It is no exaggeration to say that more two thousand years before America’s Declaration of Independence, Asoka ruled by the same human values. He kept religion separate from the State without knowing the word ‘secular’. He respected and exhorted people to respect all religions. His purpose in asking people to convert to Buddhism was to liberate them from the chains of caste system and the economic burden of everyday Vedic rituals—which Charvak, an ancient philosopher, called a device for “the lazy Brahmins to make a living.” He allowed slaves to buy their freedom; if a female slave had a child by her master, both mother and the child were set free. Lincoln would have applauded this practice if not Jefferson.
Hinduism today is different from the Vedic religion of Asoka’s time largely because Asoka made Buddhism a mainstream religion. In the following centuries, Hinduism was forced to fold Buddhism into its own belief-system to survive. By sheer energy and determination, he turned Buddhism from an obscure, regional sect into a world religion. He is the St. Paul of Buddhism.
Furthermore, Asoka is relevant because he is the first king in history who ruled by the principles that we know today as democracy. He governed to give “a ‘little happiness to people.’ He provided universal health care, reformed the judicial system to incorporate social justice, and stopped animal killings for religion, and planted trees all across India along the major highways. Every leader today can learn from him how to govern.