Siasat e Madani (Politics of a city or state)
Shah Waliullah of Delhi
Translated from “Hujjatullahul Baliga” by
Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed
Note: Shah Waliullah was one of the most influential reformers of the subcontinent who lived during the waning years of the Mogul Empire and the onset of British Raj in India/Pakistan/Bangladesh. His voluminous writings are unsurpassed in their comprehensiveness, incisiveness, sensitivity and scholarship. As a social reformer he tried to arrest the moral decay that had overtaken his age which explains why India imploded just when it was challenged by a resurgent Europe. I have made an attempt here to translate his writings on Siasat e Madani (politics). So much of what he wrote more than two hundred and fifty years ago is applicable to today’s social and ethical decay in South Asia.
City (state) politics is a term used for that part of wisdom which explains the sustenance of mutual relationships between city (state) dwellers. By a city (or a state or country) we mean those groups that live in close proximity with one another, engage in mutual transactions but who live in separate homes. The essential element of city politics (civics) is that mutual interactions weld the city together as if it is a single entity whose constituent body parts function as an integrated unit.
In (such) a composite body, it is possible that a defect develops in its internal or external aspects so that a changed (reformed) condition would be better for its organic functioning. It is also possible that it (the composite body, the city or state) is completely healthy as is, meaning, it is functioning as an integrated (healthful) whole due to its inherent and natural virtues (and no change is necessary). Since a city is a conglomerate of large groups, it is not possible that they be in complete agreement with one another so that they work together for what is just and do not need an individual to arbitrate between them without (the authority of) rank or position. Therefore, there exists a possibility of mutual hostility (in a city). For this reason, the organization of a city can only take place when those who are vested with understanding nominate a single person as their leader and he be splendid (in character) and is supported by a body of (sincere) advisers and aides.
Those who are short sighted, quarrelsome, angry and prone to conflict are in greater need of civic life. The defect of city politics is that oftentimes a group of powerful, vile and wretched people gang up together to abandon the path of righteousness and pursue their personal interests. This happens in many ways:
1. Greed for the wealth of other people, as it is with thieves and robbers
2. Aggression on other people because of hatred or anger
3. Thirst for power which leads to organizing (gangs) for armed conflict. This flaw (in character) leads to an oppressor inflicting hurt, pain or (worse) murder, or abusing another person’s wife, or desiring another person’s sisters or daughters, or openly swindling another person’s property, or stealing it or defaming another person, or accusing someone of a vile and wretched deed, or speaking harshly to others.
In addition, (city, state) politics suffers from such secret activities as are inherently harmful such as rumor mongering, training people for riots, inciting the peasant against the ruler, servant against master, wife against husband. In addition those customs that destroy the cohesiveness of society such as homosexuality, marital relations in forbidden manners, all of these distract from the purpose of marriage. (In addition) social practices that are unnatural such as for a man to become a woman, or for a woman to take on the role of a man, or those practices that cause major conflicts such as when a woman is unattached and several men establish relations with her (prostitution) and fight over her. The consumption of liquor is also a practice in the same category.
There are certain (economic) practices that harm civic life such as extracting doubled and tripled interest (sood), taking bribes, compromising on weights and measures (swindling), hiding the defects in items, buying goods from merchants outside of the city (before it enters the market), hoarding grains, cheating and selling at exorbitant prices items that you would not buy yourself . Similarly, there are instances when people offer doubtful evidence and it is impossible to decipher the truth. For this reason it becomes necessary to sift through evidence, oaths, documents, verbal depositions and events to bring people to the right path, uphold justice and decipher the connivance of contesting parties.
It is also harmful for civic life if people withdraw themselves (from civic life) or migrate to another city (country), or that the general public bows down (accepts) practices that harm civic life. For instance, if everyone gives up farming and becomes a trader, or a large segment of the population become fighters. What is appropriate is that the farmers be supported as the producers of grain and traders and craftsmen be supported as guardians of the country who are distributors of grain (goods). The multiplication of wild animals and vultures is also detrimental to city life and one should attempt to eradicate them.
The safekeeping of a city is ensured (and a state is strengthened) by the construction of buildings that benefit everyone such as shelters (for the poor), rest houses for travelers, forts, fortifications (defense), markets(business), digging canals and wells (irrigation), and the supply of boats for crossing rivers (transportation). Traders should be encouraged to bring goods from the outside (commerce). The people in the city (state) should be taught to treat the travelers with utmost courtesy. This will encourage the ingress and egress of merchants (trade). Farmers should be encouraged not to lay barren their land. Craftsmen should be encouraged to produce quality goods of beauty and ruggedness. The citizens should be educated about these benefits. The cultivation of knowledge (education), writings (literature), medicine and arts should be encouraged (made excellent and perfect).
It is necessary to gather intelligence about the affairs of the city (state) so that one tracks the activities of the well wishers as well as the trouble makers. If one learns of a destitute then (the state should) help him. If there is an accomplished artisan, then use his services (give him a job).
There are two reasons why city (state) life deteriorates in this day and age:
1. Abuse of baitul mal (government treasury). The ghazis (soldiers) and ulema (scholars and teachers) who have (no doubt) a right on the baitul mal (treasury), as well as poets and writers who used to be patronized by kings have now made it a habit to look upon bait ul mal (government treasury) as their means of day to day income. They have become dependent (parasitic) on the baitul mal (the government) for their livelihood. They become richer (through the income from the government), each one more than the other, and become a burden on the general population.
2. Heavy taxation on pilgrims, businessmen and workers is a major recipe for poverty. It destroys honest people while the (unscrupulous) powerful become rebellious (abuse the laws). The reform of culture takes place through a balanced establishment of professions (farmers, traders, craftsmen, soldiers, scholars, doctors). Our compatriots should be aware of this subtle observation.