A Hope From Ram Mandir
Whether Ram Mandir should have been built or not is an irrelevant debate now. The important brick has been laid. The Mandir will be built. The debate should be what significance will Ram and Ram Mandir have on the future of India? Potentially, the Mandir can have a powerful and positive influence on the ethics and values of the country. It will depend on whether the BJP sees the Mandir as a tribute and commitment to the virtues of Lord Ram or whether the party is still fixated with Chanakya niti.
The BJP is intending Ram Mandir to become a significant reference pivot in the future character, nation building and identity of India. It is to consolidate BJP’s political philosophy of Hindutva. Indians and the world are waiting to see how the Mandir shapes the ethical concepts of Indian government under BJP. Will India be more Ram or more Chanakya? Ram and Chanakya are two different perspectives on life and values.
It does not make sense to consider Chanakya’s work as part of Hinduism’s corpus of religious texts any more than Niccolo Machiavelli, who is considered to be later day Chanakya, be considered as part of Christian theology or Christiandom.
There are substantive different approaches to ethics and value systems between Ram Niti expressed in Ram Rajya and Chanakya Niti expressed in Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti Shastra. Chanakya takes a temporal and instrumentalist perspective on life and values whereas Ram takes a godly and Dharmic approach to life and everyday ethics.
Lord Rama’s reverence has survived through the ages as the perfect human being, or a god that inspires awe and respect. Ram is about virtue, highest values, honesty, integrity, promises kept and godliness. Ram is what people, poor and rich, slaves and kings, Shudras or Brahmin, visualise God to be. Ram signifies the one focal hope of truth in everybody’s life in a world of intrigues, deceptions and inequalities. Ram is the paragon of that truth, the light that everyone seeks.
Chanakya on the other hand is all about intrigue, scheming, deception, force, subjugation and political survival as well as of course how to run economics, law and State effectively. Chanakya tells us how to overthrow neighbours and destroy adversaries who could become enemies while Ram tells us how to embrace humanity and its diversity.
Take the most dramatic event in Lord Rama’s life. When his father King Dasharath was to announce crowning Ram as the next King, one of his wives, Ram’s stepmother, Kaikei intervened. She reminded Dashrath of his promise of two wishes he had granted her to make. She asked for Ram to be banished for 14 years and her son Bharata to be crowned King.
The Ramayana revolves around this. King Dashrath, a virtuous King felt obliged to keep his word. That was the essence of pre-Chanakya Dharma. He didn’t want to send Ram to the forest for 14 years. He looked to Ram to rebel or find an excuse. But Ram, even more stoical about agreements and promises, calmly accepted it and talked to his father about virtues and values. He kept his father’s honour and went to the Jungle for 14 years. His life in the forest and after his return are all about virtues and values, about integrity, about honesty, about compassions and duties. It is not surprising that Ram is admired and revered in all the Indian faith and belief systems.
It is not known whether anyone has ever done a “what if” Chanakya had been present at the court. Would he have found a ‘clever’ argument to give the appearance of keeping Dashrath’s promise to Kaikei but not actually banishing Ram to the Jungle? Would he have found a way to put Ram on the throne while acceding to Kaikei’s demand that her son be crowned King? Of course he would have. He was the clever political intriguing advisor.
Let us for instance break down Kaikei’s request. She in fact makes three requests. To send Ram to the Jungle for 14 years. To put Bharata on the throne. And the third demand that has never been ‘discovered’ is timing. That it be done ‘now’. Chanakya might have declared that to be the third demand.
So Chanakya niti would have reminded her that she was entitled to two demands, not three. He would have suggested that the timing be taken out, Ram be crowned King or even Prince Regent but to promise to go to the forest at some stage in his life, perhaps when he becomes too old and then to crown Bharata to the crown when he does. A clever scheming Chanakya would think that Baharata would die before Ram went to the jungle and the crown would go to Ram’s son while Ram could become a sanyasi in his last days as many old people did at the time. A clever Chanakya may even have made Bharata’s life so miserable that he may have died or taken his own life. A perfect solution to Dashrath’s dilemma. Promises kept in word, not in spirit. That is pure Chanakya.
That is also the difference between Ram and Chanakya. Chanakya would have found a clever solution. People would have scratched their heads and said, ‘very clever, got us out of that dilemma’, but be aware that it is not virtuous, not laden with values of dharma nor gives confidence in the integrity and honesty of either Dashrath or Ram. But Ram was the paragon of virtue. He rather keeps the word and the spirit of the word. He wanted people to have faith in him and deliver on a promise however awkward that would be. He wasn’t into political mirage.
So far the BJP has been more Chanakya than Ram. Its intrigues, its word sorcery, its use of imagery, of infiltrating the opposition and breaking it, of bringing down competing parties, of playing on words on agreements are classic methodology from the two books of Chanakya, the Arthasashtra and Chanakya Niti Shastra. BJP has been more attached to Chanakya’s secular nationalism than Ram’s Sanatan Dharma.
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When Modi stood at the Ram Mandir and laid that brick, did it suddenly awaken the Ram in him and the party or will the Ram Mandir become a part of the Chanakya niti of divisive and intrigue laden politics?
If the BJP really wants to honour Ram, the Ram that abides in the minds, hearts, hopes and prayers of every Hindu, of a god who reincarnates as the ultimate human being of virtue, honour and value, perhaps BJP can first recreate in current context that epic episode of Dashrath being approached by Kaikei and Ram telling his father, that a promise is a promise and has to be kept in word and spirit.
In the run up to 1947 and period after that, the leaders of Indian Independence movement had made various promises to the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Kashmiris etc. Almost all have been broken through clever Chanakya niti by both Congress and BJP.
The BJP cannot use a get-out clause by saying they were by Congress and not by it. In the realm of States and Kingdoms, the ruler, that is the King, has no family or favourites. The King has a private family but Rajdharma requires that a real King of virtue sees all subjects, whether his children or other subjects as the same. The law is applied uniformly and agreements are honoured without anyone being more equal than others.
Hence Dashrath did not favour his son with a different interpretation of his duty as King. Ram did not say the promise was by the outgoing King and not by him as the new ruler.
The Ram Mandir is being built. The brick has been placed by the current ruler of India. India’s minorities wait to see if the BJP will now also revere Ram the legendry god who has lived in every Hindu and in fact many non-Hindu Indians’ hearts. Will BJP tread the path of Ram Rajya, of virtue, of values, of honouring promises or will it be inspired by Chanakya and see Ram Mandir as a religious icon in the scheme of instrumentalist Politics? The BJP has to choose between Chanakya and Ram now as the Mandir rises from the ashes.