Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of a Civilisational State: Remembering P.K. Telang

Commentary on the civilisational message of Narendra Modi's Rajya Sabha speech of 8 February. We find a direct echo of the scholar P.K. Telang whose exposition of ancient India's democratic tradition is ever-relevant.
Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of a Civilisational State: Remembering P.K. Telang

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rajya Sabha speech yesterday arguably ranks as one of the finest till date. It shows once again that he’s still the master of timing and timely messaging. Predictably, his delightful Andolanjeevi jibe went viral even as he uttered it but that is par for the course given how the rag-tag breaking India gang gave him full tosses for two months. But think about it: when was the last time that millions of ordinary Indians actually tuned into Parliamentary proceedings? And why do they so look forward to Modi’s debates and speeches within and outside the Parliament? The answer to that question lies in the difference between a Prime Minister and a statesman.

More fundamentally, the answer to that question is the yawning chasm that separates the recently-dominant, multidisciplinary Nehruvian brood who thought that India was “founded” in 1947 by Jawaharlal Nehru and the numerically-dominant masses who never forgot their ancestors and reposed unflinching faith in their civilizational Tapas. From that perspective, it is clear that Narendra Modi is the first Civilisational Prime Minister of a Bharatavarsha violently interrupted by three imperialisms: the Islamic, the British-Christian and the Nehruvian. The surest and the living proof that India did not attain independence in 1947 is the fact that the Congress Party was unable to find a single Indian in its ranks to occupy its Presidentship in 1998.

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Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of a Civilisational State: Remembering P.K. Telang

Nowhere is this fact more evident than in the manner in which Narendra Modi set the tone for yesterday’s Rajya Sabha address by invoking the ancient, Dharmic-democratic DNA that permeates the Indian people. While it took a few thousand years for the barbaric West to realise that words are better than swords to settle disputes and disagreements, Bharatavarsha already had a thriving civilisational tradition that had elevated politics to the standard of a Darshana.

Modi alluded to precisely this theme when he invoked the famous verse from the Atharva Veda and cited copious sources from the political history of ancient India mentioning as many as eighty-one republics before correctly reminding the world that India is the mother of democracy. Even more presciently, he called out the myth that democracy is a purely Western conception, an echo of what DVG said about eighty years ago that Western democracy is merely the latest experiment in the long history of the evolution of human political institutions.

Neither was it a mere allusion but a proud assertion of the truth of our civilizational genius, which no Prime Minister has celebrated in this unabashed fashion. It is a profoundly shameful commentary on the character of almost all non-dynasty Prime Ministers excluding Narendra Modi that they were so terrified by the deracinated specter of the “Nehruvian consensus” that prevented them from celebrating home-grown civilizational accomplishments.

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Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of a Civilisational State: Remembering P.K. Telang

The precocious heritage of the ancient Sanatana statecraft should have ideally been a guiding light to the world after India attained independence. Instead, our successive political leadership made it an object of shame, superstition and backwardness. The scholarly colossus, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri provides one of the best explanations of the Sanatana conception and practice of what is known as democracy:

In the history of the world, it is only Hinduism that gave not only to India but to all her neighbours an organic conception of society based upon economic as well as spiritual needs…it attempted to mitigate the evil consequences of great disparity by aiming at only the essentials…LIBERTY AND LAW WERE SYNTHESIZED TO ACHIEVE SPIRITUAL FREEDOM.

In this context, it is worth recalling a truly instructive essay by another renowned scholar and editor, P.K. Telang. Barely a century ago, P.K. Telang was a highly-respected Theosophist and educationist who ran the New India newspaper rubbing shoulders with other greats like Annie Beasant, “Right Honourable” V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, DVG, B.P. Wadia, and Sir S. Subramania Iyer.

We can now argue about and disagree with some of the postulates and positions taken by the Theosophical Society. However, the undeniable fact is that all such organisations were united by the same Sanatana civilizational impulse, fired by the zeal of nationalism and inspired by an abiding love for Bharatavarsha. The arguments were merely about the expressions that each gave to this Sanatana impulse.

P.K. Telang
P.K. TelangTheosophy Wiki

Today, the global army of Far-Left Incurables is united by porn stars and third-rated pop “singers,” whose depravity is magnified by men and women old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers who are perversely using them as cannon fodder.

On 7 October 1917, P.K. Telang delivered a brilliant lecture at Tanjore titled, The World-Movement towards Democracy and England’s Attitude towards the same. This was later published as Democracy in Ancient India, and is worth its weight in gold. The following excerpt testifies to the grandeur of its eloquence and the clarity of its exposition. Emphases added.

Democracy in Ancient India

The word Rajan (or King) means one who can keep the people contented. Power and authority were implicitly admitted to rest on the sanction and the good-will and consent of the people. The ultimate right of the people to be the sole arbiters as to the kind of government they would have and the persons they would have to govern them, was recognized. This recognition was given concrete form in two restraints on the power of the King…He could not transcend Dharma. What is Dharma? The custom of the people, admitted and sanctified as binding law and imprimatur of those who were the knowers and guardians of the people’s culture. He could not break the word of the Brahmanas. Who were the Brahmanas? Those who having acquired culture and knowledge, gave everything to the service of the country and the service of the people without expecting anything in return. Their watch-words were self-renunciation and self-sacrifice in the service of the nation. You will note how both these checks would lead to the substantiation of the ultimate power of the people.

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Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of a Civilisational State: Remembering P.K. Telang

These two doctrines were gradually developed as people advanced in culture and in political experience, till we had actual democracies and republics, as those…found in Jain and Buddhist books. If these were not larger in number, it must be remembered that States in those days were not political; the work of the people was carried on by social institutions, such as the village Panchayats, industrial or mercantile guilds, and caste organisations of various kinds; and there you find that the principle of democracy was fully alive. You will find in these guilds and in these village Panchayats the democratic feeling perfectly operative.

If India had not been so unfortunate as to have laid itself open to attack from outside, if it had not been the target of repeated invasions, democratic institutions would have developed to perfection in India. We should not have had to learn of democracy from the West and to import democratic institutions from outside. But the foreign invasions upset the whole system which had been developed in the country and postponed the full development of democratic institutions, though the germs of democracy remained intact, and remain so still.


Note the similarities and parallels in Narendra Modi’s speech. P.K. Telang could as well be talking about the iconic Uthiramerur inscription which provides an extraordinary window into and is a primary source of the selfsame ancient Indian democratic ideals and practical system.

Nehruvian India destroyed it without offering a better if not equal alternative.

It is our hope that Narendra Modi’s re-invocation of these ideals leads to some sort of recovery of this past genius still lying neglected in our own backyard.

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