(The article was originally published in Indian Express on January 27, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)
What the world witnessed on January 22 was not just the consecration of a temple but the rebirth of a nation and the reassertion of its national soul. In Ramayana, Ram’s return after exile and war was celebrated by citizens as Diwali. It signified the commencement of what famously came to be called Ram Rajya — a statecraft of justice, prosperity and happiness. Ram represented a value system that became the ideal for mankind. Sage Valmiki, the author of the epic Ramayana, described him variously as “Maryada Purushottam”, the epitome of virtue, and “Vigrahvaan Dharmah,” the most definitive example of Dharma, the universal value system.
The return of Ram to Ayodhya, and his temple, may evoke triumphalism and push us back into history. After all, the temple involved a five-century-long struggle by Hindus to restore his rightful space to Ram. It had bitter episodes, bigotry and betrayal. Ram faced all that in his exiled life, too. Yet, once back, his focus was not backwards into the past, but forward into building a Ram Rajya. Lanka was the battlefield. But Ayodhya is described as “A-Yuddha” — non-war, a land of peace. The resurgence of Ayodhya should symbolise the rise of peace and unity. In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words, “Ram is not fire, he is energy, he is not conflict but solution, Ram does not belong only to us but to all, Ram is not just present but is infinity”.
As we complete 74 years as a Republic and enter into the Amrit Varsh, we must recall that the same spirit motivated the leaders of our Independence movement to establish a national creed based on the genius of this millennia-old civilisation. Gandhi called it Ram Rajya, adding that we should build, not a theocratic state, but a just state “where the weakest shall have as much power as the strongest”. Jawahar Lal Nehru, too, expressed similar sentiments. “As I stand here… my mind goes back to the great past of India, to the 5,000 years of India’s history, from the very dawn of that history which might be considered almost the dawn of human history, till today. All that past crowds around me and exhilarates me,” said Nehru on December 13, 1946, delivering his maiden address to the Constituent Assembly.
But then, Nehru admitted that he was “trembled” and “overwhelmed” by “this mighty task”. Standing on “this sword’s edge of the present between this mighty past and the mightier future”, Nehru was worried about whether he was “worthy of that past”. Confounded, he opted for the easier way out — discard this great heritage and take shelter in the new fad of the times, the untested European ideas.
Seventy-five years later, the resurrection at Ayodhya signifies the end of that Nehruvian dilemma. Modi was neither trembled nor overwhelmed by the mighty task. Instead, he exhorted in his address that “January 22, 2024, is not a mere date on the calendar, it is the origin of a new kaal chakra — wheel of time”.
Modi’s address was full of confidence and optimism about the glorious future that lay ahead for this nation. He talked not about a century, but a millennium. Dev (divine) to desh (country) and Ram to rashtra (nation) were the euphemisms he used to exhort countrymen that the time has come for them to move ahead from the temple and build a “strong, capable, grand and divine India”. He insisted that the country will reach the goal of prosperity by following the path of purity as well as the pursuit of modernity. “This grand Ram temple will become a witness to the rise of Viksit Bharat (developed Bharat),” he confidently exclaimed.
As Modi was pronouncing his dream of Viksit Bharat from the ramparts of the Ayodhya temple came the news that the stock market had scaled up to overtake the Hong Kong stock exchange and become the world’s number four. A day later, the HSBC survey projected the Indian economy to be on a very strong footing. Another report concluded that “Indian equity markets generate strong returns across time periods” and “India’s growth story remains strong — expected to be the third largest economy by FY2028”.
For some critics, January 22 marks the arrival of Hindu supremacy. This flawed view existed even at the time of our Independence. Consecrating the temple at Somnath on May 11, 1951, Rajendra Prasad, then President of India, clarified that the restoration shouldn’t be seen only as an attempt at rectifying history. “Our only aim here is to proclaim anew our attachment to the faith, convictions and values on which our religion has rested since immemorial ages,” he explained, a sentiment that aptly reflects today’s situation. He also reminded the nation that the great truth that Sanatan Dharma proclaims is that every individual should have full independence and opportunities for rising to the highest glory of life.
Whether it was Rajendra babu then or Narendra Modi now, the emphasis was on using the sacred symbol of the restored historic temple to infuse “new life into the Temple of Prosperity of our people”. Building a prosperous Bharat requires humongous effort and tremendous unity. A $5 trillion economy may make Bharat the third largest in the world, yet not the most prosperous. To become truly viksit requires a much bigger economic clout, which the Prime Minister wants the nation to achieve by its centenary.
There cannot be a better way to explain Modi’s Viksit Bharat dream than turning once again to Rajendra babu’s words of wisdom seven decades ago: “In my view, the restoration of this temple of Somnath would be complete, not on the day when a fine building would have been constructed on these foundations, but when we raise the level of our culture to such a degree that if a modern Al Biruni sees our country, he would express himself about our culture in the same eloquent terms in which, a thousand years ago, Al Biruni had expressed himself about the India of his day”.