The government’s recurring stress on promoting ‘Ramarajya’ or Rama-rule in the state of Uttar Pradesh led me to read Valmiki’s Ramayana more closely still.

A careful reading of the Valmiki Ramayana’s seven cantos or kāndas is necessary to understand his concept of Ramarajya. I have only a working knowledge of Sanskrit, and had therefore to refer to the Sanskrit text along with the erudite Kannada translation by the great Sanskritist N.Ranganatha Sharma, which is introduced by D.V.Gundappa, a renowned and multi-faceted Kannada writer of yesteryear.

A look into the epic:

In Canto 1, Chapter 1, the sage Narada describes to Valmiki the traits of Rama, the yet-to-be hero of the epic Valmiki has been commissioned to write. Narada eulogises Rama as an embodiment of dharma, truthfulness, equanimity and impartiality, and the protector of his subjects whose welfare is his creed (shlokas 8-18).

Later in the chapter, the sage claims that in Rama’s kingdom his subjects were endowed with good health, children would not die premature deaths, women would never become widows. There was prosperity and contentment everywhere (shlokas 90-94).

In Canto 2 we come across a long description of Prince Rama’s qualities as narrated by King Dasharatha to his courtiers when he decides to anoint Rama as the crown prince and seeks their endorsement.

Dasharatha says Rama has empathy towards the poor and indigent, is of balanced disposition, is adored by the subjects, protects the virtuous, punishes evil-doers and is virtuous himself: therefore, he is suitable to be the future king (Chapter 1, shlokas 7-39).

Dasharatha undertakes a similar exercise before his subjects, who are found to share his views (Chapter 2, shlokas 26-54). They say that Rama is truthful, protector of the weak who seek his refuge, and renowned for his kshama or forgiveness, compassion.

Rama’s own view of running the affairs of state is expressed in his early days in the forest. His discourse with Bharata, his brother who enters the forest to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya and become its lawful king, gives an insight into Rama’s concept of kingship (Canto 2, Chapter 100).

Through a series of questions he poses to Bharata, Rama lists the responsibilities of a ruler. The questions are pertinent; they run like this:

- Are you taking decisions unilaterally, without consulting competent ministers? (shloka 18)

- Are you paying wages and supplying provisions regularly to your attendants and soldiers? (33)

- Are you protecting the subjects according to dharma? (48)

- Are you safeguarding the interests of farmers, businessmen and the cattle (47-48)?

- Are your officers, tempted by greed, making unfair allegations against your subjects and make them shed tears? Are your officers, influenced again by greed, punishing innocent citizens? (59, 56)

Did Rama follow this code? Six couplets in Canto 7 describe how Rama ruled Ayodhya. His banished queen Sita reappears along with Valmiki to prove her innocence before a galaxy of audience in the arena where Rama is performing the horse sacrifice.

Unable to bear the ignominy of being banished from the palace on the basis of citizens’ gossip about her chastity when she was in Ravana’s custody, Sita appeals to her mother, Bhudevi the mother earth, to give her eternal refuge.

After Earth obliges and Sita vanishes from the scene, Valmiki says that Rama ruled for 10,000 years and during his reign there was subhiksha (contentment) everywhere; his subjects enjoyed good health and there was no hunger, pestilence or premature death (Chapter 99, shlokas 9-14).

From these shlokas we can summarise the characteristics of Ramarajya as under:

- Protection to the virtuous and innocent, and punishment to the offenders;

- Justice, fair play and respect for the principles of natural justice;

- Protection to all subjects without discrimination; and

- Promoting co-existence in the kingdom.

Although the story is legend or myth, these principles are broadly applicable to our times.

Gandhi’s concept of Ramarajya

As Gandhiji often invoked the concept of Ramarajya as an ideal for the independent Indian state to follow, I delved into some of his writings and lectures. They provide valuable insight into his concept as illustrated below.

At a public meeting at Bhopal in 1929 he referred to Ramarajya as the Kingdom of God saying:

“By ‘Ramarajya’ I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by ‘Ramarajya’ Divine Raj, the Kingdom of God. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other god but the one god of Truth and righteousness. Whether the Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure.” (Young India, 19 September 1929: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol 47).

Later the same year he elaborated the concept further. For him swaraj meant regulated power in the hands of the people. In such a rule, he says, even a young girl will feel herself safe. In swaraj the decisions “are not subject to officials in power, but are based on truth and justice”.

Saying that the word Ramarajya might be “misinterpreted” by Muslims, Gandhiji prefers to call it the rule of dharma. He finds nothing wrong in having a king, if king means a protector, guardian and trustee, the best servant and the servant of servants. (Navajivan, 20 October 1929, ibid.)

In the backdrop of the serious communal conflict that followed Partition and Independence, Gandhiji advised that to bring about Ramarajya: “our first task is to magnify our own faults and find no fault with the Muslims. We get incensed at the very sight of a Muslim. If we find him praying in the mosque we go and kill him. We regard him as our enemy and wonder how we should drive him out and turn his mosque into a temple. But think, what wrong has he done in praying in a mosque? The temple and the mosque are one and the same.” (Speech at a prayer meeting in New Delhi, 19 October 1947, CWMG Vol 97.)

In many respects, Gandhiji’s concept of Ramarajya envisions the following characteristics which are in alignment with the benchmarks set in Valmiki’s epic:

- A rule governed by truth and righteousness: a rule of dharma (justice and fair play)

- The meanest citizen is ensured of quick justice: protection to all citizens without discrimination

- The equal coexistence of all faiths

- Rulers should accept and examine their faults

How does Yogi’s Ramarajya work?

Uttar Pradesh has gained notoriety for situations totally antithetical to these concepts of Ramarajya. There is overwhelming evidence of the UP administration’s failure to follow the rules laid down.

In the backyard of Yogi’s Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency, young children were dying year after year due to the administration’s failure to ensure an oxygen supply at the BRD Medical College Hospital. Neither as a long-time MP from Gorakhpur, nor as chief minister in the state government did Yogi have time to address the problems of the hospital, resulting in the premature deaths of poor children.

In eight months ended August 2017 no fewer than 1,317 children lost their lives. The government found ready scapegoats.

UP under Yogi has also gained infamy for “instant justice” on grounds of mere allegations of suspicion, and the shooting down of alleged suspects in so-called encounters. It was reported in January 2019 that during the first 16 months of Yogi’s rule the police perpetrated some 3,000 encounters in which 78 people were killed. The Supreme Court had expressed its concern at these extrajudicial executions and called for an investigation.

Historically, UP has been in the league of states with a high incidence of crimes against women, Dalits and religious minorities. According to data published by the National Crimes Record Bureau in 2017 the state recorded highest number of cases of crime against women. Such crimes have not abated since Yogi was airdropped into Lucknow as CM, despite his pronouncements of stern measures.

For instance, the government announced the setting up of “Anti-Romeo squads” to prevent men from molesting women, but it was widely reported that these youngsters took the law into their own hands and revelled in violent moral policing.

In recent years the incidents of rape that have taken place in UP have shaken the conscience of the entire country. The involvement of some leaders of Yogi’s own party, the police’s initial refusal to record complaints of rape, the frightening “pressure” on complainants from the accused to withdraw the case, the political clout the accused enjoy and their seeming attempts to kill witnesses, advocates and members of the survivor’s family - all these have exposed the administration.

The government also decided to withdraw a case of raping and kidnapping filed against BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand in April 2018.

Adityanath himself had a number of serious criminal cases pending against him before he became chief minister. Afterwards, cases pending against him were reviewed and closed. He also reportedly decided to withdraw cases against other BJP leaders implicated in the Muzaffarnagar riots case of 2013, where 64 people were killed and nearly a lakh lost property.

And how are Dalit communities treated in UP? In May 2017 when Yogi intended to visit some Dalits’ homes they were asked to wash themselves with soap and shampoo before receiving him. In July the same year when Dalit activists were planning to march towards the CM’s house to air their grievances they were denied permission.

Between 2016 and 2019 the National Human Rights Commission registered 2,008 cases of harassment and lynchings of Dalits and religious minorities; 869 cases belonged to UP.

In the matter of the recent protest against the government’s citizenship proposals, Yogi’s administration of justice has moved into extreme arbitrariness. Without verifying the facts or investigating, Muslim citizens can be forced to pay “damages” for the loss of public property caused by others, who go uninvestigated. Many have witnessed police brutality and the use of communal slurs and targeted violence by the UP police.

From all accounts, Muslims have been the target of Yogi’s goons and police. Extrajudicial killings, communal riots, arresting Muslim citizens on the slightest pretext have been the strategy employed by his government. That a police officer should ask a citizen to go to Pakistan, that another should be shot dead in Bulandshahr while investigating cow violence, is testimony to the decay that has set in in the police force and society.

What kind of Ramarajya does Yogi have in mind?

Rama slays the shudra Shambuka