Tag Archives: Law of the Jungle

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City, Governance and the Rule of Law

by Apoorva Tadepalli

Classes for the second batch of the B.PAC Civic Leadership Incubation Programme started this past Friday, with Nitin Pai taking an introductory session.

Government is an institution that prevents society from falling to anarchy, which is social and political disorder wherein every individual operates with their own guidelines of behaviour. Cities need government a lot more than villages as the descent into anarchy can be a lot faster. The government (or more technically, the state) enforces a rule of law to prevent violence and chaos, and promote harmony and smooth functioning of all aspects of a society. An egalitarian city is conceived as having all its residents as equal before the law, and so the functioning of a city depends on citizens subjecting themselves to this rule of law. This method of functioning in a society is characteristic of a democracy, and contrasts with the concept of divine right of kingship (characteristic of a monarchy) wherein the lawmaker is above the law.

Image copyright China Digital Times 2012

“Those who defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.” – JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion.

It can be argued that the rule of law is more important in cities than villages. As villages are relatively small and less populated, they often lack anonymity, thereby making social norms sufficient to prevent anarchy. A person may find it difficult to wrong another person in a village because they are more likely to know each other as well as everyone else in the community, and the collective enforcement from the community can be enough of a deterrent. There are other frameworks with which to establish a rule of law in other communities. For example, large slums often are illegal and slum lords use this as leverage to take protection bribes; in such cases, the mafia establishes a parallel set of rules which govern behaviour.

Note that while both village communities and slum lords can have their own means of enforcing a certain set of rules, they do not guarantee the same amount of liberty. While liberty is a quality of each state and government, all of them have to be strong enough first to prevent anarchy.  In a city, where population and therefore anonymity is high, social norms are not enough to establish common rules for behaviour. The best thing for a city, therefore, is to have an elected government representative of all citizens to establish rule of law in the society. When citizens elect representatives, they form a social contract with the government. With this contract, they exchange some liberties for the protection of others. For example, they exchange their liberty to use violence for the liberty to walk in public safely without being robbed. The social contract with the governing body is more important in a city than a village because in a village, social trust exists with other families. In the anonymous setting of a city, however, a lack of relationship with the rest of the community makes the government is essential to maintain law and order.

This is relevant to aspiring local civic leaders because it is important to recognise that there are many ways in Bangalore in which the rule of law is overlooked or flouted. Enforcing the rule of law is the fundamental duty of the government – providing security, welfare, growth, etc., all stem from this fundamental duty. Therefore, anyone aspiring for public office should pay attention to the rule of law above all else. Governance starts from local leaders at the level of the ward; only when people are responsible citizens of a ward can they be responsible national citizens.

Apoorva Tadepalli is an intern at the Takshashila Institution and a student of development studies and communication.

Dandaniti, the rule of law

The most fundamental concept in politics and governance are the concept of a State and the rule of law.

The story goes that in prehistoric times before any political institutions came into being, people lived by obeying the ‘law of the jungle’, which was essentially every person for himself. You could enjoy your freedom to the extent that your strength and power could allow it. This is also referred to Indian mythology as matsyanyaya, or the law of fish – where the little fish is eaten by the big fish which is eaten by the bigger fish.

Image: devdutt.com

Image: devdutt.com

Evolving out of this, people decided to surrender some of their rights, especially the right to violence – in order to protect the rest of their rights. They surrendered these rights to a State, a political entity that enjoys a monopoly over violence. These states can be of any type – a monarchy, republic, democracy or any other form. Modern India is both a republic and a democracy.

The complementary concept is that of the rule of law, or dandaniti. The notion is that a common set of laws and rules applies to all people, and that no one – not a minister nor a government functionary is above it. And the highest aspiration of anyone in political life ought to be to obey the rule of law as well as enforce it.

This was a part of Nitin Pai’s introductory briefing to B.CLIP students on December 6, 2013.

For more on this, read:

The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama. [Google Books]
Nitin Pai on Reading Arthashastra on the rule of Law.
Save the Small Fish, by Devdutt Pattanaik.

Image: devdutt.com