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Six The Text in a Changing Society
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The Politics of Ramraj

Two powerful and contrasting visions dominate the final book of the Manas . The first is of the world as it might be: a harmonious and abundant realm in which virtue and happiness prevail—a world presided over by God, incarnate as a just and loving human being. The second vision stands in dark contrast, and no listener can escape the impression that it is Tulsi's intended description of his own world and of ours. Taken together, these two visions reflect further the poet's meditation on the paradoxical relationship between order and transcendence.

Ramraj , in Tulsi's view, was characterized by an ideal social order. It was a world in which everyone "knew his limits" as prescribed by authoritative scripture and diligently kept to them.

Everyone was devoted to his own duty
according to class and stage of life,
and ever following the Vedic path
was happy and free from fear, sorrow and disease.

All men displayed mutual affection
and intent on scriptural precept,
followed their proper duty.
7.20, 7.21.2

Yet under Ram's benevolent direction, this earthly order, far from oppressing human beings, produced a freedom hardly earthly at all—a world in which even the most elemental limits were transcended.

No one was ever pained by untimely death,
everyone had beautiful and healthy bodies.


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Forest trees constantly blossomed and bore fruit,
elephants and tigers dwelt in harmony.
Trees and creepers dripped honey on request,
cows yielded milk at a mere wish,
the earth was always filled with crops,
the Krita Age reappeared in the Treta.

The moon flooded the earth with nectar,
the sun offered just enough heat,
you asked the cloud and it released rain—
in the realm of Ramchandra!
7.21.5; 7.23.1,5,6; 7.23

This vision of a peaceable kingdom in which time itself is reversed and the Golden Age recreated suggests a harmonious balance between order and transcendence. By perfect adherence to divinely sanctioned order, heaven is brought to earth, and so, apparently, the fundamental tension of the epic is resolved.

Yet the epic is not over. After some seventy stanzas of devotional instruction, Tulsi offers another, more troubling vision of a dark age in which scriptural order is overturned, resulting in a chaos of heresies and utter social corruption.

Religion is tainted by the Kali Age's filth,
the holy books become concealed
while hypocrites spin their own fancies
and promulgate numberless sects.

There's no rule of caste or of life-stages
and all men and women live opposed to the law.

Brahmans sell scriptures, kings prey on their subjects
and no one obeys Vedic injunction.

Brahmans are illiterate, greedy, lustful,
reprehensible fools keeping low-caste concubines.

Shudras mutter prayers, do austerities and fasts,
and sitting on high seats expound the Puranas.

Mendicants are rich and householders poor—
Brother, the perversities of the Kali Age cannot be told!
7.97a; 7.98.1,2; 7.100.8,9; 7.101.2

Even as the willing adherence of Ram's subjects to the rule of order produced heaven on earth, so the refusal of the people of the Kali Age to adhere to scriptural precept results in the sufferings of an earthly hell.


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Racked by disease, men find no pleasure anywhere,
yet wallow in vain pride and enmity.
Their lifespan barely a dozen years,
they fancy themselves outliving an aeon!
The Dark Age makes all mankind desperate,
no one respects even sisters or daughters.
Without contentment, discrimination, detachment,
high and low are reduced to beggary.
7.102.3-6

This jeremiad goes on for some seventy lines, and sensitive listeners of any era will readily discern in it an indictment of their own times. When, inevitably, they contrast it with the glowing vision of Ramraj , they may at first conclude that Tulsi is issuing a strident call for reform by stressing how far society has fallen from its ideal. Such an interpretation falls short of encompassing the full implications of this passage, however. For paradoxically, the long diatribe against the Dark Age ends not with condemnation but with praise and the promise of a new kind of transcendent, personal "Ramraj ," now accessible to all by the power of the divine name:

Listen, Garuda, the Kali Age
is the treasury of sins and vices,
yet it has one great virtue:
salvation may be had without effort!

The state attained in the first three ages
by worship, sacrifice, and austerity—
truly it is gained by Kali Age people
by the name of the Lord.

The Dark Age has no compeer
for one possessing faith,
for by singing the spotless fame of Ram
liberation comes without exertion.
7.102a,b; 7.103

When a traditional order is threatened or destroyed, several responses are possible. One is to preserve or recreate it—the former might be termed "conservative," the latter "reactionary."[77] Another is to mold a new order and, depending on the degree of change between old and


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new, such an effort might be termed "reformist" or "revolutionary." To be sure, Tulsi's idealization of tradition is so powerful that it inevitably elicits nostalgia for the past. Yet his insistence on carrying his narrative forward into the troubled present suggests a recognition that the past is irretrievable, and his prescription for the ills of the Kali Yuga is not a reconstruction of the shattered order but rather a new, egalitarian expedient. Thus, it is possible to read his poem as either a glowing affirmation of traditional order or a dramatic cancellation of it.

In his discussion of the social impact of Ramlila , Hein cites the enduring influence of the notion of Ramraj : "It was one of the few vital indigenous political ideas remaining in the vastly unpolitical mind of the old-time Indian peasant. Through centuries of foreign rule the Ramlila helped preserve a basis for civic resurrection. It must be considered in the history of Indian nationalism."[78] The point is an important one, although we should refrain from drawing a sharp distinction between politics and religion in this context. Bayly has shown the importance of Hindu revivalism to the development of the Indian National Congress and has noted that political ideas in nineteenth-century India "were almost unavoidably expressed in terms of religious tradition, because this was the language of social comment."[79] Yet if the Manas became part of the language of social comment for Hindus, it did so with its paradoxes intact, as the use of the concept of Ramraj in twentieth-century political movements demonstrates. For Ramraj may be viewed primarily as a harmonious but hierarchical order, in which the privileged confidently enjoy their status and the dispossessed know their limits, or conversely as a kingdom of universal righteousness, in which the possibilities of freedom are accessible to all.

Liberation Theology in Avadh

During the latter part of 1920, a peasant revolt erupted in three districts of what is now eastern Uttar Pradesh—the area that had constituted the pre-1857 kingdom of Avadh (Oudh).[80] Mass demonstrations led to police firings and a state of near-anarchy as peasants abused their landlords and refused to pay rent. Law and order deteriorated to such a


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degree that the British governor of the United Provinces speculated that he was witnessing "the beginnings of something like revolution."[81] Prominent leaders of the Indian National Congress were equally concerned and rushed to the affected districts. Yet the rhetoric of the peasant leaders was not of revolution but of Ramraj , and their aim was not the overthrow of the state or even of the state-supported system of revenue farming. Instead, they sought a return to an order that had been disturbed by changes in the rural economy and by the depredations of a new class of absentee landlords.

Within the Kisan Sabhas (cultivators' societies) that formed the organizational basis of the agitation, the influence of the Manas and its themes was pervasive. The most influential spokesmen for these groups were two Vaishnava sadhus, Baba Ramchandra and Baba Janaki Das; the former had been an indentured laborer in Fiji before returning to his homeland and assuming sadhu's garb to become a wandering kathavacak and peasant organizer. He was, in short, one of the "millenarian stump orators" noted by Bayly, who flourished in the region during the latter part of the First World War amid a catastrophic influenza epidemic and wild rumors of the imminent collapse of the British Empire.[82] It is clear from a description of their activities that, even in the context of the Kisan Sabhas, Ramchandra and his cohorts remained kathavacaks : "At the early peasant meetings Ramchandra and others commonly recited excerpts from Tulsidas' Ramcaritmanas , the favorite religious epic of the Hindus in northern India, and especially beloved of people in this region: their own language, Avadhi, was after all the language of Tulsidas' composition, and places like Ayodhya (a few miles from Faizabad), the seat of Ram's kingdom, very much part of their world."[83] So important was Ramayan symbolism to the movement that the establishment of the first Kisan Sabha, in the village of Rure, was explained by citing a half-line from the epic that could be interpreted to contain the name of that village.[84] For the first large-scale meeting of the


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movement in December 1920, the organizers selected the pilgrimage city of Ayodhya, the mythical capital of Ramraj , and mustered eighty thousand supporters.

The peasants had evident faith in the liberating power of Ram's name and made it the rallying cry of their movement. One of the early objectives of Baba Ramchandra (who seems hardly to have been distinguished from Ram himself in the minds of some supporters) was to change the customary local form of greeting: "When he first came to Avadh, the greeting salaam (usually addressed by one in an inferior station to one in a superior) was widely used. He promoted the use of the alternative, 'Sita-Ram,' which did away with such discrimination on grounds of status, and thus earned the displeasure of 'many of the praiseworthy (sic.) and respectable folk of the upper castes.'"[85] Once the cultivators' movement got under way, the new greeting became one of its most potent organizing tools; "it was enough for Ramchandra to raise the slogan 'Sita-Ram': the cry was promptly taken up in one village after another, and thus in a remarkably short space of time thousands would assemble." To worried British officials, "Sita-Ram ki jay!" (Victory to Sita-Ram!) was a "war-cry . . . the cry of discontent." Yet Ramchandra's use of the name was hardly the maneuver of a sophisticated politician—his memoirs bear witness to his ingenuous faith in its power both to turn back club-wielding policemen and to cause sickly mango trees to yield fruit. Rather it was a natural invocation of an established symbol that had both social and religious resonance. "In the most difficult of situations, the peasants turned to the slogan 'Sita-Ram,'" recalled Ramchandra, "and the slogan fulfilled their many different desires. As a result the organization grew ever stronger."[86]

The objectives of the Kisan Sabha movement must be understood in the context of the region's political and economic history. After the revolt of 1857, nearly three-fifths of the cultivated land in Avadh was assigned to some 280 landlord families who had proved their loyalty to the British and were designated "natural leaders." The assignment of such unprecedented privileges, now protected by the strong arm of the colonial regime, led to their widespread abuse of "inferior right holders" (various categories of tenants intermediary between the landlords and the peasants) and the actual—and generally landless—cultivators.


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These abuses were worsened by economic changes, especially by the rise of an urban mercantile and banking class that, under British law, acquired the control of large estates in repayment of debts. These new landlords lived away from their estates and accepted none of the reciprocal responsibilities of the old aristocracy; instead, they made rapacious demands on the tenantry through abusive estate agents and their armed guards. It was against the oppression of these (in Nehru's words) "spoilt children of the British Government" that the peasants of Avadh arose.[87]

To the peasants Ramraj did not mean the overthrow of the landholding system, but it did mean lower rents and fairer treatment. In Gyan Pandey's analysis of the peasants' views, "exploitation as such was not unjust. It was inevitable that some ruled and some conducted prayers and some owned the land and some laboured, and all lived off the fruits of that labour. But it was important that everyone in the society made a living out of the resources that were available."[88] Yet even such modest objectives were too threatening for the colonial regime. While official reports coldly detailed the wretchedness of the peasants on the estates and the unwillingness of the landlords to contemplate any loosening of their hold and even while the government publicized its promise to investigate and press for reforms, the full weight of its most autocratic powers of police and judiciary was pressed into action to crush the revolt and imprison its leaders. By April 1922, the agitation was successfully suppressed.

But it was not the government alone that felt threatened. Nationalist leaders, including Gandhi and Motilal Nehru, after showing initial sympathy for the peasants' demands, withdrew their support and abandoned the movement to its unsung demise. Their ostensible motive was fear that the revolt would turn violent and wreck their peaceful Noncooperation Movement. They stressed instead the need for peasants and landlords to forget their differences and present a "united front" against imperialism. Pandey has incisively analyzed the implicit logic of this strategy as well as its portent for the future of Congress government:


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The Congress' insistence in 1921-2 on a united front of landlords as well as peasants and others, was a statement in favour of the status quo and against any radical change in the social set-up when the British finally handed over the reins of power. The advice to peasants to give up organizing "meetings" and "disturbances" and to leave politics to the professionals, was a statement against mass participatory democracy and in favour of the idea of "trustee-ship"—the landlords and princes acting as trustees in the economic sphere, Gandhi and company in the political.[89]

It was also the reflection of an economic reality, for many of the absentee landlords against whom the Avadh peasants directed their protests were the same "new men" who provided the financial backing for the Congress.

Pandey's analysis of the Congress position suggests one of the possible readings of Ramraj : a paternalistic autocracy of natural leaders and cooperative subjects. The peasants' actions suggested the possibility of another view: a Ramraj of mass participatory democracy insuring a fairer distribution of wealth. It was ironic, as we shall see, that Mohandas Gandhi should have been drawn, in this instance, to favor the former interpretation; it is less surprising that it has remained dominant in post-Independence Indian politics.

Gandhi's Katha

Like the peasants of Avadh, the man who was to become known as the "Father of Indian Independence" articulated a vision of Ramraj that was rooted in a fervent devotion to the Manas . His own account of his childhood exposure to the text reflects a style and milieu of performance that should by now be familiar to readers:

What, however, left a deep impression on me was the reading of the Ramayan before my father. During part of his illness my father was in Porbandar. There every evening he used to listen to the Ramayan. The reader was a great devotee of Ram—Ladha Maharaj of Bileshvar. . . . He had a melodious voice. He would sing the dohas (couplets) and caupais[*] (quatrains), and explain them, losing himself in the discourse and carrying his listeners along with him. I must have been thirteen at that time, but I quite remember being enraptured by his reading. That laid the foundation of my deep devotion to the Ramayan. Today I regard the Ramayan of Tulasidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature.[90]


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A perusal of the entries under "Ramayan" and "Tulsidas" in the indexes to Gandhi's voluminous collected works suggests the extent of what Gandhi termed "the fascination that Tulsidas has wrought on me." To the well-known personae of Gandhi the lawyer, political organizer, and · wandering holy man should perhaps be added that of Gandhi the kathavacak , who used Manas verses as proof texts (praman[*] ) to buttress political arguments. These citations sometimes helped him in difficult ideological situations, such as when (only seven days before his assassination) he addressed the faithful at his evening prayer meeting in New Delhi on the subject of Subhas Chandra Bose, whose birthday it was:

Today is Subhas Babu's birthday. . . . Subhas Babu was a votary of violence while I am a devotee of ahimsa[*] [non-injury]. But what does it matter? I know that the most important thing is that we should learn from other people's virtues. As Tulsidas says,

The Lord has created this world full of lifeless
and living things and virtues and vices.
The wise, like the swan, take the milk of virtue
and leave out the waste of water.[91]

We should be like the swan and take the milk of virtue. Man has virtues as well as vices. We should emulate him in his virtues and forget his deficiencies. Subhas was a great patriot. He laid down his life for the country.[92]

Gandhi often explained his own political activities by referring to the Ramayan narrative; thus, when he was queried about the inspiration for the Noncooperation Movement, he cited the Sundar kand[*] passage in which Sita, though a helpless prisoner of Ravan, boldly refused to submit to his wishes[93] Addressing a meeting of untouchables in 1925, he reminded them of Ram's compassion for the lowly: "You might be acquainted, if you have known Tulsidas' Ramayan, with the fact that Ramchandra, Sita and Lakshman had very affectionately embraced the untouchable Guha and I want to see the same repeated once again in India. . . . I would therefore appeal to Hindus of the higher castes present here that, if they call themselves Sanatan Dharmi, if they love the cow, they should not hate members of the untouchable classes."[94]


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Although Gandhi-the-devotee's personal faith in the Manas is beyond doubt, it is also apparent that Gandhi-the-politician knew how to use homely adaptations of its imagery to solicit mass support. Campaigning for the Swadeshi movement in 1925, Gandhi told a rural crowd, "You should bear in mind that, in the days of Shri Ramchandra, neither rich nor poor used any foreign cloth and the khadi [homespun] produced in the country was in the general use of all."[95] Later that year while urging the use of his beloved home spinning-wheel (carkha ), he regaled a women's gathering with a bit of domestication worthy of any kathavacak : "Gandhiji said that . . . they must try to become like Sita of yore who was the soul of Ramraj . In the days of Sita every household had its carkha just as they find a hearth in every home. Sita also spun on her own carkha which might have been bedecked with jewels and probably ornamented with gold, but all the same it was still a carkha ."[96]

The notion of Ramraj forms a recurring theme in Gandhi's discourse. He used the term to articulate his dream of an independent India, often equating it with or preferring it to the term svaraj (self-rule) used by other Congress leaders.[97] It was here that Gandhi-the-politician and Gandhi-the-devotee came together, for Ramraj was "not only the political Home Rule but also dharmaraj . . . which was something higher than ordinary political emancipation."[98] Something higher perhaps, but also something more thoroughly Indian. Westerners who read translations of Gandhi's Hindi speeches and writings, wherein the word "dharma" is rendered "righteousness," "truth," or "justice," are understandably liable to interpret these ideas according to the Judaeo-Christian notion of a universal ethic that admits no exceptions. Resonances of this worldview are of course present in Gandhi's thought and language, as they are in those of many other English-educated Indian leaders. Yet it is important to recognize that, for the vast majority of Gandhi's listeners, the word "dharma" referred to an infinitely particularized and situational code of behavior, fundamental to which was the notion of the inherent inequality of human beings. Dharma was not a monolithic law that every one of these unequal individuals obeyed, but rather a cosmic framework within which they pursued their respective courses. The tra-


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ditional view has always been that authority and punishment (danda[*] , or "the rod") were necessary to keep individuals on course and so to insure harmony; thus, a kingdom governed according to dharma was necessarily an authoritarian one. Gandhi tried to circumvent this problem by interpreting Tulsi's epic as a metaphor for spirtual experience rather than an account of historical realities: "Tulsidas had nothing to do with the Ram of history. Judged by historical test, his Ramayan would be fit for the scrap heap. As a spiritual experience his book is almost unrivalled, at least for me. . . . It is the spirit running through the book that holds me spell-bound."[99] It was Gandhi's insistence on reading the "spirit" rather than the letter of the Manas that made possible his original interpretations of its basic themes and his successful use of them as slogans to unify—even if only temporarily—diverse groups within his society. Thus, he could offer such startling interpetations of Ramraj as the following, in which Tulsi's vision of a divine authoritarianism is transformed into a divinely democratic populism by appealing to the moral principle of self-abnegation: "Ramraj means rule of the people. A person like Ram would never wish to rule."[100]

The contrast between spirit and letter returns us to the problem of transcendence and order. It was the spirit of Gandhi that caught the imagination of the masses: the charismatic sadhu who traveled the countryside quoting their beloved Ramayan, preaching homely virtues and causing distant thrones to tremble. During the peasant uprisings in Avadh, his name figured in the wildest rumors; at times he was thought to have already overthrown the government at Delhi.[101] The "letter" of Gandhi sometimes proved harder to pin down, harder still to follow. To the long-suffering peasants of Avadh, it proved to consist, in February 1921, of a set of seventeen printed orders under the heading "Attainment of Swaraj or redress of grievances is impossible unless the following rules are strictly observed." The detailed directives displayed a characteristic Gandhian concern for nonviolence yet, as Pandey has shown, they also served to undercut every one of the achievements and strengths of the peasant movement. They forbade the withholding of taxes and rent, however unjust, and required the abandonment of all acts of even


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nonviolent resistance, such as Gandhi himself would lead elsewhere. In Pandey's interpretation, "for tactical reasons as much, it appears, as out of any concern for non-violence," the apostle of Ramraj spearheaded the Congress's desertion of the peasants and thus indirectly served the interests of a class of petty aristocrats whom the lieutenant governor of the United Provinces had cynically hailed as "the only friends we have" and Jawarharlal Nehru later described as "complete parasites."[102] But then we have already seen that the spirit of Tulsi's Ramraj was inherently paradoxical and reflected, together with a longing for transcendent freedom, a fear of worldly disorder.

Ramraj and the Right

Now, what of those who would impose the letter of Ramraj ? The Sanatani organizations that proliferated during the closing decades of the nineteenth century expressed political as well as religious aims. The Madhya Hindu Samaj of Central India, for example, founded on Dashahra day in 1884, held its annual meetings until 1891 concurrently with those of the Indian National Congress, to which many of its members belonged. Its objectives included the propagation of Hindi, the protection of cattle, and (in 1891) the defeat of proposed legislation banning infant marriage, which many Hindus viewed as government meddling in family affairs.[103] The most broad-based Sanatani organization of the early twentieth century was the All-India Hindu Mahasabha, founded at Allahabad in 1913, which likewise held its annual sessions concurrently with those of Congress; Malviya was president of this organization several times, as was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the militant Maharashtrian leader who was among the first to propound the doctrine of India as a Hindu state. Although initially intended as a religious organization that would complement the Congress, the Mahasabha gradually became politicized, adopting an increasingly anti-Muslim stance. This position understandably angered Muslim leaders, whom Gandhi was endeavoring to keep within the Congress, as did the fact that large numbers of Congress delegates attended the Mahasabha sessions. In 1925 the Mahasabha accepted a thirteen-point program that advocated reconverting Muslims, organizating "gymnasiums" for paramilitary training, and founding "service committees" to promote Hindu interests. When widespread communal riots broke out during


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1924-26, these committees were suspected not merely of having provided relief to Hindu victims but of having helped to perpetrate the violence. Mahasabha leaders, in turn, blamed Congress moderates and especially Gandhi for advocating the "appeasement" of Muslims. The views of more moderate leaders like Malviya were gradually overshadowed by the jingoistic rhetoric of younger spokesmen like the Punjabi Arya Samaj leader Paramanand, who declared at the 1933 session, "Hindustan is the land of the Hindus alone, and Musalmans and Christians and other nations living in India are only our guests. They can live here as long as they wish to remain as guests."[104] By the late 1930s the Congress-Mahasabha split was complete; the former organization adopted a policy forbidding its members to belong to communal groups, and the latter began to function in effect as an anti-Congress opposition party.

The attainment of independence in 1947 did nothing to heal the rift between the two groups; the holocaust of religious violence that accompanied partition was fueled in part by the rhetoric of the communalists, who accused Congress of having betrayed the "Hindu nation" and called for the annexation and forcible reconversion of Pakistan. The Mahasabha continued its political activities, joined on the scene by several parties that shared many of its objectives and have been variously characterized as "communal," "conservative," "rightist," and "reactionary." Parties such as the Jana Sangh (founded in 1951), the Swatantra party (1959), and the older but officially nonpolitical Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S., 1925) have generally represented a small, fragmented minority within the government. Yet as Howard Erdman has observed, the relatively poor showing of rightist parties in parliamentary elections has never been a definitive barometer of the strength of conservatism in India; for the dominant Congress party itself, far from being ideologically monolithic, included conservative elements that could assert themselves over specific issues.[l05]

The rhetoric and objectives of the major rightist parties have had much in common; behind their various platforms may be detected the specter of a religiopolitical ideal that most would not hesitate to equate with Ramraj . This ideal was given its most explicit articulation by one of the first parties to emerge after the achievement of Independence: the


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Ram Rajya Parishad ("Ramraj party," hereafter abbreviated R.R.P.), founded in 1948. Although this party enjoyed only brief and limited success, its platform and rhetoric reflected attitudes that have proven more enduring.

The guiding genius of the R.R.P. was the energetic Swami Karpatri (1907-82), a Brahman-turned-ascetic who became one of the most prominent religious activists of the post-Independence era.[106] Born Nar Narayan Ojha in a village in Pratapgarh District, U.P., the future Karpatri reputedly left home at the age of seventeen to embark on a spiritual quest that took him to the Himalayas and later back to Prayag (Allahabad), where he was initiated into the Shankaracharya order of dandi[*] (staff-bearing) ascetics under the name Hariharanand Sarasvati.[107] Karpatri belonged to an elite subbranch that admitted only Brahmans, the members of which prided themselves on their learning and scrupulous adherence to "Vedic" customs. Karpatri's impeccable orthodoxy and widely publicized activities earned him high regard; as the acknowledged leader of the dandis[*] , he came to be recognized as "the visible manifestation of Shiva."[108] His reputation proved useful in his organizational activities, for merchant groups were eager to acquire prestige by associating with the most orthodox teachers.

Karpatri's early activities included the founding of a journal, Sanmarg (1936), backed by the merchant Mulchand Chopra and edited by Vijayanand Tripathi; later (1941) this became a daily newspaper published from Banaras and Calcutta. Karpatri also championed the revival of large-scale Vedic sacrifices, for which he solicited funds from merchants and industrialists.[109] His rigid conservatism was perhaps most evident in his attitude toward the socially oppressed, for while some liberal Sanatanis paid lip service to the notion of a varna -based[*] social order of only four grades and advocated (in principle) the "purification" of untouchables, Karpatri unashamedly argued for the mainte-


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nance of the status quo, including the continued ostracism of people at the bottom of the system. Thus, he opposed the opening of temples to untouchables, in accordance with the provisions of the new constitution: "When some Harijans entered the premises of Vishvanath Temple in Varanasi, he declared that the idol of Vishvanath-ji had become devoid of all Divine Virtues and was nothing more than a piece of stone. After this incident, he constructed another Vishvanath Temple in Varanasi."[110]

The R.R.P. faced its first test at the polls in the parliamentary elections of 1952. For the occasion, the party produced a forty-page manifesto detailing its principles and aims. This unusual document, "replete with Sanskrit quotations, moral exhortations, metaphysical subtleties, and even arguments for the existence of God,"[111] read more like the transcription of a Katha performance than a statement of political policy. Its evocation of Ram's glorious reign—the model it wished India to emulate—resembled Tulsi's panegyric: "Every citizen of Ramraj was contented, happy, gifted with learning, and religious-minded. . . . All were truthful. None was close-fisted, none was rude; none lacked prudence; and above all, none was atheist. All followed the path of dharma."[112] The manifesto advocated a return to this blessed state but gave little indication of how the party intended to bring it about. Among the document's few concessions to the mundane were calls for a ban on cow slaughter and the sale of alcoholic beverages, for government encouragement of the system of village barter (jajmani ) rather than a cash economy, and for the replacement of Western medicine with Ayurveda. Society was to function smoothly according to the immemorial varnasram[*] system, but lest it be supposed that this did not offer something for everyone, the manifesto recommended that sweepers, Chamars, and other Untouchables be assigned "high posts" in sanitation departments and the leather and hides industry.

Though largely ignored by the English-language press and the urban intelligentsia, the R.R.P. did not fare altogether badly at the polls. Its most successful candidates were a handful of ex-aristocrats in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, seeking political office in their former domains,


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who found success by linking their local prestige with the image of the party and its leader.[113] In all, the R.R.P. mustered some two million votes, including 14.2 percent of the vote in Madhya Pradesh and 9.4 percent in Rajasthan.[114] If it was clear that the party had found a constituency, it was just as clear that Ramraj was not imminently to be ushered in.

Although the R.R.P. continued to contest seats in later elections, it gradually lost popular support even in its early strongholds.[115] Some observers attributed its poor performance to the unbending personality of its leader. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the R.R.P. contemplated merging with one or more of the other rightist parties—a move that might have strengthened its overall position. But the bottom line for Karpatri usually proved to be varna[*] , and so merger talks with the Jana Sangh broke down in 1956 over his insistence that the other party exclude Harijans from membership.[116] When B. D. Tripathi conducted research among sadhus in the mid-1960s, he was surprised to find that even they evinced little support for the R.R.P.[117] Karpatri himself managed to remain in the limelight by periodically unpacking the old reliables of Sanatani sentiment; thus, in 1966 he led 125,000 protestors in a march on Parliament protesting cow slaughter—a demonstration that ended with the torching of vehicles and police firing.

Any judgment of the failure of Karpatri's party must be tempered by an awareness of the relatively greater success of several other rightist parties. It is easy enough to laugh at Karpatri's posturing and to dismiss the R.R.P. manifesto as a "handbook for Indian reactionaries and obscurantists,"[118] but one should not overlook the fact that more moderate and successful conservative leaders advocated programs that were in substantial agreement with those of the R.R.P. Also participating in the 1952 elections were the Hindu Mahasabha and the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The former secured roughly a million votes and four seats in the Lok Sabha with a manifesto that advocated an "undivided" India (i.e., the nullification of Pakistan), cow protection, and Ayurvedic medicine and opposed Nehru's Hindu Code Bill. On social issues the Mahasabha adopted a more reformist stance than the R.R.P.,


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advocating "Harijan uplift" and women's rights but, as Erdman has noted, the rhetoric can be misleading since many Mahasabha supporters no more believed in the literal implementation of such ideas than their R.R.P. counterparts did in those of Swami Karpatri.

The Jana Sangh was founded in 1951 by Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, a former Mahasabha leader, but much of its support came from the older "service" organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Maharashtrian Brahmans who established this paramilitary group in Nagpur in 1925 chose Vijaydashami day for its founding and wallowed in the rhetoric of a "glorious Hindu past" combined with a healthy dose of hatred toward other communities.[119] The R.S.S. quickly extended its influence into Hindi-speaking regions; a cadre was established in Banaras in 1931, and by 1940 the organization claimed a nationwide membership of one hundred thousand. Each local group was supposed to meet daily for exercise, marching drills, patriotic songs, and Sanskrit prayers. This training was intended to foster absolute devotion to what was vaguely termed "national religion and culture." A similar ideology later dominated the policy statements of the political offshoot of the R.S.S., the Jana Sangh. Its 1951 manifesto contained—in addition to the predictable calls for a ban on cow slaughter and for the promotion of Ayurvedic medicine—criticism of the "materialism" of Western culture and praise of Sanskrit as "the repository of national culture"; a decade later its platform continued to extol "the age-old scientific principles of social organization."[120] Although we should not overlook the ideological differences among the rightist parties—in 1954 the Jana Sangh supported the abolition of untouchability and the opening of temples to Harijans—we may recognize that many of these differences were literally "ideological" and had little bearing on practical approaches to real-world problems. Rejection of the concept of untouchability had become, by 1954, almost as politically acceptable as motherhood and Ramraj , as improved transportation and growing urbanization made it increasingly difficult to limit physical contact with the socially oppressed, and the anachronistic views of Karpatri became a liability for conservatives. But


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rhetoric is one thing and action another; even the efforts made by radical Arya Samajis earlier in the century to "purify" untouchables had proven to be largely self-limiting, and most latter-day conservatives contemplated no such herculean efforts.[121]

Perhaps Karpatri's biggest failing as a politician was that he never mastered the language of euphemism favored by English-educated intellectuals.[122] In his ingenuous fanaticism, he proclaimed the letter of Ramraj as he read it, complete with Chamars heading shoe companies. Sad to say, such ideas, apart from their absurd unenforceability, were rather on the idealistic side. In U.P. when "high posts" were handed out—whether in sanitary engineering, the leather industry, or any other field—they tended to go to people with the right credentials and connections, the majority of whom proved to be twice-born Hindus.

The power of euphemism was exemplified by the most successful of the early conservative parties, the Swatantra party, established in 1959. Its founding father, the widely revered C. Rajagopalachari (a former freedom fighter, chief minister of Madras, and something of a kathavacak in his own right as the author of popular adaptations of the Ramayana[*] and the Mahabharata ) tried to steer a more centrist course and avoided blatantly communal rhetoric. Yet he defined "culture" (samskrti[*] ) as "essentially the prevailing pattern of joyous restraint accepted by the people," called for the maintenance of dharma ("an organic growth which it is our duty to respect and which we should not treat as mere Indian superstition"), and bemoaned the undermining of the caste system by "the impact of Western individualism and perverted movements of social reform."[123] Once again there is a risk of the English reader's misunderstanding what is intended here; or perhaps it is a case of Rajaji's intending two different things—the one ideological and abstract, the other euphemistic but practical. Erdman astutely noted this dual meaning: "In his analysis Rajaji uses the term dharma in a rather


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abstract fashion, but more relevant in popular Hinduism is the more 'earthly' notion of varnasram[*] dharma. . . . The former usage may be flexible, the latter is not, and in this sense, too, there is an element of 'disguised conservatism' which intrudes into Rajaji's approach."[124] The concept of varnasram[*] dharma is central to Sanatanis' understanding of their "eternal religion." It is often invoked in Katha performances and I have even heard the claim that it is the "real essence" of the Manas . A wealthy Banarsi Brahman, prominent in the patronage of Manas performances, once explained to me rather confidentially, "God, Ram, bhakti —the truth is, you can leave all that aside. The essence of Goswami-ji's teachings is a certain 'social genius.'" The speaker was university-educated and clearly had learned the art of euphemism. Not surprisingly, for him the essence of the Hindi epic was a concept that upheld the prestige, power, and wealth of his own family and class.

Today varnasram[*] dharma is virtually a euphemism itself. The asram portion, to begin with, has little practical meaning. A reference to the widely held ideal of life-stages, it is a voluntary rather than a prescriptive concept, and not even Karpatri, fond as he was of quoting the lawbooks of Manu, would have been inclined to introduce legislation forcing, say, a middle-aged male to pack up and leave for the forest "when he sees . . . the sons of his sons."[125] It is the varna[*] portion of the term that carries the sting, for despite sensory evidence and anthropological arguments to the contrary, large numbers of Hindus continue to believe that their social system is founded on a division of four degrees of "color"; that this term, even in an obviously racially mixed population, is not merely symbolic will be clear to anyone who examines a page of marriage advertisments, with their characteristic sensitivity to gradations of skin tone.

The essentially repressive contemporary meaning of varnasram[*] becomes clear from the circumstances in which it is invoked. The fact that a Brahman's son chooses to enter politics, industry, or for that matter, sanitary engineering, does not elicit it; but the potential upward mobility of the sweeper, cobbler, or washerman provokes angry cries. One suspects that it is the "holding down" aspect of dharma that is foremost in Rajaji's theme of "joyous restraint"; restraint, joyous or otherwise, is ever urged on the oppressed by their oppressors. That there is an undercurrent of anxiety in such usage is scarcely surprising, for keeping those


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beneath one within their limits becomes all the more essential in a society of growing scarcity and competition, in which oppressed classes, agitated by "perverted movements of social reform," attempt to assert rights whose full exercise inevitably erodes others' privileges.

Today, long after the demise of the Ram Rajya Parishad, the cry that greeted Swami Karpatri wherever he went still echoes in Sanatani assemblies throughout northern India and is often given by Banaras orators when they travel about to expound the Manas . It is a militant cry of "victory" (jay ) and "annihilation" (nas ), begun by the speaker and completed by the crowd:

May dharma be victorious!
May adharma be annihilated!
May there be good feeling among beings!
May the world prosper!
Har Har Mahadev !

Although it is only a slogan, I suggest that it is not so vague in meaning as it may appear at first. "Dharma" in this context now largely means the Sanatani religion and social hierarchy; adharma (anti-dharma), any effort to promote social change. The pattern of social crises and economic stagnation giving rise to jingoistic and authoritarian movements is hardly unique to India. In the face of complex social and economic challenges, rightist leaders continue to brandish their familiar battery of reliable symbols. Writing on the early Jana Sangh and Mahasabha, Weiner astutely observed, "Their emphasis was on cultural questions—Sanskritized Hindi as the national language, a ban on cow slaughter, their opposition to the Hindu Code Bill, and their charge of favoritism toward Muslims by the government—these were the key issues for both parties, not land reform and other economic questions."[126] The essential elements of one interpretation of Ramraj were present in the rhetoric of all the rightist parties, regardless of whether the slogan used was Ramrajya (R.R.P.), Dharma raj (Jana Sangh), Hindurastra[*] (Hindu Mahasabha), or Bharatiyamaryada (Swatantra party): an authoritarian government with a militaristic stance, strict adherence to a "dharma" defined by the ruling elite, and the denial of religious and cultural pluralism.

An upsurge of militant Hindu nationalism in the 1980s was hailed by its leaders as a new "Hindu Renaissance." The familiar rhetoric of Ramraj , the cow, Sanskrit education, and maryada was again unpacked,


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this time against the darkening background of the nation's spiraling population growth, chronic scarcity of resources, and enhanced capacity for communal violence. Once again, amid strident calls for "a consolidated society, based on our national heroes," Hindu leaders voiced a pervasive fear of impotence and decline, and "were convinced—how-ever ludicrous it might sound—that a conspiracy of sociology and de-mography would soon render the Hindus a minority within their own country."[127] Once again, lower-class Hindus were asked to forget their troubles, to move "beyond caste" and unite in the face of an enemy who, as always, was without: Muslims, Christians, the government, the West. Even though the movement was said to engage the sympathy. of a cross-section of the Hindu population, it exploited the special frustration and capacity for violence of "loosely-formed militias of unemployed youths and small shopkeepers."[128]

A special symbol of the new militancy was an image of Lord Ram imprisoned in a padlocked cage. This was transported throughout the country by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (a successor organization to the Mahasabha) to dramatize its claim that the government gave preferential treatment to religious minorities. The symbol of the "caged Ram" conveyed meaning on several levels. It was a reference to the long-standing "incarceration" of an image of Ram behind an iron fence in his reputed birthplace, the Babari Mosque in Ayodhya, which was for many years closed to pilgrims while the government considered Hindu and Muslim claims to the site.[129] But it was also a reference to the alleged restriction of Hindu culture by the legislation and policies of a secular government. Perhaps it was only another irony of the Kali Yuga that Tulsi's ideal man, self-limited and yet powerfully ascendent, was incongruously seen by groups whose rising economic aspirations were thwarted by recession and overpopulation to be the victim of a new set of repugnant "limits": the need to respect the rights of others in a democratic, pluralistic society.

Hindu nationalists claim to speak for an immemorial tradition, yet their authoritarian program in fact "represents a considerable departure from traditional Indian norms and institutions,"[130] for these always


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implicitly recognized the gulf between real and ideal and settled for a negotiated and imperfect order of compromise and parceled authority. The specific dangers of the new coalescence of religion and politics stem from the radically transformed political milieu within which the campaign is waged. Heesterman has incisively analyzed what he terms the new "tradition of modernity," exemplified by the modern state:

Its distinctive feature is . . . the total identification of the mundane with the transcendent order. As the sovereignty ascribed to it makes dear, the modem state cannot be transcended. It is itself transcendent and so is its universalist order. Hence the similarity of the Brahmanical and the modern tradition. However, the difference is equally obvious. There is no more room for a countervailing order. Modernity, then, means the integration of the mundane and the transcendent orders into one explosive reality.[131]

For Tulsidas the heavenly state of Ramraj could be brought to earth in only two ways: by Ram himself or by his name. The vision of transcendence realized in concrete terms was set in a remote epoch and made dependent on the catalyzing presence of a divine king; transcendence in mundane time, however, was immanent and personal, dependent only on an accessible and salvific name. The idealist in Tulsi looked longingly to Ramraj ; the realist embraced nam-raj as the "order" of the Kali Age. The secular theology of the twentieth-century state, implicit in the discourse of both liberals and conservatives, has inverted this model, secularizing and homogenizing the individual even as it transcendentalizes the state. As Heesterman suggests, this bold new attempt to resolve the tension between real and ideal is fraught with hazard.


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