Justice T.U.Mehta

Socio-political Conditions

Before narrating some significant incidents of his life, it would be proper to make a brief reference to the social, economic and political conditions prevailing in India at the time of his birth because in the ultimate analysis, it is these socio-economic forces which give birth to the revolutions of the type which leaders like Mahaviras and Buddha sponsored.

The most significant aspect of the political history of India, right from the times of Mahavira (6 century B.C.) upto the present day, is that India has rarely been politically united. The periods witnessing political unity have been extremely short in the face of prolonged history of thousands of years. The second remarkable aspect of political history of India is that when politically united under one rule, our country prospered and earned a respectable place in world community. The third and the most important aspects of our history is that even though our political leaders failed us, mostly in achieving political unity, we retained our national unity mainly because of our cultural unity which our people have developed through ages by their inherent sagacity and wisdom. This cultural unity is expressed through our way of life, our spirit of tolerance and accommodation and our capacity of endurance and patience which we have been able to exhibit commonly irrespective of our castes, creed or religion. The main contributing factor to these virtues is the power of assimilation possessed by the Aryan race, settled in the country. Aryans learnt in plenty from the more civilized, original settlers of this land but they also made their own original contribution to enhance the ideas which they learnt. When Mohammedans came to India, they, unlike the previous invaders, came with their own religion and culture, with the result that they could not be assimilated in the existing Indian culture. On the contrary, they tried to impose their own by forcible conversions and political, social and economic repression. But by the passage of time even Islam was influenced by Upanisadic thoughts giving birth to Indian Sufism which attracted both Hindu and Muslim masses. Today an average Muslim's social and ethical attitude is not fundamentally different from that of an average Hindu or Jaina or Christian. One can find a difference only in degrees. But an Indian Muslim or an Indian Christian is more an Indian than his co-religionist elsewhere. Thus our culture, developed by the people of our nation through ages, has saved our national unity, inspite of our political leaders' failure and inspite of the partition of our country on the eve of our political independence.

The roots of above analysis are found in the socio-political environment, prevailing during the time of Mahavira. Those were the times when there was no paramount power to control the whole or even a great bulk of the country. There were small states and republics having monarchical as well as non-monarchical forms of government each trying to dominate the other. Political leadership in both the forms of government had failed to unite the country as a one whole. Even in the regions not having monarchy, the political structure was mainly oligarchical in character, power vested in the hands of the elite. Socially, on account of the belief that gods can be pleased to make our life comfortable only by sacrifices, a priestly class with great vested interests grew up and the growth of Brahmanical scriptures, prescribing intricate and highly specialized rules for sacrifices, made the services of the priestly class inevitable even for the ruling princes and political leaders. However, the thinkers like Parsva, Kapila, Uddalaka Aruni, Yajnavalkya and many other Rsis of later Upanisadas had started making dents on stronghold of sacrificial priests and princes. These great thinkers had already started a thinking process which was given a revolutionary push by Mahavira and Buddha and which eventually proved to be a cementing force of cultural unity inspite of the internecine quarrels between the political leaders of the day. A cursory look at the political situation in the time of Mahavira will show this.