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Recently under the aegis of Institute of Social Sciences(established in 1985), a new 7thchapter has been opened namely, Centre For Ethics, Politics & Global Affairs, headed by the Prof. Ashok Acharya, a prominent political theorist at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. The inaugural event took place on 19th December 2018, which included public lectures by two eminent scholars, one from India and from the US. The event was well attended by academics, research scholars mainly associated with the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia. The website (ethicsandpolitics.org) was launched by an eminent scholar and political theorist Prof. Neera Chandhoke, former Head and Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.

The keynote address was given by Professor Rajeev Bhargava, a well-known political theorist and currently Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. And a special lecture was addressed by the famous scholar and Professor at Yale University, Thomas Pogge, who has pioneered the idea of global justice and is also a former student of the noted political philosopher, John Rawls (author of the much celebrated book, A Theory of Justice, 1971).

While making initial remarks, Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, underlined the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi at the global level and said that we are living in the era of modern dilemmas, where the discontent at the global level has now became very deep and sharp. And because flagrant Human Rights violations are taking place, problems such as poverty, hate crime, and income inequality etc. have been increasing across the world. During the time of post -truth, crony capitalism has spread out everywhere and even became more naked. India is also witnessing poverty and inequality and as a result marginalized social groups like Dalits and especially Indian Muslims are confronting more problems. To deal with these issues the role of ‘Public Intellectuals’ are crucial in times to come. Besides, he noted that in the past the Institute had also conducted lectures of eminent academics and noted scholars like Prof. Amartya Sen, Prof. Bhikhu Parekh, Prof. Joseph Stigliz, and former presidents of India like Paranb Mukherjee, and A.P J. Abdul Kalam.

While underlining the idea behind establishing the Centre current advisor, Prof. Ashok Acharya has said that he nurtured the passion for building a Centre on Ethics for the last 17 years.  Prof. Acharya noted that given deep inequalities and a growing neglect of ethical parameters around the world, there is a need to combine the study of ethics and politics together. And that it is also high time to engage with pressing issues and problems at the global level. And the Centre, aims to achieve these objectives in keeping the global affairs into mind. While stating the goal of the Centre, a small leaflet circulated by Prof. Ashok Acharya says:

The Centre for Ethics, Politics and Global Affairs provided a trans-disciplinary  platform to engage with ethnical issues in politics, policy and  the  professions across local, national and global dimension keeping in view the  complex challenges to contemporary governance.

It has to be noted that in the increasing inter-dependent world, boundaries are now became porous; we are witnessing inequality at the domestic and global level coupled with the entrenched corruption both at individual and collective level. In this given context, Prof Acharya asked: what kind of ‘moral values’ do we need to deal with such issues? For him, doing this requires a huge attempt to deal with deeply ethical issues including the complex issues of governance. While concluding his talk, he said that current website is now launched and open to pursue good research in years to come. And finally he extended his gratitude to the Chairman of ISS, Dr. George Mathew and recorded his gratitude to the support received from the School of Open Learning, University of Delhi for providing support to the event.

Before starting his lecture on ethics and tolerance with respect to Mauryan King Ashoka, Prof. Rajeev Bhargava congratulated Prof. Ashok Acharya and Dr. George Mathew for creating the Centre. At the outset, Prof. Bhargava said that here attempt has been made to look at fresh discourse around different Asoka’s edicts including his ‘Dhamma’ which broadly  focuses on political and social vision including different forms of co-existence, during the 5thcentury in the context of ancient India. While underlining the practice of edicts, he told us that they had ethical norms which were embedded in society at that time and take for instance, don’t kill and speak lie in the community. Therefore, premises of human life were based on some kind of reason and theoretical structure, and how shall common people live a good life in future. Universal cosmopolitanism, general ethics were not associated only for fellow human being but also general community. Buddha began to provide answer to these ethical and moral questions and including as an ‘intellectual guide’ to the King Ashoka. The concept of ‘Dhamma’, is refers to a major normative and wider context mainly good for other and no harm (self-restraint on speech) to other community. And the values like liberalism, compassions generosity was important for Buddha especially how can treat other fellow beings.  It has to be kept in mind that here Asoka’s edicts were not for only individual but also for the groups and community at large, argued Bhargava.

While going beyond the concept of ‘Tolerance’, Prof. Bhargava observes that followers of all religions and sects had experiences to live together and there were practices of ‘civility’ and ‘coexistence’ amongst the different groups and communities in Ashokan edicts. This is to be achieved by way of self-constrain ( Atamsamyam), gratitude (Kirtagya) and fair laws (Dand), noted by him.  For Asoka everybody in the Kingdom has to follow these laws.  To note that people at the time were also living in ghetto, and there were deep potential and massive conflict could be noticed. Moreover, at that time oral culture were dominant over textual traditions. However, during that time in spite of some forms of humiliations, bad conduct of speech, there was no physical violence and self-restraint (Atamsamyam) and artful management of tongue etc. were practiced in the public domain. The co-existence and culture of toleration in terms of expressing once own views or doing good things for the sake of public welfare were also prevalent.

Besides, Ashoka’s edicts were deeply based on inter-personal subjective relationship and kindness for other human being, adds Bhargava.  For Ashoka, the ruler must exercise his power based on people-moral discourse. The concept of Dhamma has to be taught through consensus not by danda (Dand) or by applying force, for the sake of kindness, goodness and for the liberation (Nirvana) of the community and individuals too, explained by him.

Before Ashoka, there were no traditions of writings and for the first time during his rule the written (mainly different edicts were written in the forms of inscriptions on rocks) culture had been noticed. Through this way, ethical norms were promoted mainly at the inter-generational including for the people in future and hence, inscriptions were read and interpreted also at that time, says Bhargava. While discussing the content of Dhamma, Bhargava mentions that edicts were taught in family/personal life and what the King owes to subject and subject to the King.  To note that religio-philosophical groups were also included in the realm of public domain.

Finally in his concluding remarks, Bhargava mentioned that Buddha was for open mindedness (Bahushrota), and the willingness to listen to other perceptions. If we want to grow, self-restraint (Atamsamyam) is needed. Only through the ‘Political Dhamma’, human virtues, like individual freedom, groups and community culture will flourish and grow. And therefore, following these human virtues, the ground for living together will be achieved, said Bhargava, while ending his lecture.

 Another eminent scholar and Professor at Yale University, Thomas Pogge, in his lecture spoke about the growing inequality across the world because of the prevalent practices of ‘Nepotism’ mainly at the national and as well as at the global level. It is for this reason, he stressed upon the need for global value-based order to achieve justice across the world. While speaking at the Institute of Social sciences, Prof. Pogge underlined that we can take insights from historical context of each country to conceptualize just and value based global order. India and other countries can be taken as cases in point. However, no single national society could claim for prefect model to provide inclusive and just global order with enforcement of ‘rule of law’, added Pogge. Currently, no  national and global society are able to safeguard the human freedom and one cannot deny the fact that violence, intimidations and fear and  violations  of basic Human rights etc. are still widely experienced across the world.

Besides, he also spoke about the glaring inequality in terms of gender, caste religion, class and political beliefs, which are not addressed properly and still existing practices of legal order is not appropriate to deal with these kinds of inequality across the national society.

While concluding his lecture, Prof. Pogge emphasized that there is a need to move beyond the ‘National Nepotism’ and talk about the ‘Cosmopolitan Loyalty’ (Common shared values, based on the goodness of all human being) and value- based legal order to achieve equality for both individual and groups at the global level. In this respect, United Nations, Declarations on Human rights (UNDHR) universal values and social economic justice expressed in other subsequent Human Rights documents must be taken seriously by all  the national governments whether powerful like the USA(which is stressing more ‘national nepotism’ presently under  the Donald Trump rule), or under-developed countries.  It is ironical to note that through the military deployment, the USA is also making intervention in developing countries’ domestic affairs (Afghanistan and Iraq could be taken as examples) and limiting the possibility to conceptualize the value based global order to achieve justice and equality for all.

During the discussions hour, pertinent questions have been asked by learned audiences. In this respect, Prof. Arun Kumar, well–known economist at the JNU has asked that why economics (here positivist notion of economics, which create dichotomy between facts and values while studying social problems) as discipline is now dominating in the social science. For Prof. Kumar, divisions in social sciences are problematic in the inter-dependent world and for the sake of society at large. While agreeing with Kumar, Prof. Bhargava has said that disciplinary boundaries must be overcome to deal with complex problems confronted by societies. Other question is asked by Dr. Dara Krisna swamy, who is an assistance Professor at JMI, mainly regarding the implementations of Bhudha’s teachings in our present caste-ridden hierarchical society. While agreeing with Dr. Swamy and others, both speakers maintained that only good laws will not transform the society, and will contain inequalities in all walks of life. The only legal discourse, will not transform hierarchical social order, therefore, ethics and moral values must be seriously taken into account as practiced during the rule of King Ashoka explained Bhargava while answering the questions. Similarly, citing the examples of ‘hegemonic’ power like USA, Prof. Thomas Pogge also said that ‘Rational Choice’ theory which is adopted by global military powers has not brought fairness and equality in even western society. In short, present national governments in the developed courtiers and under-develop courtiers have squarely failed to achieve the agenda of global justice at the national and global level as promised by the UN Human Rights documents and respective countries’ Constitutions too. While extending his gratitude’s to speakers and audiences, finally important observations were made by the Chairman and the founding Director of Institute of Social sciences (ISS), Dr. George Mathew that- everywhere we are now witnessing the ‘deficits of ethics.

On the basis of above arguments mainly put-forth by scholars like Prof. Rajeev Bhargava,(on Ashokan edicts in the context of the ancient India), and Prof. Thomas Pogge who spoke the need for value-based global order and ‘cosmopolitan loyalty’, to deal with the current inequality mainly created by dominant global power; one could argue here that respective speakers’s ideas and thoughts are relevant to deal with the decline of ethical values at all sphere of life such as politics, religion, social and economics etc. at the global level.

Badre Alam Khan is a Ph.D candidate at the department of Political science, University of Delhi. I am grateful to the Prof. Ashok Acharya, for reading draft and giving me some suggestions. This essay is based on lectures delivered by Scholars like Prof. Rajeev Bhargava and Prof. Thomas Pogge on 19th December 2018, at the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), New Delhi.

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