The Greek and Roman heritage on public discussion is, of course, rightly celebrated, but the importance attached to public deliberation also has a remarkable history in India. As it happens, even the world-conquering Alexander received some political lecturing as he roamed around north-west India in the fourth century BCE. For example, when Alexander asked a group of Jain philosophers why they were paying so little attention to the great conqueror, he got the following -- broadly anti-imperial -- reply (as reported by Arrian):

"King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of the earth's surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, travelling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others! . . . You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you."

. . . Ashoka, who ruled over the bulk of the Indian subcontinent . . . tried to codify and propagate what must have been among the earliest formulations of rules for public discussion -- a kind of ancient version of the nineteenth-century "Robert's Rules of Order." He demanded, for example, "restraint in regard to speech, so that there should be no extolment of one's own sect or disparagement of other sects on inappropriate occasions, and it should be moderate even on appropriate occasions." Even when engaged in arguing, "other sects should be duly honoured in every way on all occasions."

-- Amartya Sen