On the 30th of January, a devout Hindu and the best-known Indian to me succumbed to bullets that found their way to his chest after being fired from the pistol of a man who, unfortunately, had both Ram and God in his name (Nathuram ‘God’se). This sage, whom the world calls Mahatma, we are told, departed for his heavenly abode uttering the eternal words – “Hey Ram”. This fateful day in January fell in the year 1948. You might wonder, why am I evoking Gandhi at this time?

There are two reasons for it.

In four days, it’s Bapu’s death anniversary. He was the man who first successfully used religion in politics in this country, against the British. Gandhi was a proud Hindu, living his life practicing the ideals he believed most sacred to his faith: truth and non-violence. In a nearly bloodless struggle, India managed to drive out the most powerful country of that era, using methods inspired by ancient Indian and specifically Hindu traditions of sacrifice and persistence.

I must point out, though, that these virtues are not exclusive to Hinduism. However, an argument can be made in favour of Hinduism being among the oldest religions in the world, and Gandhi being a proud Hindu. Hence, one could say that the Indian freedom movement, which was a struggle of all Indians – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and others alike – was influenced by Hindu principles.

Mahatma Gandhi was also the first politician to invoke Ram Rajya and presented Ram as an Indian icon. In his public addresses, he often used metaphors related to Ram to advocate for an inclusive India, where religion and caste were not forces that divided, but were celebrated as beautiful ornaments of diversity. His entire political life in India was devoted to this cause. India gained independence and chose to be a secular republic, a country for all.

India harbours a multitude of viewpoints and, since its inception, has remained a place that does not value uniformity of thought. Culturally, this country has provided for people to express themselves and their views in the manner they see fit. Why else would the Parsis choose to arrive on the coast of India and demand a place for their worship, which should be forbidden to the natives, and the king was only too happy to arrange for it?

Read more about that kind here.

That is how liberal the cultural and traditional fabric of this country has been.

India has also had a strange tryst with faith. For nearly five centuries (some say even ten, but you should ignore them), India was ruled by rulers whose faith was different from that of the majority of its people. The medieval method of asserting victory involved razing monuments and places of worship, replacing them with structures that reflected the faith and belief system of the victor. This, coupled with the aggressor’s desire to propagate their way of life, meant that India, while successfully defending its cultural values, did not emerge unscathed. Much of the past was destroyed, its traditions irretrievably lost. To understand the mindset of those wanting to destroy what India stood for, and how aggressors sought to decimate its prominence, one should read about Nalanda University and the horrific tale of its destruction.

The majority population has often felt oppressed. The Indian National Congress, leading the charge in the struggle for Indian independence under Gandhi’s leadership, advocated for Purna Swaraj, an India for everyone. This was the dominant view, but certainly not the only one. The RSS, VHP, Jan Sangh, and later the BJP have held the view that Hindus have the first claim on India and her resources, and everyone else is a second-class citizen.

This viewpoint has not found resonance with the Indian people, until now.

Before we delve into current times, it is important to understand a bit of the history and how popular culture played a role in it. Ayodhya, being the birthplace of Lord Ram, is a fact that does not require proving for any Hindu, and to that extent, even among believers of other faiths.

The Babri Masjid is believed to have been the palace that was built by pulling down the Ram Temple. Tensions around this have existed for a long time, much before India gained independence. The Hindus have been wanting to assert their claim on the land. The VHP has been leading this effort. L.K. Advani recognized its importance and used it to resurrect the BJP, the political outfit. Around the same time, Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan was being telecast. It was by far the most-watched serial in the history of Indian television. Every Sunday, the nation would get glued to the television, watching the epic unfold. The serial was very well-made and gained wide popularity.

Utilizing this, L.K. Advani started his Rath Yatra, touring the nation. Hindu sages, along with the VHP and others who found resonance with Advani’s message, made the movement grow by the day. Eventually, it reached a point where devotees gathered in thousands and brought down the Babri Mosque. The usual law and order scenes played out, and the matter reached the courts. The courts, going through the regular process, with the Archaeological Survey of India concluding that there was indeed a temple beneath the mosque, handed over the land to the Hindu side. They also compensated the Muslim side by giving them land for their mosque as well.

By then, an important change had happened. Riding on the wave of anti-Congress sentiment, Modi had already been in office for nine years, and in this time, he legitimized majoritarianism in ways that what used to be fringe is now mainstream. Masculine nationalism, coupled with the politics of Hindutva, has led Indian society to undergo what many say is a change that can’t be reversed, easily.

In this India, Ram is evoked not only with devotion but also with a sense of triumphalism. Ram, the symbol of equality, ethics, and morality, is being used to divide and consolidate the Hindu vote in favour of Modi. Where we stand today, it appears clear that Modi will win a third term in office as well. But what concerns someone like me, who believes in the values of the political use of Ram that Gandhi advocated for, is the change to a supremacist view.

India is slowly but surely changing into a majoritarian society.

I do hope and pray to Lord Ram, who now sits in a massive temple, beautiful and befitting of his grace, that he blesses us to understand that Ram is not of one religion, but he belongs to all. Ram is about acceptance and inclusivity. Ram is about dharma, and should inspire us all for Ram Raj, not a Raj by those who believe in Ram.

From Gandhi to Modi, that part of the journey has been made. Let’s now take a U-turn and move back to the Gandhian view of Ram and Ram Rajya.

Jai Jai Siya Ram.

By lavkush