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Jul 17, 2003
Pre-history of democracy

How inherent is democracy to the soil of India? There are still a few who believe that the British gifted it to us. There is a much larger section that believes that democracy began in Greece and somehow we came to ‘get’ it. Indeed for many scholars anything that happened before the advent of Greek city states is pre-history. What really may have happened in history?

Without having to move far-right, there is evidence now for one to believe that notions of democracy may in fact have originated in India. One of the finest expositions of what may have transpired in India before the visit of Alexander is set out most readably by Steve Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History at Nipissing University, Canada. In his essay ‘Democracy in Ancient India’ he describes a pre-history to democracy that precedes Greece.

Once we put aside Western historians, we must put away Brahminical sources as well. Manu Smriti --and its concept of ‘varna’ or castes-- goes back barely to 200 AD. Earlier than that we have Kautilya --300 BC-- with his Arthasastra and its emphasis on a monarch. Most Indians are by then filled with enough glow about the line they are heir to and decide that there is no more to it.

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