India’s hidden treatise on statecraft discovered

Published on Nov 07, 2022 12:17 AM IST

Thanks to the careful detective work of political scientist Rahul Sagar, the first treatise on statecraft produced in modern India is now available for the world to see.

India’s hidden treatise on statecraft discovered
India’s hidden treatise on statecraft discovered

Feudatory and Zemindari India is not the kind of magazine title that jumps off the shelf, but a casual perusal through an old edition of this monthly journal from September 1921 led to the re-discovery of one of the most important, yet largely unknown, texts from colonial-era India. Thanks to the careful detective work of political scientist Rahul Sagar, the first treatise on statecraft produced in modern India is now available for the world to see. Sagar explains the unlikely backstory behind this discovery on “Grand Tamasha,” a weekly audio podcast co-produced by the Hindustan Times and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

Sagar’s latest book, The Progressive Maharaja: Sir Madhava Rao’s Hints on the Art and Science of Government, features an impressive series of lectures that the Raja Sir T Madhava Rao delivered in 1881 to Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, the young Maharaja of Baroda. The lectures, compiled, edited, and introduced by Sagar, summarise the fundamental principles of good governance, articulated and practised by Madhava Rao, who served as the dewan of the native states of Travancore, Indore, and Baroda. Sagar’s new book is his second to be published this year. In May, Sagar released To Raise a Fallen People: How Nineteenth Century Indians Saw Their World and Shaped Ours, a compilation of rarely seen 19th century debates about the role India should play on the world stage.

In the book of essays compiled by Sagar, Rao notes that the most important principle for the new Maharaja is to promote the happiness of his people. As Sagar explains to “Grand Tamasha” host Milan Vaishnav: “Governments that have lasted the longest and that can maintain order the best are the ones that make citizens the happiest. So, [Rao] takes a modern idea — happiness — and he shows that it actually undergirds an ancient idea, order. No happiness, no order. Order is important, but it won’t last if the underlying element — society — is not made happy.”

Rao’s principles of statecraft went against prevailing notions of the day, explains Sagar. “In the native states… the thing you take for granted is that the purpose of power is to basically protect and enlarge the holdings of your dynasty.” Sagar notes that one can draw a direct line from the dynasticism of the princely states to the family-oriented politics of the current era.

“Nothing would make me happier” than for Indians to celebrate both the teachings and the life of Madhava Rao, notes Sagar. Rao’s lectures “deserve a wide readership and Madhava Rao deserves much wider recognition, entirely in his own right.”

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