Saturday, 18 July 2015

Islamist Terrorism: The Underlying Politics

Ram Puniyani

The World at large has suffered massive inhuman acts of violence, terrorism in the name of Islam. There are many glaring insane, cruel acts which cannot be forgotten and condoned in any way. Be it the killing of nearly three thousand innocent people in the attack of 9/11 (which was upheld by Osama bin Laden), the attack on Peshawar school children, the abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram, attack on Charlie Hebdo, the violence by ISIS, all are equally condemnable and global society has to put its head together to stop this insanity. 

Since 9/11 again, a new phrase has been coined, ‘Islamic terrorism’, associating Islam with terror. It is true that this Islamist terror has been very persistent and is a cancerous phenomenon. An impression has been created due to these incidents that this violence has something to do with Islam. The same has been strongly propagated by the US media to begin with and later other media also picked it up. Simply speaking if these acts have anything to do with Islam, why they are occurring more in the oil rich countries? 

Adding to this misconception various writers have come with the thesis that reform in Islam will cure the problem. Some say that there is a need for ‘religious revolution’ to purge Islam of extremist tendencies. It’s pointed out that Islamic fundamentalists, those indulging in terror have come to dominate and so reform in Islam will ensure the end to violence. The question is who gives power to fundamentalists to shoot down the peaceful interpretations of Islam, is it Islam or some politics behind the mask of Islam. One concedes that what is going on is one of the most horrendous phenomena in the history of human kind and it must be condemned and uprooted. 

While Islamist terrorists are holding the humanity to ransom, we need to go beyond the obvious to understand this phenomenon, how it has come up and who is behind it. We need to ponder whether theoretical reform can hold forte in the face of ‘politics of oil’ supported and secretly operated by vested interests to achieve their goals by any means. As such the political context, which gives birth to these violent tendencies in the name of Islam, needs to be unraveled. 

There have been brilliant, humane interpretations of Islam by the likes of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer; precisely around the time when the terrorists have been morphing from one area to another, executing one or the other horrendous acts of terror. Why these interpretations of Islam are not in the mainstream? Fundamentalists with their version of Islam have held the sway with inhuman acts and violent versions of Islam is stalking the streets. At the same time the voice of liberal-humane versions of Islam is in the margins. The books elaborating different meanings of the Quran, the movements for rationality are very much there but these are not the one’s which are acknowledged by the terror factories created by the politics, which aims to gobble up the ‘oil wealth’ to quench ‘oil hunger’. What is argued by some is already there in the Islamic domain, the humane version of Islam; question is that this rationalist-reform version has been having insignificant impact due to extraneous economic-political factors. 

The dominant political forces pick up and discard interpretations of religion to suit their political-economic agenda. The verses of Koran have to be seen in the particular context, as putting the text out of context is what the critics do. We refuse to see the political motives which are lying not so hidden under the mask of Islam. Thus while some Muslims may be living in denial mode for sure; the problem is not within religion. Problem is use of religion for the sake of power and wealth. The core point is to understand ‘the genesis and enfoldment’ of fundamentalism-terrorism in the name of Islam. Today how come ‘killing the kafirs’ is the buzzword while Islam’s ‘All men are brothers’ and ‘Islam means Peace’ lies in the by lanes of Islamic domain. 

Today’s terror acts have their genesis not too far ago in the politics of control over oil wealth of West (Central) Asia. While US supported-encouraged the creation of Al Qaeda, the Wahabi version of Islam came in handy for the Madrassas set up in Pakistan to create the ‘Jihadis’, to ally with armies taking on the Russians occupying Afghanistan. US equipped the Al Qaeda with 8000 million Dollars and 7000 tons of armaments, which also included the latest Stinger missiles. It was the progenitors of Al Qaeda who were presented by US President Ronald Reagan as the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers, in a press meet in White House. The overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Mossadegh (Iran 1953) led to the chain of events which paved the way for the violent interpretations of Islam being brought to the forefront and the liberal human versions being undermined. In the area; where Maulana Rumi put forward; ‘Peace and Love’ as the central doctrines of Islam (Sufi version), how come the Wahabi version is ruling the roost? The Salafi versions of Islam was put forward nearly two centuries ago; how come it was picked up as the Islam in these Madrassas just few decades ago? The version of Islam used by those involved in the business of killing and mindless violence was deliberately brought in for political goals to be sure. 

If we have a slight peep into history we can see that religion has been used as a mask for goals of power throughout history. Kings doing Crusade, Jihad or Dharmayudh abound. During colonial period it was the declining sections of Landlords-Kings (Hindu and Muslims) in India which came together to form United India Patriotic Association (1888), the parent organization from which Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha emerged in due course. These communal formations resorted to hate propaganda which led to intensification of communal violence. The Nawab of Dhaka and Raja of Kashi were the founders of these organizations. So do we attribute ‘religion-Hinduism and Islam’ as causative factor for the formation of these communal organizations or should we attribute it to the political context where the feudal lord-kings were declining and resorted to versions of Islam and Hinduism to safeguard their political interests? Currently in South Asia, we can see similar use of Buddhism in Myanmar and Srilanka where violent groups are formed in the name of Buddhism. 

In current times if we see a bit closely; the Islamist terrorists came up primarily in the oil zone and not in the most populous areas of Muslims say Indonesia for example. The cancerous seeds of terrorism were planted with the motivation of the economic goals of the superpower thirsting for oil, and not by any religious preacher. In present case Maulana Wahabb’s interpretation which was already there dormant in the deserts of Saudi Arabia was refurbished and ‘used’ to create the present dread. The primacy of political context can be missed only at our own peril. It is the political powers and vested interests who choose which version of religion to pick, which will suit their goals the best. We should see that there are those opening girls’ schools citing the importance of knowledge in Koran, and there are those gunning for the girls going to schools in the name of Islam again. The terrorist groups don’t debate on the versions of their religions, the few phrases put in to their heads during the process of indoctrination is what converts a sensitive human being into the gun or bomb wielding beast. 

The likes of Anders Behring Breivik, who shot 86 youth in Norway, are also not inspired by the teachings of Christ. Similarly belonging to same religion, a Gandhi will go out and make non violence as the central creed of his teachings while another Hindu Godse will pump in three bullets into his chest, in the name of the same religion. Where is religion involved in the process? The present set of Islamist terrorist is the outcome of the indoctrination done in the madrassas supported by the superpower, United States. The initial implants have gone on to spread in the whole area, where the innocent human lives are being sacrificed at the altar of political goals of maintaining hegemony in West Asia. There have been reports which show the role of US behind the ISIS militants also. The offshoots of this type of political outfits do spread here and there, but the center of gravity of the terror factory remains in the West Asia and motive being oil wealth. During colonial period the politics came in the label of religions; different religions. In these areas the colonial powers chose to let the feudal powers persist even when industries were coming up. Now since the major inhabitants of the oil rich zones are Muslims, Islam has been used for the political goals and paradoxically Muslims have become the victim of their own wealth, the black gold!

One Year of Modi Sarkar: Hate Speech Galore

Ram Puniyani

The coming to power of Narendra Modi in a way gave an open license to all the affiliates of RSS combine to indulge in open hate speech against the religious minorities. The current agenda behind the hate speech is to consolidate the communal polarization of the society along lines of religion. The well known case of MIM’s Akarbar Uddudin Owaisis’ hate speech has been despicable and very rightly Akbarudin Owaisi had to be in jail for some time. The case against him should be pursued and the legal course of action must befollowed.  At the same time what about the hate speech indulged in by the likes of Pravin Togadia, Subramaniam Swami, Giriraj Singh, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sadhvi Prachi, Sakshi Mahraraj, Yogi Adityanth, Sanjay Raut and company?

Apart from these associates of Hindu right wing patriarch, RSS, who are reported in the media, there are many more indulging in the divisive speech and worsening the communal situation. During this year they have started feeling emboldened as they know it is ‘their’ Government and they can get away with it. Day in and day out they are becoming more aggressive and vicious in their language. The hate speech against religious minorities has been stepped up.

One recalls even before Modi Sarkar assumed the seat of power the divisive activities of ‘BJP associates’ in the form of propaganda of love jihad and Ghar Vapasi were on, and they continued without any respite during this year. Soon after this Government came to power in Pune, Mohsin Sheikh, a person working in IT was hacked to death by activists of Hindu Jagran Sena, in the aftermath of morphed pictures of Bal Thackeray and Shivaji being posted on the social media. The attack on Churches was very glaring and the process which was dominant in Delhi and Haryana was also witnessed in places like Panvel near Mumbai, Agra in UP amongst other places.

Sakshi Maharaj not only said that Godse was a patriot; he also went on to say that Hindu women should produce four children, as Muslims are overtaking the population. Sadhvi Prachi went to prescribe eight children for Hindu women. She also gave a call that the Muslim film actors, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan should be boycotted. Pravin Togadia has been the leading person in making hate speeches; he has the highest number of cases regarding hate speech against him. Yogi Adityanath, BJP’s MP keeps making very derogatory remarks, He said that in ‘love jihad’ if one Hindu girl is converted then 100 Muslim girls should be converted to Hinduism. The propaganda around love jihad keeps simmering and various small and big leaders keep using it to divide the society. Same Yogi went on to say that Mosques should be converted into den of pigs and that Muslims should not be allowed to come to Hindu holy places.

Two central ministers of Modi Sarkar, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Giriaj Singh made very insulting and humiliating remarks about non Hindus and the color of skin of UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. Niranjan Jyoti stated that all those who are non Hindus are illegitimate, Haramzade. Giriraj Singh had earlier said that those not voting for Modi should go to Pakistan. Interestingly he said this before the elections and despite such a record he was elevated to the level of minister in the Modi sarkar. He made racial comments about Sonia Gandhi recently. Sakshi Mahraj also held Godse as a patriot, while his another party colleague from Kerala, one Gopal Krishnan wrote in RSS mouth piece Keasri that Godse chose a wrong target in killing Gandhi, he should have killed Nehru instead. Subramaniam Swamy, one of the very senior leaders of BJP, said that God lives in temples alone, not in mosques and Churches, The hidden implication of this statement is fraught with danger. These are few of the samples from what all has been stated during this year. Its impact in increasing the sense of fear amongst religious minorities is more than obvious. BJP ally Shiv Sena’s MP Sanjay Raut went to the extent of demanding that the voting rights of Muslims should be revoked.

As such one realizes that ‘Hate speech’ is the outcome of the politics of divisiveness, it is the concentrated expression of the ‘social common sense’ prevailing in the society, it is the forth right and blunt way of putting things, which communal parties propagate anyway. It is not out of the blue that these formulations suddenly crop up, their infrastructure, the base of these has already been made by a section of political outfits.

Also ‘Hate Speech’ in case of India is an accompaniment of the politics in the name of religion and language, and also many times it precedes the violence or helps in polarization of communities for electoral benefits. While BJP was on the upswing during Ram Temple campaign; one recalls that Sadhvi Ritambhara, was propped up for pravachans (religious discourses) by RSS combine. She was bluntly talking anti minority things, duly endorsed by communal political organizations. This took place around the Babri demolition period.

One has been hearing similar things from many a sadhus of VHP, small and sundry members of communal gang, some Muslim communalists and the ilk of Togadia. There has been a more sophisticated presentation of the similar formulations by many others. Modi, in his initial rise to power talked divisive language, but kept changing the form in a very subtle way to suit the needs of his political strategy. When he said that post Gujarat refugee camps should be shut down as they have become factories of production of children, he was reinforcing the propaganda about Muslims having more number of children.

In the wake of Mumbai riots Bal Thackeray had indulged in Hate speech, inciting his Shiv Sainiks to undertake violence. He also got away with it due to clever way of putting his vitriol and due to the lack of adequate laws which can distinguish the Hate speech from freedom of expression, which can distinguish between one’s political opinion and painting the ‘other’ community in a negative light. Incidentally it is important to distinguish between criticizing a community and criticizing a political organization. While political organizations can and must be criticized, communities should not be humiliated or insulted. Also no political organization can be synonymous with the religious community, whatever its claims.

It is not only disturbing but totally against the values of our democratic society that such ‘hate other’ ideology and speeches have become the weapon in the hands of a type of politics, which thrives on exclusion, which identifies a particular religious community as synonymous with the nation state. Again this ‘hate speech’ is the language of a section of those who thrive on identity politics far away from the real issues of the society.

As such Hate speech in India entered the political arena with the rise of communal streams in politics, like Muslim League on one side and Hindu Mahasabha and RSS on the other. These streams believed in the nation based on one religious community. These streams came from the sections of earlier rulers, landlords, Nawabas and Rajas etc. The ideology of religion based nationalism is narrow and it excludes ‘other’ from its notion of nationhood. These beliefs then get converted into Hate other, and later turn in to ‘Hate speech’. This did form the basis of many a communal violence in pre independence era and also during the last two decades. Varun Gandhi, allegedly said ‘he will cut the hands’, is a BJP MP.

In this atmosphere once a while the BJP spokespersons will say that the view expressed by the particular leader are ‘personal’ and stop at that. For BJP another escape clause is that its associated organizations like VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal are formally different organizations though they are also part of RSS controlled Sangh Parivar. They all are working in tandem with BJP for actualization of agenda of Hindu Rashtra. So while BJP is not directly responsible for their actions, the direction of the actions is the same. Many a people call these organizations as fringe elements, while as a matter of fact there is a division of labor between these organizations. These have become more aggressive during this time. And surely after the Modi Sarkar coming to power their vitriol has become more intense

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Where do Ram and Allah Live?

Ram Puniyani

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a point to keep visiting temples when visiting other countries. His visit to Dhakeshwari Mandir and Ramkrishna Math in Bangla Desh were part of his itinerary (June 2015). On the heels of this he is planning to visit the oldest mosque in India. This happens to be Cheraman Jama Masjid in Thrissur in Kerala. Contrary to the present perception and propaganda that Islam came to India with Muslim kings with sword in one hand and Koran in the other, the initial Islam in India came via the Arab traders in Kerala to begin with. It is due to this that the first mosque in India came up in Kerala. Wikipedia gives the brief history of this mosque. There were trade relations between India and Arabia. Arabian trader used to come to Malabar Coast even before the advent of Islam. With the rise of Islam in Saudi Arabia, the traders brought this faith with them. “Cheraman Perumal, the Chera king, went to Arabia where he met the Prophet and embraced Islam and changed his name to Tajuddin. From there he had sent letters with Malik Ibn Dinar to his relatives in Kerala, asking them to be courteous to the latter. In the 7th Century, a group of Arabs led by Malik Bin Deenar and Malik bin Habib arrived in north Kerala and constructed a Masjid at Kodungalloor, naming it after their contemporary Cheraman Perumal.

Structure of old Cheraman Masjid (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

This interesting peep in to the history; when the issues related to mosque, church and temple is very much in the air; should help us to delink religion from politics. Modi’s associates within BJP and with RSS family (Sakshi Maharaj and the like) have begun asserting that Ram Temple will be built soon at the site where Babri Mosque was demolished. As Modi led NDA Government came to power we witnessed a series of attacks on Churches in Delhi, which many tried to pass off as series of thefts, despite the fact that not much was stolen; only damages were there, religious symbols were desecrated. The trend continues. In Atali in Haryana the violence was unleashed and the half built mosque was destroyed. In Rajagir (Bihar) the issue of holy place is being raked up. Subramniam Swami of BJP is facing a court case for saying that Temple is a holy place but mosque is not a holy place.

The communal politics has been built around the issues related to identity. Even during freedom movement when the communal streams (Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha-RSS) came up the issues related to pig in the mosque and beef in temple were made the pretext of violence. In Independent India the story begins with Ram Temple issue in the decade of 1980s when BJP made it a political issue. Its seeds were sown in 1949 when some miscreants installed Ram Lalla Idol in the mosque. The rest is history. The culmination of this has been that the Allahabad High Court gave the verdict on the ownership of land on the grounds of faith of majority community, and divided it into three parts. The judgment was a precedent of sorts as faith became the base of judgment. The matters are pending in Supreme Court but to keep the pot boiling VHP-BJP has started making noises for construction of temple.

There is a long trajectory of incidents related to mosque-temple-dargah. Disputes have been constructed around them systematically. In Karnataka the Baba Budan Giri dargah was claimed to be the Datta Peetham. In Hyderabad near Charminar, Bhgyalaxmi temple is gradually being extended to be dangerously close to the Charminar. In Madhya Pradesh Kamaal Maula Masjid in Dhar has been claimed to be Bhojshala. In most of these places the campaigns were launched and polarization around these was brought in leading to electoral benefit to BJP at most of the places.

Historically it is amusing to see that while kings had diverse policies towards the holy places, the communal historiography which became prevalent looked at Muslim kings as destroyers of temples. This irrespective of the fact the Kings were there to rule primarily for power and wealth, religion being incidental to their policies. Emperor Asoka was the only king who worked for spreading his religion, Buddhism. Kings also could not rule just on the strength of sword and had to respect the faith and feelings of their subjects. That’s how we see that Babar in his will to Humanyun writes “Son, this Nation Hindusthan has different Religions. Thank Allah for giving us this Kingdom. We should remove all the differences from our heart and do justice to each community according to its customs. Avoid cow-slaughter to win over the hearts of the people of this land and to incorporate the people in the matters of administration. Don’t damage the places of worship and temples, which fall in the boundaries of our rule. Evolve a method of ruling whereby all the people of the kingdom are happy with the King and the King is happy with the people.”

Tipu Sultan got the temple of Shrirangpatanam repaired after it was damaged due to the attack by Maratha armies. Primary cause of destruction of Somanth temple was the massive wealth kept there. Even Babri Mosque has been the pretext of biggest communal polarization in recent times. Hindu King Shivaji got a mosque built at the entrance of his fort in Raigadh. ## The clever British policy of introducing communal historiography and dividing the history into Hindu, Period, Muslim period and British period paid them rich dividends and the communal streams picked this version from their angles and this came in handy to incite the feelings of people.

Currently as India on one hand has claims for industrial growth and the figures of GDP are juggled to silence the critics, the fact is that India as a country is very low on the index of human development and per capita calorie consumption by large section is declining. At such a time the issues around temple and a mosque are a definite derailing of the priorities of the society. Lately many from RSS stable have been making damning statements about holy places. Yogi Adityanath of BJP said that non Hindus should not be permitted in Haridwar’s ghats. Somanth trust is barring the entry of non Hindus into the temple. Such attempts will be a great detriment to our social practices which have united the society. People from different religions keep visiting places of all the faiths. These are practices where people overcome the religious divides in practice. These will weaken the fraternity which is integral part of our values.

While watching the TV debates on Ayodhya temple-mosque issue, one can see VHP spokespersons beating their breast that Lord Ram has to live in the tent, while he deserves to live in the Bhavya (great) temple. Here is the question, contrary to the belief of communal forces; for most of the medieval saints; the place of worship was within one’s own heart and soul. The identity issues have been brought to the fore by communal forces for their own vested interests. What we need is not the issues related to identity but struggle for a society which wants to see that all its citizens have bare minimum facilities, food clothing, shelter, employment health and dignity.

Lord Ram and Allah are almighty and the mortals like us, including the breast beaters from communal formations, should prefer to see that the housing is provided to all the mortals, ordinary people so that they don’t have to live on the pavements-slums and suffer the ignominy. Can one hope that rather than presenting the past in a one sided; divisive manner we look at the story from all the angles, and put forth the rational one. We need to cultivate our faith for well being of all our society as a whole on the lines of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. 

Manufacturing and Undermining National Icons: RSS Style

Ram Puniyani

Many a social and political processes related to projection of some icons and undermining of the others have intensified during last few years. Even during the last regime of NDA led BJP rule from 1998, Savakar’s portrait was unveiled in the Parliament. At one level the game of undermining some icons and projecting icons is a part of various political streams and RSS seems to be the past master in the same. One recalls its machinery has been putting forward some names. bypassing others and undermining some others. Since the time Modi has come to power as Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse is being upheld by many from RSS combine. One BJP MP called him a patriot and other BJP MP said that Godse chose the wrong target, instead of Gandhi; he should have chosen Nehru as his target. There are demands from various quarters to allot land for raising his statues in different places.

Times and over again Sardar Patel is projected vis a vis Nehru. In one of the speeches Modi said Patel should have been the first Prime minister of India instead of Nehru. Various ‘word of mouth’ propaganda to denigrate Nehru has been the consistent activity of many. Again to undermine Nehru Modi said something which was not true. He said that Nehru did not attend the funeral of Sardar Patel. This again is a blatant lie. As far as Mahatma Gandhi is concerned this present ruling dispensation has projected him but only for the values of cleanliness. One knows that the stature of Mahatma is such that even those who do not believe in his inclusive nationalism have also to pay obeisance to him at home as well as abroad. To circumvent this problem while the core essence of Gandhi’s struggle for Hindu Muslim unity is sidelined, the teachings of the Mahatma for National Integration are give a go bye and he is projected for only for swachhta abhiyan (cleanliness drive).

Currently major concerted efforts are being made to highlight Ambedkar. There are statements that Ambedkar and Hedgewars’ (The founder and first supreme leader of RSS) values were similar, both were against untouchability for example. RSS mouthpiece Organiser (English) and Panchjanya (Hindi) have come out with the special supplements on the life of Ambedkar, presenting his teachings in a distorted manner to create the illusion that there was similarity between the teachings of RSS ideology of HIndutva and Ambedkars values. Ambedkar had contributed in various ways for social justice and democratic values and struggle for annihilation of caste was the foremost amongst the movements launched by him.  Incidentally one need to recall that in contrast to Ambedkars Annihilation of caste, RSS has floated and organization called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum) which works for bringing harmony between castes without challenging the very existence of caste, which was the prime motive of Ambedkar.

One can see two trends in the exercise being done by the RSS combine. On one hand since RSS never participated in the freedom struggle as an organization, it has no icon to present as a freedom fighter. This is why they have to stretch their myth making to project Savarkar as being a freedom fighter. The case of Savarkar is peculiar. He was initially working against the British rule but after he was jailed in Andaman’s, he buckled under pressure and turned from anti British revolutionary to the one who apologized to British and later never participated in any anti British agitation. That’s all RSS combine has to show for their participation in freedom struggle. Even Savarkar was not the part of RSS, but ideologically Savarkar and RSS both held Hindutva, Hindu nation as their goals.

As many in the RSS combine revere Godse, he always slips in as the major icon for them. Godse was initially trained in RSS Shakhas and later he went onto become the Secretary of Pune Branch of Hindu Mahasabha. Since many BJP leaders have background in RSS shakhas, and are on same page as Godse as far as Hindu Nationalism is concerned, they do come out to praise Godse. These two, Savarkar and Godse are projected to show their allegiance to the ideology of Hindu nationalism in contrast to Indian nationalism, which is the core part of Indian Constitution. This is necessary for them as they are projecting themselves as biggest nationalists unmindful of the fact that their nationalism is Hindu Nationalism and not Indian Nationalism. They want to derive legitimacy from Savarkars’ initial anti British role. The later part of Savarkar where he kept aloof from freedom movements is the exact way in which RSS also kept aloof from freedom movement.

At another level they want to contrast Patel with Nehru. It is meant to undermine Nehru. Patel and Nehru, both were close allies on most of the issues related to freedom movement, both were the major followers of Gandhi, who was their mentor and they were collaborating with each other in the national movement and later as part of the first Cabinet of Independent India. RSS combine cannot swallow the uncompromising stand taken by Nehru during his long years of Prime Minister-ship on the issues of secularism and his long association with these principles in a forthright way so they want to contrast him with Patel, who was also a deeply secular person.

At another level there are some in-house icons which are propped up or are undermined. RSS second Sarsanghchalak Golwalkar has been a great influence on generations of RSS workers. His book, ‘We or Nationhood defined’, shaped the thought process of many of them. He went to the extent of upholding Hitler’s method and type of nationalism expounded by him. His book used to be available in RSS shops for long time. One of his quotes sums up the RSS ideology very well, writes Golwalkar “German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of semitic races-The Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how neigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. (We or Our nationhood Defined P. 27, Nagpur 1938). From more than a decade ago RSS started feeling embarrassed about this due to electoral-political compulsions and started making arguments that this book was not written by Golwalkar. It was withdrawn from market. Here electoral expediency shaped their decision.

At another level they have been projecting Deendayal Upadhayay as the major figure. Deendayal Upadhdyay is the ideologue who had coined “integral humanism’ as the concept, this essentially talks about upholding status quo of social relations of caste in particular. This is done to give a subtle message of deeper agenda of the RSS politics. The play with the icons goes with the long term program of the cultural and social manipulation for building a society with the hegemony of Hindutva politics, a politics which derives its name from a religion but at core is the political agenda of elite of the Hindu society, irrespective of the fact that some from the lower strata of society are also co-opted for this political agenda. It’s due to this that RSS focuses a lot on propagating the culture of a variety which is sectarian and backward looking, the agenda of Hindu Nationalism.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Gandhi’s Vision of Ramarajya: A Critique - Part II

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

The extent of democracy

Is Gandhi’s Ramarajya a land of the equals with all economic disparity gone? The utopias conceived by many writers since the sixteenth century do so. Gandhi held out no such hope in this regard. On the other hand, he categorically declared:

[The] Ramarajya of my dream ensures equal rights alike of prince and pauper (Amrita Bazar Patrika (a Kolkata daily, ceased publication), 02.08.1934; The Pioneer, 03. 08. 1934. CWMG  64 p. 231).

Only in this sense his Ramarajya is truly democratic: no discrimination is made between the rich and the poor. Whatever be the citizen’s economic status, he or she is assured of this.  Gandhi’s vision of democracy covers this much.

Ramarajya essentially Indian

How does Gandhi link the idea of Swaraj to Ramarajya?  He never defined it in so many words. He had no quarrel with any system of government in the world. His Ramarajya was something unique and appropriate for India alone. Moreover, it was not only political but based on morality. Thus he said in 1937:
By political independence I do not mean an imitation to the British House of commons, or the Soviet rule of Russia or the Fascist rule of Italy or the Nazi rule of Germany. They have systems suited to their genius. We must have ours suited to ours. What that can be is more than I can tell. I have described it as Ramarajya i.e., sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. (Harijan, 02-01-1937, p. 374, CWMG  70 p. 232).
The Kingdom of God on earth

Gandhi repeated the same view in other words in 1946:
Friends have repeatedly challenged me to define independence. At the risk of repetition, I must say that independence of my dream means Ramarajya i.e., the Kingdom of God on earth. I do not know it will be like in Heaven. I have no desire to know the distant scene. If the present is attractive enough, the future cannot be very unlike. (Harijan, 05-05-1946, p. 116, CWMG 90 p. 327).
Gandhi most probably got his idea of the two kingdoms from the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (called Paternoster by the Catholics) to be found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:10: ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’.

Morality instead of violence

Just on the eve of the transfer of power Gandhi did not feel at ease with the possibility of a nation-state with its own army. The very existence of armed forces without which no state can function was not exactly desirable to him. It went against the very grains of his dream of a non-violent Ramarajya. He expressed his discomfiture in clear terms in 1946:

My conception of Ramarajya excludes the replacement of the British army by a national army of occupation. A country that is governed by even its national army can never be morally free and, therefore, its so-called weakest member can never rise to his fullest moral height. (ibid.; CWMG 90 p. 327).

Socialism rejected

Even before India became independence Gandhi made his disagreement with the doctrine of socialism clear enough. He was of course opposed to the disparity between the handful rich and the poor millions. Yet he thought that socialism could not bring about any real change – not because its programme was wrong, but solely because of the fact that the socialists were prepared to opt for violent means to achieve their ends. Non-violence was to Gandhi an inviolable creed which could not be compromised for any reason or motive. He thought that abolition of inequality was not to be achieved under the existing circumstances, and hence, his Ramarajya too would have to carry the burden of inequality and ill distribution of riches. The pragmatist Gandhi was, made him admit all this:

There can be no Ramarajya in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which a few roll in riches and the masses do not get even enough to eat. I accepted the theory of socialism even while I was in South Africa. My difference with the Socialists and others consists in advocating non-violence and truth as the most effective means for any reform. (Harijan, 01-06-1947, p. 172, CWMG 95 p. 135)
Gandhi again took up the theme of violence just on the eve of the transfer of power. Violence was to him still the greatest enemy, and he blamed violence for all the evils of the Indian society. In addition to Ramarajya and the kingdom of heaven (already alluded to on 05.05.1946) he brings in the Buddhist concept of nirvāṇa, the ultimate emancipation:

I compare nirvana to Ramarajya or the Kingdom of Heaven on earth…. The withdrawal of British power does not mean Ramarajya. How can it happen when we have all along been nursing violence in our hearts under the garb of non-violence?  (Harijan, 03-08-1947, p. 262, CWMG 96 p. 120)

Ramarajya = tolerance of all religions

A few months after this, Gandhi added a new dimension to his concept of Ramarajya: it was mutual toleration of all religions, but not secularism. He made the distinction clear by proclaiming himself to be a Hindu, but at the same time highlighting the fact that it was his Hinduism that taught him to be tolerant towards all religions: ‘My Hinduism teaches me to respect all religions. In this lies the secret of Ramarajya’. (Harijan, 19-10-1947, p. 378).

A week after this Gandhi again harped on the moral side of his Ramarajya. This time it is personal morality, a self-critical attitude instead of finding faults in others. This was his last message related to Ramarajya:
If you want to see God in the form of Ramarajya, the first requisite is self-introspection. You have to magnify your own faults a thousand fold and shut your eyes to the faults of your neighbours. That is the only way to real progress. (Harijan, 26-10-1947, p. 387)


What are we to gather from all this? In his speeches and writings Gandhi links Ramarajya to several ideas, both ancient and modern, Hindu and Christian (for example, the kingdom of God on earth), democracy, justice, equality, religious tolerance, and last but not least, Swaraj. However, one looks in vain for a thread that would connect all this. No concrete image of an ideal state envisaged by him comes out of these stray and occasional statements. One has a feeling that Gandhi never attempted, or even thought of attempting, to provide a clear picture of India as she could be made to be or as Gandhi would like her to be. What Jawaharlal Nehru said about Gandhi’s idea of Swaraj can be applied equally to his concept of Ramarajya: both are ‘delightfully vague’ (p.76). Gandhi never worked out the details of all the dimensions – political, economic, social, and educational – of his ideal state. His comments hover between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom on earth. It is difficult to decide the nature of this Ramarajya, except one fact: it is altogether free from violence. That’s all. All other vital issues, for example, who would control the means of production, how wages are to be determined, what would be the system of pedagogy, etc. etc. remain unanswered. Perhaps they were never addressed by Gandhi. Notwithstanding its explicit acceptance of the varna system and adherence to the prescribed duties of every varna (Tulasidas improves upon Valmiki by declaring that the division of works is ordained by the Veda, something that Valmiki did not say). The Ramarajya of the Ramayana within the compass of only seven couplets at least posits the pangs of early death, the husband predeceasing the wife and such other elemental questions. Tulsidas too takes up these themes in his verses. The scattered pronouncements of Gandhi about his dream of the Ramarajya, however, do not touch even one serious question concerning life and death. The only consolation he offers to the toiling masses is the lessening of the cost of litigation and assurance for democracy, which again is never defined by him in clear and unambiguous terms.

One point, however, is evident: Gandhi merely borrowed the name Ramarajya from the Valmiki Ramayana and/or the Ram-charit-manas. His utopia does not resemble the Ramayana utopia except in one particular detail: both are class-utopias.  As the Valmiki Ramayana upholds the sanctity and inviolability of the varna system and the hierarchical arrangement of the existing society, so does Gandhi approve of the co-existence of the prince and the pauper, without holding out any hope for the abolition of inequality even in the distant future. One might at best call it: Gandhi’s dream of a non-violent yet effective state, devoid of all immorality and inequity.

Appendix: The Ramarajya Parishad

It is no wonder that in independent India a political party called Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad (All India Council of Rama's Kingdom) came into being. It was founded by Sriswami Karpatriji Maharaj in 1948. Karpatri wrote a voluminous work (xii+804 pages) in Hindi called Marxvad aur Ramarajya (Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 2014 Samvat=1957-58 CE). Next year Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan came out with a short polemical pamphlet (iv+75 pages in the sixth edition) in 1959, appropriately named Ramarajya aur Marxvad.

The Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad was dharmic in their political outlook. Hindu dharma, it believed, does not generally accept the (Western) concept of a nation-state because dharma is said to permeate the entire universe, rather than demarcate people based on a geo-political entity such as the state. Like Hindutva-based parties, this party too wanted a uniform civil code in India, based on the Code of Manu with non-violence (ahimsa) as its first creed. 

The party won three Lok Sabha seats in the 1952 elections and two in 1962. In 1952, 1957 and 1962, it won several dozen of State Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) seats, all in the Hindi belt, mostly in Rajasthan. The party gradually became inactive and was one of the many small parties to merge into the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (the first incarnation of the Bhartiya Janata Party). [Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources]

Works Cited

Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. A Class Utopia in the Ramayana. 2015 (Online copy)
Bloch, Ernst. Something Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Thinking (1975). The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 1988.
Gandhi, M.K. Collected Works. Delhi: Publications Division. Electronic version. 
Gospel according to St. Matthew. The New Testament. King James Version. London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1929.
Goswami, Tulsidas. Sri Ramcaritamanasa. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. (often reprinted)
Johnson, J.W. (ed.). Utopian Literature: A Selection. New York: The Modern Library, 1968.
Morton, A. L. The English Utopia. Berlin: Seven Seas Publishers, 1968 (first published 1952).
Morton, A.L. Utopia as a Reflection of Social Ideas. MarxismToday, November 1962, pp.336-42.
Nehru, Jawaharlal. An Autobiography. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Ojha, Krittivasa. Ramayana. Ed. Subodh Chandra Majumdar. Kalikata: Deb Sahitya Kutir, n.d.
Ramayana of Valmiki. 2 vols. Ed. Shastri Shrinivas Katti Mudholkara. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 1983. (vulgate)
Ruesen, Joerm and others (eds.). Thinking Utopia: Steps into Other Worlds. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005.
Sankrityayan, Rahul. Ramarajya aur Marxvad. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1982 (first published 1959).
Valmiki Ramayana, The. Critically edited by G.H. Bhatt and others. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1960-75.


Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.

Bhakti-Sufi Traditions: Uniting Humanity

Ram Puniyani

In contemporary times, religions’ identity is being used as cover for political agenda. Be it the terrorist violence or the sectarian nationalism in various parts of the World, religion is used to mask the underlying politics. While one was talking of separation of religion and politics many decades earlier, the times have been showing the reverse trends, more so in South Asia. Globally one came across the news that American President sent a chador [a ceremonial sheet of cloth] to the annual observation at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. (April 2015). Later one also read (April 22, 2015) that Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpeyi, and Narendra Modi has also offered chadors at the shrine. 

Keeping the relation between state, politics and religion apart, it is interesting that some traditions within religion have appeals cutting across the religious boundaries. The Sufi and Bhakti tradition in Pakistan-India, South Asia are two such humane trends from within Islam and Hinduism respectively, which harp more on unity of humanity as a whole overcoming the sectarian divides. The saints from these traditions had appeal amongst people of different religions and they were away from the centers of power, unlike the clergy which was close ally of the rulers in medieval times. We have seen rich traditions of people like Kabir, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Shankar Dev, Lal Dedh, clearly from within Hindu tradition, while Nizamuddin Auliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Tajuddin Baba Auliya, Ajan Pir, Nooruddin Noorani (also known as Nund Rishi) coming from a clear Islamic Sufi tradition and Satya Pir, Ramdev Baba Pir, having a mixed lineage where Bhakti and Sufi themselves are deeply intertwined.

Sant Guru Nanak did try a conscious mixing of the two major religions of India, Hinduism and Islam. He traveled up to Mecca to learn the wisdom of Islam and went to Kashi to unravel the spiritual moral aspects of Hinduism. His first follower was Mardan and Miyan Mir was the one who was respectfully invited to lay the foundations of Golden Temple; the holy Sikh Shrine. The Guru Granth Sahib has an inclusive approach to religious wisdom and it takes the verses from Koran, couplets from Kabir and other Bhakti saints. No wonder people used to say of him ‘Baba Nanak Sant Fakir, Hindu ka Guru Musalman ka Pir’ (Saint Nanak is sant for Hindus and pir for Muslims)

In today’s scenario the global discussion has been centered round religion due to its use in political sphere. Now the renewed interest in Sufi tradition at one level is heartening. Sufism has been prominent in South Asia from last ten centuries. Word Sufi means coarse wool fabric, the type of clothes which were worn by Sufi mystics. It grew within Shiaism but over time some Sunnis also took to this sect.  It has strong streaks of mysticism and gave no importance to rituals and tried to have understanding of God by transcending the anthropomorphic understanding of Allah, looking at him more as a spiritual authority.  This is so similar to the belief held by Bhakti saints also. Many Sufi’s had pantheistic beliefs and they articulated their values in very humane way.

In the beginning the orthodox sects started persecuting them but later compromises were struck. The Sufis formed the orders of roving monks, dervishes. People of all religions in many countries frequent their shrines, this again is like Bhakti saints, who have following amongst people of different religions.

On parallel lines Bhakti is probably the most outstanding example of the subaltern trend in Indian religious history. The Bhakti saints came from different streams of society, particularly from low caste. Bhakti opposed the institutionalization of religion, tried to decentralize it, and declared that religion is a private matter. It gave respectability to the separation of state power and religion and merged the concept of God worship with the process of getting knowledge. Travails of poor people are the focus of bhakti saints’ work. Bhakti traditions gave respectability to many low castes. This tradition had inclusive approach towards Muslims as well. This tradition posed a challenge to upper caste hegemony.

Bhakti tradition opposed the rituals, hegemony of elite of society. They adopted the languages more popular with the masses. Also they talked of one God. In India in particular Hindu Muslim unity has been one of the concerns expressed by many of the saints from this tradition.

What one needs to realize is that there are various tendencies with every religion. The humane one’s as represented by Bhakti and Sufi are the ones’ which united Humanity and harped on morality-spirituality of religions. The intolerant tendencies have been usurped by political forces for their political agenda. In sub continent during the freedom movement the declining sections of society, Rajas, Nawabs, Land lords came up with Muslim and Hindu Communalism to begin with. This nationalism in the name of religion had nothing to do with morality of religions. It was use of religion’s identity for political goals.  In the national movements we had people like Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who were religious but opposed to religious nationalism.

The essence of Sufi and Bhakti tradition are reminders to us that spirituality, morality part of the religion has been undermined in the current times. The inclusive-humane nature of these traditions needs to be upheld and the divisive-exclusionary versions of religions have to be ignored for better future of humanity.

Population by Religions in Times to Come

Ram Puniyani
The PEW Research Center has released a report (2nd April 2015); which gives the projections of populations in times to come. It says that in India the population of Hindus will fall down from present 79.5 % to 76.7% and the Muslim population will rise up to 18% by 2050. The population of Indian Muslims will overtake the population of Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistan. Disturbed by these projections Sadhvi Prachi advised that Hindu women should produce 40 children each while Sakshi Maharaj, BJP member of Parliament advised four children each for Hindu women. Time and over again many a leaders from Right wing Hindu formations have been advising the Hindu women to serve the ‘nation’ by producing more children, and interestingly the celibate ones’ amongst these advisers are more vociferous on these matters!

Given that these projections may be close to the reality, how do we explain the rise of Muslim population in India, is it due to Islam? If it is due to Islam than logically the countries ahead of India (Pakistan and Indonesia) should keep the same pace and remain ahead of India as far as population of Muslims is concerned. How come the number of Muslims in India will overtake the number in other countries, if Islam is the reason? Simply this totally smashes the argument of religion being the determining factor in matters related to population growth. Within India itself; one obverses that there are serious regional differences between areas like Malabar Coast of Kerala and the UP-Bihar region. Even in the strife torn Kashmir valley one noted in earlier decades that the percentage of increase of Hindu population was more than that of the Muslims in the valley.
The second argument is that Muslims don’t take to family planning as their religion prohibits them so this increase. In his book 'Family planning and legacy of Islam' Islamic scholar A R Omran of Cairo dispels the myth that Islam is inherently against family planning, as per him there is no text in Koran prohibiting prevention of pregnancy. In Islamic countries like Turkey and Indonesia family planning methods are quite popular. In Turkey for example 63% of the population in the reproductive age group uses contraception and in Indonesia the figure is 48%. In India the number of Muslim couples in the child bearing age practicing family planning in 1970 was 9% (Hindus 14%) and in 1980, 22.5% (Hindus 36.1%)  (Operation Research Group: Baroda 1981) Thus the number of additional Muslims taking to family planning is keeping pace with the number of Hindus doing the same.
Dr Rakesh Basant, an economist with IIM Ahmadabad and a mem­ber of the Sachar committee, points out that at present "there is (only) a 0.7-point difference between the Muslim and the average fertility rates. While the average fertility rate is 2.9, for Muslims it is 3.6." He emphasizes that 37 per cent of Muslims use contraceptives against a national average of 48 per cent. Therefore, contraceptive usage is about 10 percentage points lower among Muslims than the average. However, there are significant regional variations. The report observes, contraceptive usage goes up with education and development and all communities benefit from such changes.
So where do we look for answer to this puzzle of Muslim population rising more than that of Hindus in India? Just let’s have a look at the regional differences in the population growth of Hindus in India. Here the gross observation is that in the more literate Southern states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala the rise in the percentage of even the Hindu population is less than the percentage rise of Hindu population in the northern states like UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. As far as the figures in India are concerned large number of Muslims lives in the ghetto like situations or in the outskirts of cities, and is on the lower side of the income profile. As the much discussed Sachar committee report points out the marginalization of Muslim minorities in employment and major business opportunities has led them to a condition of economic downslide or stagnation at best, not keeping pace with the overall economic growth which the country has witnessed.
This lack of equity has worsened due to the communal violence, which has led to their insecurity and ghettoisation. These two phenomenons have made them vulnerable and they have become more susceptible to the influence of conservative maulanas advising against the family planning etc.
The large section of Indian Muslims are coming from the background of untouchable Shudras, whose economic starting point has been very low, this added on by the lack of affirmative action for them and the physical insecurity has led to the present situation where the less educated men and women from this community tend to have more number of children. In contrast the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan has declined for very different reasons, the major decline being due to the mass migration away from Pakistan and Bangla Desh in the aftermath of partition. There percentage is very small, though they also face similar persecution in those countries, the comparisons are difficult. Interestingly in South Asia, the communal problem does persist, and religious majority in India suffers as minority in Pakistan and Bangla Desh.
At personal note while I was working in IIT Mumbai for long years, I could see that the number of children per family is more as you go down from the professors to the peons and sweepers. Also roughly those living in Mumbai slums have higher number of children, irrespective of their religion.
The situations in different countries in sub continent are not comparable on many counts. What is needed is an empathetic attitude to the deprived communities, going beyond the obvious and to solve the problem in right earnest.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Gandhi’s Vision of Ramarajya: A Critique: Part I

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Ramarajya, ‘’the kingdom of Rama,’ is the projection of an ideal state in the Sanskrit epic, Valmiki Ramayana. When Rama, after rescuing Sita, his wife, from the demon Ravaṇa, came back from his fourteen-year exile, he was given back his kingdom by his devoted brother, Bharata. Rama, we are told, was a model ruler. His reign is described in glowing terms in the Sixth Book, The Book of War (Yuddhakanda), canto 116 verses 84-90 as follows:
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, there were no widows to lament, nor was there any danger from wild animals, nor any fear born of diseases. 84
The world was free from robbers. No one felt worthless, nor did old people perform obsequies of the youngster ones. 85
Every creature felt pleased; everyone was intent on virtue. Turning their eyes towards Rama alone, creatures did not kill one another. 86
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, people survived for thousands of years, with thousands of their progeny, all free from illness and grief. 87
The trees there were bearing flowers and fruits regularly, without any injury by pests and insects. The clouds were raining in time and the wind was delightful to the touch. 88
All [that is, Brahmins (the priest-class), Kshatriyas (the warrior-class), Vaiśyas (the class of merchants and agriculturists), and Sudras (the servant-class)] were performing their own duties, satisfied with their own work, and bereft of greed. While Rama was ruling, the people were intent on virtue and lived without telling lies. 89
All the people were endowed with excellent characteristics. All were engaged in virtue. Rama was engaged in the kingship thus for one thousand years. 90   
Tulsidas Goswami (Tulsidasa Gosvami, c.1532–1623) in his Rama-charita-manasa, the Hindi version of the Valmiki Ramayana, paraphrased this passage in the The Last Book (Uttarakanda), not in the Book of War as in the Valmiki Ramayana, as follows:
Under the rule of Rama there was none who suffered from affliction of any kind – whether of the body, or proceeding from divine or supernatural agencies or that caused by another living being. All men loved one another: each followed one’s prescribed duty, conformably to the precepts of the Vedas. Dharma with its four pillars (viz., truth, purity – both external and internal, compassion and charity) reigned everywhere throughout the world; no one even dreamt of sin. Men and women alike were devoted to Sri Rama’s worship and all were qualified for final beatitude. There was no premature death nor suffering of any kind; everyone was comely and sound of body. No one was destitute, afflicted or miserable; no one was stupid or devoid of auspicious marks. All were unaffectedly good, pious and virtuous; all were clever and accomplished – both men and women. Everyone recognized the merits of others and was learned and wise; nay, everyone acknowledged the services and benefits received from others and there was no guileful prudence. (Listen, O king of the birds, (continues Kakabhusundi,) during Sri Rama’s reign there was not a creature in this world, animate or inanimate, that was liable to any of the sufferings attributable to time, past conduct, personal temperament and character. (pp. 995-96)
In addition to everyone’s adherence to his or her duties (as in Valkmiki Ramayana 6.89), Tulsidas mentions the Veda as the authority which ordained the division of work (not mentioned by Valmiki) and brings in Dharma, again, something not mentioned explicitly by the ‘first poet’ (adi-kavi). 

Let us now examine whether Gandhi’s concept of Ramarajya corresponds at all to all this or provides a totally different picture.


The First Phase:  non-violence

The first reference to Ramarajya in Gandhi’s works is found in a passage which, however, highlights non-violence rather than any alluring feature of an ideal state visualized by Gandhi:

If the king is mindful of the difficulties of the weakest section of his subjects, his rule would be Ramarajya, it would be people’s rule. We cannot expect this of any government in modern times, be it British or Indian, Christian, Muslim or Hindu. Europe, which we are so impatient to imitate, also worships brute force or, which is the same thing, majority opinion, and the majority, surely, does not always look after the interests of the minority. (Navajivan, 30-05-1920)
Apparently it is not political or economic equality or even equity which Gandhi stresses. He never spoke of the first but mentioned the second later (see below). Both brute force and majority opinion are unacceptable to him, for neither of them protects the minority. Gandhi thinks in terms of the whole people; his sole interest is in protecting the weakest section, but not in empowering them, apparently because he is not yet thinking in terms of the abolition of privileges and thus build up a state free from all oppression: in other words, a state which has neither the strongest nor the weakest section: the whole people are empowered.

In the next reference too it is non-violence, ahimsa, that is emphasized. The allusion, however, is not to the merits of Ramarajya, but to the evils of Ravaṇarajya, with which Gandhi compares the British Empire. He looks at the whole thing as divine dispensation; without God’s will nothing can be achieved – neither Swaraj nor Ramarajya. The term, Ramarajya, occurs no fewer than seven times in this lecture.  Gandhi says:
The present Government is no Ramarajya; it is Ravanarajya. We suffer under this Ravanarajya and learn the ways of wickedness under it. How are we to be rid of this Ravanarajya? By becoming evil men in dealing with evil men? By meeting a crafty man with craftiness? How can we ever match them in their wickedness? How can we outwit the Empire in its cunning ways? How can the men of policy among us succeed against this Empire which, by its skilful deceptions, has conquered even Europe with all her cunning ways? Even if we, Hindus and Muslims, would employ cunning, we simply do not have it. If we want to kill Ravana with brute force, we should have ten heads and twenty arms like him. From where are we to get these? It is only a man of Rama’s strength who can do so. What was that strength of his? He had observed brahmacharya and he was God-fearing. His army consisted of monkeys. Have monkeys ever used weapons? During Diwali we celebrate even today the victory of Rama over Ravana. But we can truly celebrate this victory only when we destroy this monster with not ten but a thousand heads. So long as we have not accomplished this, there is nothing but vanavasa for us. If you are men who would never cast lustful glances at chaste and devoted women like Sita, then alone will you be able to mobilize sufficient strength to destroy this Empire. If any power has succeeded in subduing Satan, it is God’s. He it was Who created Satan and He it is Who can kill him. Man can never vanquish him by his own strength. It is God Who subdues him through the agency of a man serving Him with single-minded devotion. (Navajivan, 03-11-1920)
It is in the same speech than Gandhi recalls the Hindi proverb: Ram is the strength of the weak, Nirbal ke bal Ram.

The Second Phase: Protecting the poor, the women and the starving millions, and ensuring safety and food

Two years later, Gandhi for the first time comes out with the promise of Ramarajya, characterized by the following features:

But, at the end of this struggle, we hope to establish Ramarajya and the poor hope to get protection, women to live in safety and the starving millions to see an end of hunger. (Navajivan 15.01.1922)
It is no longer a question of violence versus non-violence, but a definite goal to be achieved in everyday life. God or providence is no longer invoked. Gandhi’s Ramarajya thus takes the shape of a model state, ensuring protection to the poor (but holding out no hope of the eradication of poverty), safety for women, and freedom from hunger. One might venture to remark that in this stray remark Gandhi’s Ramarajya for the first time takes a concrete shape.

‘No curtains (purdah) during Rama’s rule’

 In his next reference to Ramarajya Gandhi sticks to mundane matters such as the purdah (curtain separating the women from the men in a public gathering) system. He never approved of the purdah and was aggrieved to find such a segregated place for women in the venue of the Kathiawar Rajput Conference held in June 1924. He expressed his disapproval by referring to Ramarajya, which, according to Gandhi, had no such purdah, although neither Valmiki nor Tulsidas mentions anything of that sort. The idea was Gandhi’s own. He said:

The organizers of the Conference certainly deserve congratulations on making such perfect arrangements. But one can only express sorrow for the fact of curtains having been put up. This time, one may say, when curtains were necessary is past. There seem to have been no curtains during Rama’s rule. It is of course true that we still do not have Ramarajya, but if we so desire, we may act right from now as if we had it. (Navajivan, 22.06.1924)
Swaraj = Ramarajya

While addressing the audience in a prayer meeting for women in 1926 Gandhi, again for the first time equated Swaraj with Ramarajya. He, however, tells his audience that it was only in women’s gatherings that he refers to Swaraj as Ramarajya,  presumably to communicate the idea of Swaraj in a more homely way, understandable even by the commonest of common woman who did not have the privilege of any political education. This equation of Swaraj with Ramarajya  continues to persist for many years, not just in women’s gatherings any more, but for all occasions. In 1926 Gandhi declared: ‘At women’s meetings I have always used the word Ramarajya in place of swaraj’.

Democracy and swift justice at low cost

Let it be noted at the outset that Gandhi, unlike Thomas More (1478-1535) and many other European modern European authors and social thinkers after him, did not write any Utopia (1516). Nevertheless, he spoke and wrote of an ideal state envisaged by him which he used to call ‘Ramarajya’.  Right from 1929 to the last year of his life (1948) he refers to it. It is possible to locate those short occasional utterances and arrange them in such a way that a full picture of his utopia would emerge in outline, though not in full.

Gandhi elaborated his concept of Ramarajya in a speech in a public meeting, Bhopal on 10.09.1929 as follows:

BY RAMARAJYA 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.
Whether Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure. Even the dog is described by the poet to have received justice under Ramarajya. (Young India (hereafter YI), 19.9.1929, p. 305; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (hereafter CWMG)  vol. 47 p.41).
The whole passage is remarkable for several reasons. Having projected Ramarajya as described in the Ramayana as his ideal, Gandhi instantly recalls that it is a work associated with the Hindus; it is the best known sacred book of Hinduism in north India. Therefore he immediately attempts to disabuse his listeners or any apprehension that he was opting for a Hindu theocratic state. After asserting his belief in one god, who is the god of both Hindus and Muslims (and by extension, of all religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, and other theistic sects) he goes back to the salient features of his ideal state. Democracy and easy availability of justice are two basic characteristics of this ideal state. Both the concepts, however, are anachronistic in relation to the epic, composed between – 400 and + 400. Ayodhyā is a hereditary monarchy, with no division of power between legislature, executive, and judiciary. There is no elected government that prevails in a democratic state. We are also unable to trace any reference to dogs having justice in the Valmiki Ramayana. There are two passages in the Ramayana where Ramarajya is described. Neither in Book 6 where ideal character of the Ramarajya is projected (quoted above), nor in Book 1 (The Book of Boyhood, Balakanda) where the city of Ayodhya, the capital of the kingdom of Dasaratha, is depicted as a land of heart’s desire. In neither of the two or anywhere else could we locate any reference to dogs, least of all to their getting justice. In all probability, Gandhi was thinking in terms of the cost of litigations that the poor Indians had to bear (as then so now). Like any utopian thinker, he would like to assure the poor that in the Ramarajya of his dream, even the meanest citizen could be assured  of swift justice without any ‘elaborate and costly procedure.’ Gandhi, it appears, was merely making use of the name Ramarajya; it has only that much to do with the epic.

The other point to be noted is the spiritual nature of his Ramarajya. It is the kingdom of heaven on earth. In other words, it is god-ordained, not dependent on human endeavour. In other words, it is purely providential and hence, will come when God would will so; human effort alone cannot achieve it for the benefit of the Indian people. Gandhi held and expressed  this same view earlier too (03.11.1920).

Swaraj, Ramarajya, and  Sitarajya

 While addressing women Gandhi, as noted before, equated the concept of Swaraj with Ramarajya, presumably to make the idea of self-rule more readily comprehensible. On one occasion, at a women’s meeting in Varanasi on 26 September, 1929, he introduced another concept, Sitarājya, which should precede Ramarajya. Swaraj now turns out to be not a political, but a moral concept:

I would like to say a few words to you. We want swaraj for the country. We should therefore know what swaraj means. Swaraj means Ramarajya. Swaraj does not mean unrestrained freedom. But how can we bring about Ramarajya without first attaining Sitarajya? If you all become as pure as Sita, Ramarajya is sure to follow. Sita did not wear fine clothes, nor did she wear a lot of jewellery. She had compassion in her heart for those who were suffering. (Aaj, 27-09-1929)

Swaraj = Ramarajya = the rule of dharma

Soon after this Gandhi again explained Swaraj as people’s rule, a ‘regulated power in the hands of thirty crores of people.’ But he does not speak of democracy. He refers to the undefined power of a ‘king’, who, however, would act as ‘the servant of servants’ and, like a mother in a joint family, look after the well-being of all it members. Who the king is or should be is not clearly stated or explained.
Gandhi further admits that the name Ramarajya might be misinterpreted by the minority religious communities as a Hindu rajya or Hindu rule. Hence he preferred the expression ‘the rule of dharma’ too. Nevertheless, the image of Rama as the ideal king seems to stay close to Gandhi’s mind.

The whole passage despite its length is worth quoting:

The gentleman seems to believe that swaraj means the transfer of power from British hands to Indian hands. To my mind swaraj means regulated power in the hands of thirty crores of people. Where there is such rule, even a young girl will feel herself safe and, if the imagination of a poet is correct, animals like dogs, etc., who live among human beings will have a similar feeling of safety. We shall have to arrive at various basic decisions in regard to swaraj because under swaraj such decisions are not subject to officials in power but are based on truth and justice. I have succinctly called this kind of swaraj Ramarajya. As the Muslims and others may misinterpret it, I call it the rule of dharma too. Here there is room for a king, but a king means a protector, a guardian and a trustee, the best servant, the servant of servants. A king subsists on the leavings of his subjects; hence he should sleep after making his subjects sleep, eat after feeding them and live after enabling them to live. May such kings live for ever. If such kings do not arise in this age, I am certain that the very word ‘king’ will perish. (Navajivan, 20-10-1929)

Gandhi’s concern for the dog, first expressed in the speech of 10.09.1929, also recurs in this article/letter.

Who will bring Ramarajya?

 A few days after this, Gandhi contrasts Jatin Das’s self-sacrifice after 63 days (died on 13.09.1929) of fasting to the sacrifice made by millions of ‘poor but heroic men and women’ of India. They too suffer but forever remain unwept, unhonoured, and unsung, while Jatin Das’s death gets the widest publicity. Gandhi favours ‘such unknown people’ and again equates Swaraj with Ramarajya. In reply to a reader of the journal Navajīvan, Gandhi’s organ in Gujarati, he made his position clear:

I have already written about Jatin Das. He has been praised all over the country and abroad. It is the special dharma of Navajivan to sing praises of those poor but heroic men and women whom no one knows nor would care to know. It is my firm belief that we are going to achieve true swaraj or Ramarajya with the help of such unknown people. Those who believe that without self-purification such swaraj is impossible should preserve such articles [published in Navajivan]. (Navajivan, 03-11- 1929)

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.


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