confirm it. Asoka, say many, was born around 304 BCE and became the third ruler of his dynasty after his father Bindusara. In 262 BCE, Asoka, after a brother-butchering war, invaded Kalinga (Orissa) with a huge army. He had been a token Buddhist for two years before that, for political reasons. But the shock of the carnage he caused made him re-assess his commitment to dharma/dhamma:
Dhamma sadhu, kiyam chu dhamme iti?/Apasinave, bahu kayane, daya, dane, sache, suchaye.
‘Dhamma is good, but what is dhamma?/ A bit of evil, a lot of good; kindness, generosity, truth and purity.’
The intimate tone of the words makes it clear that these were his own love letters to his people. The person who emerges is anxious to be thought of as good and is overly puritanical in places (he frowns on harmless festivals and merrymaking: the zeal of a new reformist?).
But his intentions and practices are fantastic. Rock Edict 2 says, ‘Everywhere within Devanam-piya Piyadassi’s realm and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, Pandyas, Satya-putras (Konkan), Kerala-putras, as far as Tamraparani (Lanka) and where the Greek king Antiochus rules, and among his neighbours too (Northwest Frontier), Piyadasi has arranged for two kinds of medical treatment: for humans and for animals. Wherever suitable herbs are not available, I have imported and grown them.’
Yes, better health, infrastructure and so on. But above all: law, order and justice. Asoka’s first rock edict says: Esahi vidhi ya iyam, Dhamma palana, Dhamma vidhane , Dhamma sukhiyana , Dhamma gotiti
‘For this is my rule: rule by the law, of the law; prosperity by the law, protection by the law.’
That about covers the agenda, doesn’t it? Time we went back to the future.