Arundhati Roy says that Gandhi often talked about Ram Rajya but does not say how it is different from the Ram Rajya mentioned by the Hindu Right thereby giving the impression that both are same. That Gandhi’s Ram, by his own admission, had no relation to the Ram worshipped by many Hindus is of no consequence. Modi’s alleged adherence to Gandhi’s ideal of ‘Ram Rajya’ is mentioned by critics, some of whom have long thought of Gandhi as a Hindu chauvinist. This was hardly the case.
Like many other successful leaders, who were great communicators, Gandhi explored the common Indian’s belief system, his awareness of his myths, his strong religious orientation, etc. to make his experience and thoughts readily intelligible to the masses. Among the many insights that he bequeathed is the insight that the most effective strategies for achieving change are, in the long run, those that employ reconstructions of a tradition's inherited symbols rather than strategies that discard those symbols for alien ones. But he did not use traditional symbols blindly. ‘It is good to swim in the waters of tradition but to sink in them is suicide.’ He used traditional Indian symbols to promote novel values and thereby convey a contemporary socio-political message.
He clothed revolutionary ideas with familiar terms so that they were readily adopted and used for perusing revolutionary ends. Merely dismissing him as a Hindu revivalist because of his use of traditional terms like swaraj, ramrajya, tapasya, Panchayati Raj, etc. is a superficial reading. He infused these familiar terms with considerations that are reminiscent of the rational, humanist tradition of the West and which were unavailable in Indian tradition. Again and again we see Gandhi use phrases emerging out of established ways and familiar institutions to transmit newly created values. In like manner, he used the term Ramrajya to communicate with a largely illiterate population that was intimately familiar with India’s epic lore.
To orthodox Muslims, this aroused a fear that he intended Hindu rule. But he clarified that Ram and Rahim were the same and he acknowledged ‘no other God but the God of truth and righteousness’. He felt that 'Ram Rajya' came closest to what Christians meant by 'the kingdom of God' and what Muslims meant by 'Khudai Raj' (God's reign). Hindu, Christian and Muslim traditions were trying to promote the idea of perfect justice and he felt that not to use the term for the sake of appearing to be politically correct would have been 'self-suppression and hypocrisy'. His ideal of Ram Rajya had nothing to do with theocracy of any kind.
The term Ramarajya figuratively expresses "the reign of ideal justice, perfect democracy or the reign of self-imposed law of moral restraint." Above all, the Gandhian state was purely a secular state and he made it transparently clear. In the Amrit Bazar Patrika of August 2, 1934, he said: “Ramayana of my dreams ensures equal rights to both prince and pauper.” Gandhi’s vision of the ideal society is that of a non-violent and democratic social order in which there is a just balance between individual freedom and social responsibility. Such a reign can never be realized in the institutions of society and has to be seen as an ideal that one has to strive for.
While the current government pushes for 'Ram, Ramayan and Ramrajya' it is pertinent to note that Gandhi had dismissed the idea of Ramrajya when India was on the verge of Independence. Writing in the Harijan on June 1, 1947, just two months before Independence, Gandhi lamented that “there can be no Ram Rajya in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which a few roll in riches and the masses do not get even enough to eat!”
Both the Hindu Right and Gandhi used phrases and precepts found in Hindu scriptures. But it was the manner in which each used the traditional and the familiar which set them at opposite poles. Gandhi's religious inclinations did not prevent him from being reasonable or to accept the results of empirical tests. The eclectic element in Gandhi's religious thought resulted in a denial of dogma while the typical slogan of extreme Hindu groups is 'Hinduize all politics and militarize Hinduism'.
After Gandhi's removal from the political scene (much to the relief of who Ashis Nandy calls the 'moderns', who were wedded to secular statecraft), the intelligentia abandoned the field of religion as something that the poor, illiterate villagers pursued. The innovations he brought about had no effective champion and the meanings of many traditionally terms reverted to that of the Hindu Right. The separation of religion and politics has not kept religion out of politics. It has only resulted in the more unacceptable and anti-democratic forms of religion to gain more power and visibility. When we abandon symbols of religious tolerance, others appropriate them, which is what has now happened with Gandhi's legacy.
In his essay An Anti-secularist Manifesto, Ashis Nandy writes about these regressive forces: ‘Instead of making religious use of politics, they make political use of religion, turning it into an instrument of political mobilization within a psephocratic model – a model in which elections and elected ‘kings’ dominate the system.’ Instead of being a means of expressing cultural values, religion has become a legitimate instrument for perusing personal and group self-interest. Instead of private faith and public agnosticism, what has become dominant is public faith and private agnosticism. Gandhi once said that 'religions are only as good or as bad as their professors make them out to be'.
The original Preamble to the Constitution described India as a “sovereign democratic republic”. The framers of the Constitution felt confident enough in India as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual civilization that they did not have to insert “secular” into the Preamble. They did not think of secularism as a mechanical separation of ‘church’ from ‘state’ but looked both to India’s syncretic past and to everyday practices of inter-faith communities to shape their view of a secular state. They took their cue from Gandhi who derived his secularism from being a devout Hindu, just as Maulana Azad derived it from being a devout Muslim. That Mrs. Gandhi had to explicitly affirm the “secular” nature of India in 1976 suggests that the rot had already set in.
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