A ship in harbour is safe but that is not what ship is for

In this essay…

What is utility? – Utility is the property that tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness. Even for spiritual personalities like Swami Prabhupada says – “Utility is the principle”. Once Srila Prabhupada and his devotees went near Golden Gate Bridge. He said “If I say… ‘I renounce this bridge!’ Does it make any difference? – Answer will be NO. Why? – Because even if I renounce this bridge, it is still there. And if I embrace it for my material desires, it is also not good.” Thus, we should be useful and practical rather than theoretical.

Similarly, A ship is made by spending a large amount of money. But it is not being used and harbour at the dockyard. On the one hand, the argument says that in the dockyard, the ship is safe from depreciation of materials. It is also safe from sinking due to unforeseen circumstances. On the other hand, contradicting argument says that a ship is not meant for placing safely in the dockyard. Its utility must be extracted for practical purposes. It indicates not to refrain from taking risks.

Bringing back ship from the brink

Since the beginning of human civilization, power struggles started in society. It laid the foundation for wars and the division of society. It was also continued in ancient India. The Nanda dynasty was governed in northern India during 4th century. In Puranas, Nanda was described as ‘Adharmik’ (Who didn’t adhere to dharma i.e., duty). Chandragupta Maurya, with the help of his guru Kautilya, overthrew the Nanda dynasty. A king without performing dharma is safe but he/she is not what Kingship is for.

Political thinkers like Machiavelli explained the traits of the Prince as ‘clever like a fox and brave like a lion’. Machiavelli in his book “The Prince” suggested two different codes of conduct – one is for the ruler and the other for the people. The personal ambitions of the prince should not be reflected in the public sphere. But Ashoka after the Kalinga war adopted the policy of ‘Dhammaghosha’ by ending the policy of ‘Berighosha’. It means he gave up war due to the miseries of the people and adopted non-violence. Consequently, Indian leadership became weak and gave space for foreign invaders because these things may keep King in a safe zone but that is not what the king is for.

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Similarly, during British Raj, Kings worked under the subjugation of the East India Company. Hyderabad state first signed a subsidiary alliance (Lord Wellesley) and later domino effects were in other provinces like Mysore and Martha as well. Consequently, Indian kingdoms lost their sovereignty to the English. It was the safest way for the king to rule under the suzerainty of the British empire. But people have legitimized kings not for this. That’s why people fought against the British empire and subsequently defeated them in the freedom struggle.

The making of the event

Before the decolonization of post-colonial society, the world was witnessing the inter-war period – the period between the first world wars and the second world wars. In the beginning, the US adopted the policy of isolationism. It advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and non-entanglement in international politics – Monroe Doctrine. This policy was reversed in 1947 by the then US president, Truman who promised to help any nation resist communism – the policy of containment. Truman realizes that the state is a part of the community, and isolation is not what the state is for.

Similarly, after independence, India faced the same dilemma. With the advent of world government in the face of revitalizing the united nations, India felt safe and placed its ship of defence capability in the dockyard. Due to limited financial capabilities, India started focusing on poverty and hunger. But defence is largely ignored. Consequently, China attacked India in 1962 and harmed India’s integrity. Subsequently, India took out its ship from the dockyard and started building defence capability aided by the establishment of R&AW in 1968. Overall care of the state is what the state is for. A nation can’t depend on others.

The dependency on India became clear during the same period. Just three years after China’s attack, Pakistan’s misadventure was seen in the Indo-Pak war in 1965. It tried to take benefit of political upheaval and weakness after the debacle in the Indo-China war in 1962 for grabbing Kashmir. India countered Pakistan’s military but diplomatically India was pressurized through the PL-480 food security program favouring Pakistan. India lessoned India to become self-sufficient in food production. Consequently, the Green revolution in India became reality. Depending on other nations for basic needs is like harbouring ships in a dockyard but that is not what the state is for.

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Sailing the ship in difficult times

In the context of the economy, India adopted five years plan. The first five-year plan was based on agriculture and that year India achieved unprecedented growth, more than targeted. From the second five-year plan onward, India shifted focus to capital goods for creating foundations for consumer goods in future. But the state-led economy and excessive control led to slow economic growth between 1951 to 1980. It is also called as “Hindu rate of growth”. India hesitated to sail the ship in a liberal economy. Indian economy left dockyard after New Economic policy 1991, that is for what economic capability is known for.

Similarly, during the same period, India witnessed the “congress system” in Indian politics. It was a situation of political dogma where opposition was very weak. Spirit of fresh independence and the stature of pundit Nehru have increased the legitimacy of congress strongly. But this is not what politics have known for. After the green revolution and the Mandal commission, diversification of the ‘congress system’ started. The farmer community, subaltern community, and middle class started asserting their power in the political domain. Thus, political ships are not built for harbouring. It is built for competitive behaviour for assertions.

On the same line, India witnessed security threats from Pakistan in a series of attacks – Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. After the Indo-Pak war in 1971, Pakistan realized that it can’t win the war against India, it started the policy of ‘bleed India by 1000 cuts.’ India adopted maximum restraints by harbouring retaliatory capability under a nuclear overhang. India started sailing ships through surgical strikes with calculating risk. Similarly, MS Dhoni took a calculated risk in the T20 world cup 2007 by giving the last over to the inexperienced player, Joginder Sharma when only 13 runs were needed in the last over.

Other side of the coin: Security also matters

It is true that risk-taking capability is one of the important qualities. But the sense of security is equally important. For example, India has opened its economy since 1991 but it is indirectly controlled whenever it is needed. In the case of forex exchange, RBI adopts the policy of sterilization to manage the effects of inflows and outflows of capital so that a fine balance between the rupee and the dollar can be maintained. Similarly, if there are high fluctuations in the stock exchange, there is a provision of Circuit Breaker to prevent markets from crashing.

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Similarly, in the context of agriculture, products are left on market for price discovery. But perishable items are protected for twin reasons – (1) to protect farmer’s income and (2) to keep eye on the inflation rate. Along with risk, a sense of security is established through Market Intervention Scheme (MIS). It provides remunerative prices to the farmers in case of excess production and a fall in prices. Similarly, other necessary crops in the context of food security are secured through Minimum Support price (MSP).

On the same line, in the context of society, such a system of security was established along with risk. Leaders are not to be appointed through nepotism or favouritism. It must be open for competition. Before the charter act 1853, competition in civil services was limited and that too was from the nominated people. But the ship is built for sailing in a competitive environment. Today, all exams are open to competition. But a security check was established to realize social justice through affirmative actions like the reservation policy that is enshrined in the Indian constitution.

In conclusion

Safety is a nice idea. But imagining oneself as completely safe is not a good idea. Risk-taking capability is one of the required skills of a good leader. Risk should be calculated by keeping some safety majors in hand because the risk is what ships are built for. Risk without security is useless as same as security without risk. Thus, a fine balance is needed to maintain between these two adhering to the principle of the ‘middle path’ of Buddhism to extract utility out it.

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