Janata Durbar – Feudalism in the Name of Social Justice

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Durbar or Darbar /ˈdərbär/ - the court of an Indian ruler. A public reception held by an Indian prince or by a British governor or Viceroy in India.

Former kings and emperors of India were known for holding 'Janata Durbars' in their royal court to hear complaints and grievances of their subjects who would come to him seeking his help in resolving personal disputes or miscarriage of justice bestowed upon him by his relatives, neighbors, or rogue royal officials.

Usually the complainant had to jump through several hoops (king's ministers, wazir, wazir's henchmen, royal physician, or other advisors, in order to be able to meet the king face to face. After the customary kissing of the royal derrière (Maharaj ki jai ho, Maharaj ki jai ho!), the complainant would then explain his grievance to the ruler who, in turn, would either advise his minister to sort out his problem or throw him before a hungry lion depending on the mood of the emperor or his sense of social justice.

The royal courts in IndiaThe royal courts in IndiaWe are all familiar with this scene through films like 'Suraj', 'Rajkumar', and 'Dharmveer' and from stories in children's magazines like 'Chandamama', 'Champak', or even Mahabharat and Ramayan.

The story may be different each time but one thing remained constant – that there was a king, or, 'ek raja tha…' - usually followed by 'ek thi rani' but for this article, we will concentrate only on the 'raja'.

This tradition of holding 'durbars' in India was perpetuated by the British who were no strangers to monarchy themselves. Before them, Moghul rulers followed the practice of holding Janata Durbars to hear the grievances of their subjects. This they brought from Persia and other nations from the west Asia where the concept of 'Khalifas' holding their court to mete summary justice was quite prevalent.

Then something happened! India got freedom. Feudalistic political structure collapsed. Social justice became the political mantra and caste-based discrimination became all but illegal. To further level the playing field, reservation in jobs and education came into picture. In other words, no more 'Raja-Praja' rhetoric. It was 'by the people, of the people, and for the people'.

That is until, wait for it, Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister of Bihar.

Suddenly the 'Raja-Praja' system was in vogue again. Feudalism was back in its new avatar albeit surreptitiously. Nitish Kumar, after coming into power in 2005, ordered construction of a special place at his official residence on 1 Anne Marg where he would hold his 'durbar' to meet with the 'oppressed subject' of his kingdom.

The 'subject', or the 'oppressee', would have to jump through several hoops, like in old days, to be lucky enough to secure a presence in the 'durbar' where he would cry his or her heart out to earn the sympathy of the modern day king officially known as the Chief Minister. If the 'king' was moved by the 'oppresse's sob story, he would order his IAS officers, the modern day 'wazirs', to see the 'opperssor' was punished and the complainant was given a fair deal and justice was delivered. On the other hand, if the 'king' saw the 'oppressee' as a nuisance, he would ask the security guards to show him or her the door.

Welcome to the new age of feudalism - Benevolent Feudalism, that is!

Not only the 'Janata Durbars' of Nitish Kumar are stark reminders of an era of 'Rulers and Ruled', it also speaks volume of the failure of the current administrative and bureaucratic structure.

Now don't get me wrong, I am all for justice, particularly social justice, but that is why we have a government and a court system (Panchayat, Lower Court, High Court, and Supreme Court) to deal with grievances of all sorts. The Chief Minister's job is to be a visionary who helps bring development through investment, proper planning, and timely execution of the plan and not to play the judge, jury, and the executioner. Despite popular thinking, a Chief Minister is NOT a king - he/she is merely an elected official who has certain duties and responsibilities to meet. And if he/she fails to perform his/her duty, he/she will be thrown from his/her post for which he/she was hired by the people of his/her state.

When a person cannot get his or her issue resolved through the babus and feels the need to approach the 'king', we can safely surmise that the system has collapsed. It means the government departments are not working as expected and the babus are not doing their job diligently or efficiently. Nitish Kumar, or any politician for that matter, by holding Janata Durbars, is not helping fix the problem but in fact, giving the stamp of approval to the failed system under his administration.

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