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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why State emblem 'Satyameva Jayate' has vanished both literally & symbolically

Thanks to Aamir Khan, the expression 'Satyameva Jayate' has become a bit more familiar. But there is another reason why Satyameva Jayate has been in the news. Directions were sent to government agencies because they weren't displaying the state emblem properly.
There is a State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act of 2005 and consequent 2007 rules. This is what the act says. "The State Emblem of India is an adaptation from the Sarnath Lion Capital of Asoka which is preserved in the Sarnath Museum.
The Lion Capital has four lions mounted back to back on a circular abacus... The profile of the Lion Capital showing three lions mounted on the abacus with a Dharma Chakra in the centre, a bull on the right and a galloping horse on the left, and outlines of Dharma Chakras on the extreme right and left has been adopted as the State Emblem of India...
The motto 'Satyameva Jayate' - Truth Alone Triumphs - written in Devanagari script below the profile of the Lion Capital is part of the State Emblem of India." The problem was that some government agencies were omitting the expression Satyameva Jayate.
If one remembers civic books from school or is interested in quizzing or has prepared for civil services, one will know the expression is from Mundaka Upanishad.
There is an off-chance one might even remember the next word of the Sanskrit, in which case, the complete translation becomes, "Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood." Should one read deeper significance into government agencies, conveniently omitting the expression from the state emblem?
There is another observation that is deeper and requires some familiarity with Sanskrit to appreciate completely. Why did Mundaka Upanishad say 'Satyameva Jayate' and not 'Satyameva Jayati'? The latter also means truth alone triumphs. Without getting into too many complications of Sanskrit grammar, those verbs are of two types, parasmaipadi and atmanepadi, and there are some verbs that can be both.
A parasmaipadi verb is used when you are doing something for someone else. An atmanepadi verb is used when you are doing something for yourself. There are verbs that can be both and you use parasmaipadi or atmanepadi forms, depending on who the recipient of the intended action is. Cooking - let us ignore the relevant Sanskrit word - is an example of a verb that can be both.
When I cook for someone else, I use parasmaipadi. When I cook for myself, I use atmanepadi. Triumph or win is similar. Satyameva Jayate is used because truth alone triumphs and I am the recipient. Had someone else been the recipient, it would have been Satyameva Jayati. Incidentally, that is also the reason the national song says 'Vande Mataram' and not 'Vandami Mataram'.
I think there is a metaphor in the way government agencies react to people. The Preamble to the Constitution states that "We the People of India" gave ourselves the Constitution. The Constitution, and everything else that followed, was meant to transcend the colonial legacy of 'we' versus 'they'. Yet, notwithstanding governance, e-governance and RTI, that we-versus-they divide still persists.
So, the governance function is perceived as parasmaipadi, not atmanepadi, and every citizen is a supplicant, unless proved otherwise. Reactions to RTI are a manifestation. RTI is a nuisance. Had it not been for RTI, decisions would have been taken faster.
Consequently, since 2005, several attempts have been made to dilute RTI, latest being a provision that in call centres and web portals (for which bids have been invited), RTI requests for more than two public authorities will not be accepted.
That apart, there have been attempts to restrict applications to one subject and impose word limits. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have been proud. "We should always tell the press freely and frankly anything that they could easily find out some other way." Not surprisingly, that is from the section on open government and freedom of information. If decisions are transparent, why do government departments have to be economical with Satyameva Jayate?
It is for their benefit and not for someone else's. Admittedly, there are sometimes capacity problems in delivering on RTI. But since the central RTI was implemented after some experience in states, surely, these should have been thought of, anticipated and resolved before the 2005 legislation was enacted.
Having said this, there is a genuine problem. All government decisions cannot eliminate discretion and subjectivity. Had that been the case, we wouldn't have needed civil servants (at least of the senior variety) and everything could have been punched in and generated through a computer.

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