Voice of the people and state response in Hindu tradition of rajdharma
By Radha Rajan
When Mahendra Singh Tikait and thousands of farmers and their cattle laid siege to Delhi in 1988, their demands were straight-forward and simple—higher procurement price for sugarcane and lower water and power tariff. As UP’s farmers and their cattle took over Delhi’s snotty Boat Club lawns, their choolas and campfires and piles of cattle dung reflected the nation and national ethos more accurately than the yuppie, high-salaried I-am-Anna ‘civil society’ thronging Ramlila Maidan.
Anna Hazare and Kejriwal’s media-fuelled anti-corruption campaign lacked the sense of powerless urgency and desperation of the farmers which was so palpable in 1988.
The crowds that took to the streets in various cities in the country for Anna Hazare proved that this newly minted, self proclaimed ‘civil society’ only meant the English-educated professional class – Academia, IITs, IIMs, IT workers, media persons, Bollywood, Kollywood, Otherwoods, and jeans-clad wannabe civil society in fashionable ponytails and earrings from universities, colleges and urban English-medium schools. If you add them all up, they would not exceed five million and that would be a generous overestimation.
Even more bizarre was the spectacle of Indians in Scotland (they did not tell us where precisely in Scotland) and New York standing in some remote street-corner wagging their fingers at corruption in India. This is the crowd that has been brought up on a staple diet of politics is dirty, all politicians are corrupt, India is a poor country and being Hindu is communal.
Tikait and cattle dung were not half as glamorous as corruption riding piggyback on Gandhigiri was made fashionable by Anna Hazare’s yuppie civil society.
India-is-Anna civil society does not deign to speak for or represent Mahendra Singh Tikait and the nation’s ganwar and anpadh unless they are Mumbai’s newly patronised (by Bollywood) and romanticised dhobighat and dabbawallahs. Kiran Bedi in 1988 would almost certainly not have declared India is Tikait, Tikait is India and Mumbai’s dabbawallahs did not step forward then to express solidarity with Mahendra Singh Tikait as they stepped forward now for Anna Hazare.
Tikait’s siege of Delhi was a tragic commentary on how successive Congress governments beginning with Nehru and continuing to this day, have dealt with farmers, farmer issues, agriculture and agriculture land. But the media, such as it was even in 1988, did not make common cause with Tikait and did not fuel the farmers’ agitation with non-stop coverage of the event (for fear of more dung?) and did not hold up Tikait as the nation’s icon of Gandhian fast and democratic protest; and this notwithstanding the fact that Anna Hazare and his gang posed a bigger threat to democracy than Mahendra Singh Tikait.
The country’s activist film industry did not bend solicitously over Tikait and his farmers; Kiran Bedi was not called in to entertain the crowds with her gawky, school-girl imitation of Yasser Arafat nor did Tikait invite Om Puri to abuse India’s elected representatives in choice Hindi of being ganwar and anpadh.
Tikait led the agitation and sustained the siege of Lutyens’ Delhi on the strength of his cause and did not need the media to legitimise him or his people. Tikait, unlike Sonia Gandhi, Team Anna and their civil society also had no illegitimate ambitions to rule the country riding on the back of the Church, the Ford Foundation, Magsaysay or Nobel.
The violence which erupted across North India in the wake of Mandal Commission Report, the violent Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan in 2008, the protracted violent agitation in Nandigram, violence in the name of Belgaum and for Telangana and the on-going protests by farmers against government acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes – these were peoples’ protests intended to make the government listen and force the nation to pay attention.
Except for the pro and anti-Mandal Commission recommendations, these violent protests were by and large localised and at the worst posed grave law and order problems. These movements challenged the government and administration to find solutions, to negotiate and to end the protests but these did not challenge or threaten the country’s democratic edifice.
Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption, in the face of it non-violent, was nevertheless more dangerous than the rest because this threatened national sovereignty not only because it was spearheaded by individuals feted and funded previously by foreign agencies with political objectives but also because it threatened to diminish and override the powers and authority vested in our Parliament and judiciary, which were warts and all, to quote a popular jingle, theda hai par mera hai.
As the writer pointed out in the first column on Anna Hazare’s supposed anti-corruption movement in April 2011, the Lokpal Bill was less about corruption and more about creating a supra body with draconian powers; an unelected body accountable to no elected or constitutional authority. (http://www.vigilonline.com/index.php?option= com_content&tas k=view&id=1511&Itemid=71). One bizarre fall-out of Team Anna’s draft of the Lokpal Bill is that the Lokpal would be accountable to the judiciary and the judiciary would be accountable to the Lokpal. Talk about mutually beneficial partnerships!
Two phrases constantly bandied around in newsroom discussions on Anna Hazare and Co. were ‘Gandhian method’ and ‘democratic protest’. Describing the protest as being democratic derived from love-is-blind, God-is-love, so God-is-blind false logic. One popular definition of democracy is—of the people by the people for the people; so when people take to the streets it is labelled democratic protest even when the protests defy and threaten democratic institutions.
We can deduce just how bogus and motivated was mainstream Hindi and English news channels’ definition of labels like civil society, democratic and Gandhian from the fact that Baba Ramdev and his bhaktas were never referred to as ‘civil society’ nor was their peaceful gathering at Ramlila Maidan described as being Gandhian or democratic protest. What was left unsaid and conspicuously ignored and what would be the Hindu perspective in polity was that –
m Democratic protest and so-called Gandhian protest are not one and the same.
m Violent protests are not necessarily less legitimate.
m Protests can be deemed to be righteous or otherwise only and only by the desired objective.
m A state governed by wisdom and dharma would know when to submit to peoples’ protests and when to stand firm.
Going beyond the cacophony and bluster that marked most intellectual reactions to the event, it bears mention that as expected, there has been no Hindu nationalist perspective yet on state and citizen responsibility or on peoples’ protests and state response.
Traditional Hindu understanding of state and statecraft expand from the kernel – dharma as the ultimate objective of all functions of state and society; and the Ramayana and Mahabharata provide the most definitive but wholly contrasting methods of dealing with adharma.
m The fundamental and non-negotiable duty of the king (or the state) in Hindu dharmic traditions was to uphold and protect dharma; the king’s dharma was the most important component of rajdharma.
m Not only was the king expected to know samanya dharma (the principal universal dharma which except on rarest of rare occasions was unchanging) but he was expected to adhere to and fulfil his kingly svadharma.
m The king’s svadharma was two-fold: towards the territory of his kingdom and towards the people he ruled.
m The king, according to Kautiliya Arthashastra, must protect his rajya (throne, government) and the rashtra (territory and the people inhabiting the territory); implicit in protecting the rajya and rashtra is protecting the honour of the throne, the nation and the people.
m The king must strive only to ensure yogakshemam or the well-being of his praja or citizens; praja means not simply citizen but also child/children (Kausalya Supraja…) while pati means he who protects like a father.
m The king must strive to be prajapati.
m The king must be a knower of dharma and if required, must seek wise counsel from others.
m A king who does not protect and uphold dharma, does not protect the state or the nation, the king who is not righteous and who refuses to seek or heed wise counsel, a king who has earned the displeasure of his people and is unresponsive to their grievances, according to Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata, may and should be killed.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata are historical narratives of how the king or state and the people of Ayodhya and Hastinapura dealt with adharma. Much is made of ‘peoples’ will in academic discussions to explain away Sri Ram’s decision to banish Sita from Ayodhya although some scholars rooted in Hindu thought explain it otherwise.
Peoples’ will can be a legitimate argument as mentioned earlier only when the will is righteous or dharmic and when the people are forced to publicly express their opinion – either because the king is unrighteous and has refused to heed their views or because the king’s view or action for other reasons does not converge with that of his people. The honour and steadfastness to dharma of the Ikshvaku dynasty and Ayodhya were tested by three extraordinary crises in the lifetime of Sri Ram –
m When Sri Ram, dearly loved by the people of Ayodhya, became victim of a grand palace intrigue and voluntarily gave up his claim to the throne in favour of Bharata.
m When Sita, daughter of a king, daughter-in-law of a king and the consort of a future king was abducted by Ravana and held captive in Lanka, and
m When Sri Ram banished pregnant Sita from Ayodhya.
The Mahabharata is a chronicle of a series of crises coming upon the kingdom of Hastinapura, the Pandavas and Kauravas –
m Dhritrashtra’s seething rage that, in spite of being the first-born his blindness denied him the throne; rage which became the root cause for everything that followed his younger brother Pandu’s ascension to the throne.
m Duryodhana’s illegitimate claim to the throne of Hastinapura.
m Vivisection of the kingdom between Duryodhana and Yudhishtira.
m Yudhishtira staking Indraprastha in the game of dice and losing the kingdom to Duryodhana.
m Yudhishtira staking his brothers and his wife in the game and losing to Shakuni’s crafty roll of the dice.
Kauravas disrobing Draupadi in court.
m The inaction and impotence of the elders in Hastinapura when the kingdom was vivisected, when the game of dice was played, when Yudhishtira staked his kingdom in the game, and when Draupadi was dishonoured.
As the series of crises unfolded in Ayodhya, Hastinapura and Indraprastha, the most striking feature in the narration is that in the Ramayana, the ordinary people of Ayodhya are heard and seen during the crises; and all action before, during and after the crises takes place equally in the courts, on the streets and on the battlefield; in the Mahabharata however, we do not see or hear the ordinary people of Hastinapura and Indraprastha and all action takes place only in the court and on the battlefield.
In the Ramayana the praja is heard and is seen because both Dasharatha and Sri Ram submitted to dharma; while in the Mahabharata, unrestrained greed for the throne and the fatal penchant for gambling rendered Dhritrashtra, Duryodhana and Yudhishtira impervious not only to public opinion but also to the well-being of their citizens. The people of Hastinapura and Indraprastha are therefore invisible and voiceless.
In Hindu tradition of rajdharma mere numbers on the street or its absence do not influence the actions of the state; the Hindu state by definition is dharmic.
Persons who dominated the public discourse on Anna Hazare’s fast and on the phenomenon of thousands of people who came to the streets to express solidarity with Anna Hazare failed to look back at our own history; the voice of the people, as the Ramayana proved, is not always righteous; in the Mahabharata, while Dhritrashtra and Duryodhana are overtly unrighteous in thought and action, just as unrighteous was the overarching arrogance of Yudhishtira that he could even think he had the right to stake the kingdom, its people and wealth with scant regard for the honour of the throne, the wishes of his praja and the elders in his court and even Sri Krishna.
The dangers of adharmic or unrighteous peoples’ power and state power could not have been better chronicled than in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Within the narrative of the Ramayana, Sri Ram on two different occasions deals differently with the pressure of public opinion or voice of the people.
Notwithstanding the fact that every citizen of Ayodhya without exception was angered when King Dasharatha was forced to consent to Bharat succeeding to the throne instead of Sri Ram, he rejected the voice of the people who followed him in his exile and proceeded to the forests. The numbers were undoubtedly on Sri Ram’s side.
But Ayodhya was not a Westminister Parliamentary democracy and Sri Ram therefore did not use ‘voice of the people’ fig-leaf to overrule his father; instead he chided the people of Ayodhya for threatening revolt and urged them to remain loyal to the king and to serve Bharat the heir-apparent with the same affection and loyalty that they were professing for Sri Ram.
Much later in the historical narrative when Sri Ram was informed that there were muted whispers against his decision to have by his side a woman who had been held captive in another man’s home, notwithstanding the fact that the numbers were on the side of Sita, Sri Ram submitted to what he considered was the ideal in rajdharma, and banished pregnant Sita to the forests.
Such was the faith of the people of Ayodhya in Sri Ram’s adherence to dharma that in the first instance, in absolute obedience to Sri Ram’s exhortation, they did not rise up in revolt against Dasharatha or Bharat and in the second instance the vast majority of the people of Ayodhya who were deeply pained and even angered by Sita’s exile, did not rise up in revolt against Sri Ram nor did they pick up arms against those elements in society which had brought these crises upon Ayodhya.
Anna Hazare and Co., particularly the Co., emerged from within the five million generous estimation of India’s professional class which, if we do not include the wannabes, maybe as low as five lakh; the campaign descended rapidly from a movement against corruption to a movement for the Kejriwal-Bhushan draft of the Lokpal Bill, and is a campaign of, for and by this segment of the country’s populace. Not that this makes it less legitimate in itself but did its legitimacy derive from being righteous?
The legitimacy of coercive measures by the state or by the people will be determined by its righteousness and in Hindu understanding of rajdharma, righteousness is determined by the end objective, not by the method, whether violent or the mythical Gandhian fast or democratic protest by Anna Hazare.
National self-identity is all; and it is the responsibility of the state and the people to protect the territory and ethos of the Hindu nation. Our history has proved that use of force against adharma is the last resort and unavoidable when evil is not amenable to reason. If the state fails to rein in the Abrahamic cults; when de-Hinduising forces are strengthened by state patronage then the methods adopted by the people must be commensurate with the threat. That is the Hindu way.
(The writer is editor of Vigilonline and author of Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and His Freedom Struggle).