Letter 10

Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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The greatest Democracy : Unity in Diversity

8th April, 1990

My dear Pranav,

We are living in the greatest democracy of the world. Many people call it the largest democracy in the world. They say this with a dig. They think we are the largest only in numbers. This obviously is a fact, which no one can deny. The total number of voters in India is equal to the total number of voters of West European and North American countries together. 500 million voters was our count in November, 1989.

Still I call our democracy the greatest. Why? Our country is full of different languages, religions, methods of worship, dresses and people. We are full of plurality. We are full of diversity. But somewhere deep down we are all one. There is this unity, Vinoba says, because Vedanta is the basis of our philosophy.

When the Constitution of India was being discussed in 1947, our founding fathers decided on adult franchise, meaning one-man one-vote. It looks very common today. But there are many countries in the world where people have no voting rights at all. Even in England till 90 years ago there was no voting right for women. Many European countries gave the voting right to women much later. But the farmers of the Indian Constitution started with this idea. Many people still believe that only the educated should have the right to vote.

This idea of adult franchise is based on the concept of equality amongst people. Equality is an ethical concept. It is not a fact. Different people have different capacities even different heights, weights, physical and mental strengths, educational qualifications, ownership of things, ways, form of worships, languages and so on. Such differences are innumerable. They are all facts. Then why should they have equal voting power? This question cannot be logically answered. Inequality is a fact but equality is an ethical concept.

This idea came to our leaders through their Western education. How could Pandit Nehru and his servant have the same right to decide about his government? How could they have equal voting rights? When this question was raised before Vinoba, he gave a beautiful answer. He spoke of Pandit Nehru as a great adhyatmic, who knew that his soul (atman) and that of his servant's were equal and hence he insisted on equal voting rights. This is easily understood by the common villager in India, better than the sophisticated history and development of ideas on adult franchise in Europe.

Vinoba's genius lay in connecting modern thoughts and ideas to age-old traditions of Vedanta and Adhyatma in our country. That is why, Pranav, people find tele-serials of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat gripping and relevant today. Everyone knows the epics already, but they do not want to miss a single episode! There is no suspense, but there is a great desire to follow our epics year after year. If you want to understand India, you must seek your roots in all these sources.

With love,


L. N. Godbole

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