“By ‘Ramrajya’ I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by ‘Ramarajya’ divine Raj, the kingdom of God. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other God but the one God of truth and righteousness.”
– Mahatma Gandhi.
Does this definition still hold? Are we still talking about the same Ramarajya that Gandhi was talking about? Or are we just focusing on the word ‘Ram’ without understanding the true meaning of the term?
It’s an ideal form of government, a government where the ruler and subjects have a sort of a parent-child relationship, where the subjects can approach the ruler anytime with whatever problem they have and the ruler works for his/her subjects with a sense of duty, responsibility and love. Like a parent the ruler doesn’t discriminate between its subjects (children), and treats all his/her subjects with equal compassion.
The ruler focuses on public good coupled with self-austerity. It’s a state where no decision is taken that harms even a single person, where every voice is heard and where justice is swift and accessible to even the poorest, the weakest and the marginalised. It’s a state where even the subjects are righteous, nobody steals and nobody speaks any untruth, an absolute ideal society.
It goes without saying that it’s a utopian idea. There’s no such state, there never was and most likely there never will be. But nevertheless it’s an interesting concept and more so because of the way it has been twisted, misinterpreted and misused in recent years.
The concept of Ramarajya finds its roots in Ramayana, the holy Hindu scripture, like many other religious books it describes how humans and society at large should behave and conduct themselves and thus setting moral guidelines. The concept was later popularised by Mahatma Gandhi. He wanted India to be a Ramrajya after independence, but he never meant it to be a Hindu nation or a nation on lines of Hindu ideology, he simply wanted India to be a nation where the government is as ideal as described by Ramrajya. On several occasions, he clarified that for him Rama wasn’t just the Hindu God but Khuda and Jesus too. This concept was never communal, it was never intended to glorify Hindus.
When did we start to identify it with the idea of a Hindu nation? Was it the Partition? Or the early 1990s when the Babri Masjid was demolished in the name of Ram? Or very recently where every political party is using or rather misusing Rama to further their political ambitions?
I think the answer is all of them and more. I think it all started even before independence and kept on getting strengthened with each of these historic watersheds. Britishers had a basic philosophy they called ‘Divide and Rule’, as it is popularly said it’s easier to break one stick at a time than breaking five together. They sowed the seeds of communal hatred and incited the two main religions in India the majority Hindus and the largest minority Muslims against each other and politicians to this very day are nurturing it and reaping the fruits.
This dirty trick that the Britishers played was so efficient that the two communities who had lived together in harmony for almost a millennia became each other’s biggest enemy. Their divisive policy led to growing resentment in the hearts of both the communities and their politically motivated encouragement of ‘Two Nation’ solution and finally partition on the lines of religion was the biggest blow to our nation’s secularism.
The Partition was their dirtiest trick to keep the conflict in the region go on forever and never let us focus on peace and development. Obviously there were elements who genuinely wanted a separate Muslim nation and some others who wanted to make India a Hindu state just for Hindus. The British involvement gave them legitimacy and they were used as pawns by the Britishers. Over time these elements grew both in size and power leading to a bloody partition in which countless innocent lives were lost.
Later numerous wars between these two new nations cemented this hatred and gave these fringe elements on both sides a chance to further their ideology and political ambitions. Later incidents like Shah Bano case in 1986 where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shah Bano ordering her husband to pay her alimony. There was a huge backlash from various Muslim clerics and politicians against the judgement as according to them the ruling was in conflict with Islamic laws.
The then Rajiv Gandhi government, in order to appease the Muslim vote bank passed Muslim Women (Protection of Right on Divorce) Act 1986, which limited rights of Muslim women to alimony only during the time of iddat (90 days after divorce). The religious politics has always been a reality in India, the deeply rooted religious divide solidified by British policies was again being used by the people in power. The RSS and its political arm Bhartiya Jan Sangh even though gained popularity but never managed to win more than 35 seats in the general elections. Jan Sangh merged with Janta Party in 1977 and was succeeded by Bhartiya Janta Party in 1980 after the fall of Janta government.
The BJP secured only 2 seats in 1984 General Election, its seat share increased to 85 in 1989, but VP Singh government implemented Mandal Commission’s recommendation of providing 27% reservation and in fear of losing its Hindu vote bank the then BJP president L. K. Advani, members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other members of the Sangh Parivar organized a Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh to erect an idol of Ram in Babri Masjid.
According to the Ramayana, Rama was born in Ayodhya, and according to hearsay, the Babri Masjid was the very spot where Rama was born. The Ratha Yatra was joined by several militant Hindu organisations and several lakh people reached Ayodhya in December 1992. On 6th the unthinkable happened, people climbed on the three domes of the Babri Masjid and started breaking the structure, with the Masjid our hopes of a peaceful, secular India were also demolished that day.
As I see it, along with the politicians, the people present in Ayodhya and those who actually demolished the structure, we are all to blame. Politicians do what they do for votes, it is us who allow them to divide us and distract us from the real issues. The Babri Masjid demolition and the associated Rama Janambhoomi case which is still sub-judice show us the real picture of our divided society. The violence and hatred continued and this led to the Godhra riots.
A train full of Hindus was returning from Ayodhya in 2002 and was burned by some Muslims, this led to the Godhra riots or rather pogrom, where allegedly the then BJP state government asked the police to let people vent out their anger and to not take action against those who might retaliate to the train burning incident. What could be the purpose of such an act by the government other than appeasement! The issue of Ram Mandir has come up time and again and particularly in election years, the pattern of escalation of tension around this issue surely tells us the only purpose it serves. An absolutely apt line someone said about the issue, “Ayodhya mein tanav hain kya? Dekho dekho chunaav hain kya?” perfectly describes it.
This strategy to divide and polarize people to serve their political ends is still prevalent. Recently the so called Gau Raksha Movement where cow vigilantes have lynched several people on rumors of them eating beef. The Triple Talaq case and the Sabarimala case are the perfect examples to prove the double standards and appeasement. Triple talaq was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in August 2017 and later in December 2017 a bill was introduced by the incumbent government banning the practice.
The bill failed to pass, the government in 2018 promulgated an ordinance and reintroduced the bill in winter session of 2018. This bill was passed by Lok Sabha but failed to pass in the Rajya Sabha even in the Budget session of 2019, the bill has now lapsed and will have to be reintroduced after 2019 General Election. Even though the bill seeks to end a regressive practice it was brought in by the incumbent government and was opposed by the opposition to appease their respective votebanks.
The Sabrimala case is the exact opposite because the religion in question here is different. The Supreme Court in September 2018 struck down a rule that banned females in age group of 10-50 from entering the temple. Both of these verdicts are laudable, ending regressive practices and a step towards gender equality, but in Sabrimala case, the opposition and incumbent state government were in support, incumbent central government opposing the verdict.
The Prime Minister in an interview said that triple talaq is not an integral part of Islam, but the Sabrimala entry rule is an old tradition which shouldn’t be broken. Does this make any sense? Don’t these two cases prove that the only core value system these political parties have is to build the vote bank?
Slowly and gradually with each of these incidents the idea and concept of Ramrajya got corrupted. It went from being the idea of an ideal secular state to being one of a Hindu state based on the lines of Hindu ideology, where noone who doesn’t allow Hindu hegemony should be allowed to live. The idea of Ramrajya has during this transformation acquired ideas of Hindutva and these two terms are now used interchangeably. Hindutva started as a cultural movement, defining a Hindu as anyone who considers India as their fatherland and holy land- people united by common cultural heritage.
The term was polularized by V.D Savarkar and was adopted by RSS as its ideology and sole aim to achieve. Hindutva being a cultural movement, sets it apart from Nazi fascism or neo-fascist movements like KKK which were/are solely based on race. But a fine look into the very definition of Hindutva excludes the two main minorities, the Muslims and the Christians for considering Arabia and Jerusalem respectively as their holy land. They may love India, they may be ready to die for their country but they cannot be considered a part of the Hindutva culture and this what is being taught and spread.
The idea of the Hindu culture or Hindutva has also become increasingly rigid over time. History is told in a fashion to make Hindus insecure. Muslims are called outsiders who came here to enslave the Indian aboriginals (Hindus). India since the age of the Harappan civilisation has been a prosperous land and thus attracting people from all parts of the world for trade. India has also been the birth place of several religions and numerous scholars and missionaries like Al-Beruni, Fa-Hien, Huien-Tsang, Ibn Batuta, Magasthenes, Marco Polo and countless others have visited India from time to time to learn about our culture, religions and political system.
All these traders, scholars, missionaries, travellers and ambassadors along with learning about our culture also influenced ours by bringing in ideas from their countries. India has adopted and incorporated several of these ideas into its own culture and this has in turn made India a melting pot of various cultures and thoughts and has given us our distinct identity. Only a few years after Islam was founded, its ideas and philosophies also came into India with the traders from the Middle East first in the southern region of the country now the state of Kerala. Many in India adopted the idea and accepted Islam as their religion, the religion may not have been founded in India but does adopting it as their religion make these Indians outsiders too?
The Harappan Civilisation got extinct suddenly around 2000-1800 BC, there are several theories but nobody know for sure what eventually happened to these people. Aryans (as given in several history books) arguably came in from Central Asia and settled here, they then wrote the Vedas and the Hindu way of life was developed and was adopted by many in India. Like many other prosperous civilisations India too has faced several invasions and immigrants from outside have come here from time to time to make India their home.
First the Aryans came and settled here and later after Islam was founded in Arabia many tribes and rulers came in from the adjacent western region and India was ruled by several Muslim Dynasties, Mughal Empire being the most important one. This has always been the case, people throughout history have come to India, settled here and made India their home. So does it really matter who came first and who came later as long as they accept India as their home? Or does it matter which philosophy or religion came or was developed first as long as people following it consider India as their home?
Religion has nothing to do with these invasions, a prosperous region attracts people from outside, this has always been the case and this still happens, even though its form might have changed. We talk about Aurangzeb who proselytised people and imposed taxes on non-Muslims, but which country hasn’t experienced reign of bad kings? We hear the names of Babur and Aurangzeb because it suits the narrative and it helps the propaganda. Nobody talks about Akbar who was secular, called Hindustan his homeland, had several Hindus in his court and married several Hindu princes (even though for political reasons).
We don’t talk about Bahadur Shah Zafar who was declared the Shahenshah-i-Hind by both Hindus and Muslims during the revolt of 1857 because it didn’t matter which religion we followed we were all just Hindustanis then. Whatever happened in the past, the present population, whichever religion they may follow, whether their ancestors were the original inhabitants or came in later, whether they adopted a religion wilfully or were proselytized, have been living here for several centuries and millenniums now, then how can they be termed outsiders? And even if people from outside today come and settle here, what difference does that make?
Ours has been an inclusive and accommodating culture, this xenophobia and bigotry have been very recently infused into our secular tolerant society by people who wanted to divide us by cultivating these insecurities and by telling us that our identity is in danger.
This has been done very systematically one religious hysteria at a time. Even though some might have been forcefully converted to Islam by kings like Aurangzeb but after tens of generation how can we differentiate between someone who was forcefully converted and one who adopted it wilfully?
Does it really matter what happened 400-500 years ago? Even if it does and some may argue that some of these people might have been Hindus if they hadn’t been forcefully converted but religion any way is a personal affair, the only thing that matters is what today’s generation, the people alive today identify themselves as. Isn’t converting Muslims today, born as Muslims and following their religion as true believers to Hinduism in the name of ‘Ghar Wapasi’ proselytism too?
This is the biggest hurdle in India’s growth story. This doesn’t just have social implications but political, economic, legal implications too.
There are several social problems the new rigid Hindutva has intensified, let’s take them up one by one. It has further solidified casteism in Indian society, Hindutva in its present form is a so called upper caste movement. Hindutva by its very definition aims to establish a Hindu Rajya on the lines of Hindu ideology and varna system is part of this Hindu ideology. There has been a rise in crime against people from Scheduled Castes in both the incumbent government’s and last government’s tenure seeing a fall only in 2015. This rise can be attributed to several factors including rise in awareness and reporting of such crimes, which is a positive thing but shouldn’t rise is reporting also lead to rise in the justice delivery and ultimately fall in such incidents?
A closer look at the geographical distribution of such crimes reveals that such cases are high in the Hindi heartland which is also the epicentre of the caste and religious politics. In 2016 over a quarter of such crimes took place in Uttar Pradesh alone followed by Bihar and Rajasthan. It is a sad truth that caste is deeply ingrained in the Indian society and there are several factors apart from divisive politics for such crimes, but the rise in Hindutva and divisive politics will only worsen the situation which is already out of hand.
The status of women in our society will further deteriorate in the present environment. The new rigid Hindutva has strengthened the patriarchal system which has led to increase in crime against women. Their wrong understanding and misinterpretation of the Hindu culture has further curtailed women’s freedom. Even in today’s day and age the dowry system is still prevalent.
Many of these Hindutva leaders have now started preaching their followers to breed as many children as they can so as to maintain their hegemony over minority, this has and will further reduce women’s status to just a childbearing machine and in turn promotes child marriage to increase childbearing age.
With the rise is divisive politics both on the lines of religion and caste, the cases of honour killing will only rise. ‘Love Jihad’ is a very popular term. Hindutva leaders have convinced their followers that Muslims boys are sent on a mission to “trap” Hindu girls and convert them to Islam. They feel a need to impose restriction on women for their own safety, this shows their misogynistic mindset. Women suffer most in communal violence, they are raped, killed and even when they are left alive many of them are not accepted by their families. The Sabrimala case and the halfhearted attempt to pass the triple talaq bill shows the attitude of this divisive political scenario towards addressing women’s issues.
Communal division is both the result and the tactic of divisive politics. It’s a vicious cycle, the more communally divided we get in this divisive environment, the more divisive tactics they use and the more divisive tactics they use, the more communally divided we get.
Politically too it has huge implications, both on our domestic political system and international political relations. Domestically, this divisive politics weakens the democracy and deviates us from the real issues. Just look at the political speeches of our leaders just after independence and speeches of leaders now. From ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ we have now stooped to a level where one party says ‘Mandir wahin banayege’, one of the leaders of the main opposition says they’ll find the path Ram travelled during his exile and construct a ‘Rampath’. From the slogan of ‘Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai, sab aapas mein bhai bhai’ we have reached a time where both Hindu and Muslim leaders have time and again shamefully in their political speeches dared police to step aside for them to show their strength. This also weakens the idea of a cooperative federal structure.
Internationally due to this divisive politics India will weaken its status of a soft power. India is viewed internationally as a diverse but still a united country. Diversity of culture, religion, race, language, topography, climate and what not but everything has been adopted and accepted with open arms.
India still doesn’t have the economic or military might to compete with the US or China, but being a soft power India has more acceptability and trustworthiness than these two. India aims to become a major global power and maybe a superpower someday, this divisive politics and ultimately division in the society at large will be a major hindrance.
In this divisive scenario, economic divide among communities will widen with the party in power giving patronage to their votebank. Bias against minorities and strengthening of patriarchy will lead to lesser participation of the minorities and women in the economy leaving a major segment of the population out of the economic development. This will have a negative impact of the GDP and economic growth. India being such a diverse country could be a hot destination for tourism but this environment of communal intolerance and violence will hamper India’s chance of being a preferable tourist destination and thus losing billions in potential forex earnings. The tourism industry is also a huge job creator and India will miss out on such job creation opportunities.
This rise in Hindutva might sour our relations with some of the oil rich Middle-East Asian countries which will have direct impact on our energy needs and thus the economy at large. Our scientific temper has been attacked by claims such as ancient India had made exceptional strides in science and technology developing airplanes, atomic bombs and plastic surgery. We are made to believe that during Islamic rule we lost all our glory (even though India was the largest economy in the world during Akbar’s reign controlling 25% of global trade) and the only way to restore India past glory is a prolonged Hindutva rule. This push for mythological glory will not develop scientific temper and promote innovation. Shouldn’t we rather glorify our real scientific geniuses and encourage our youth to follow the likes of Aryabhatta, Sushruta, JC Bose, CV Raman, Homi Jehangir Bhabha and lead the world in scientific innovation? This won’t suit their narrative and won’t help their cause.
How can we achieve a true Ramrajya? The solution is simple- ‘We, the people’. Our constitution starts with these very words, ‘We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’.
The people in power know the tune we all dance to and they are playing it at full blast. Yes, we have as a nation faced several atrocities in the past but will fighting over it among ourselves improve our present or our future? The only people it is helping are those in control, those whom we have given authority over our lives. It is popularly said that the politics and politicians are a reflection of society and ours look divided on the lines of religion, caste and gender. We are a democratic country, a crooked, biased, divided and influenced democracy, but a democracy nonetheless and these people are one of us. We are both the cause and solution of the state of our democracy, we will have to change ourselves first, as Gandhi ji quoted “Be the change you want to see in the world.”