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.


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