In his recent speech in a rally at Faizabad, PM Modi stated, “…When people asked Mahatma Gandhi how good governance should be, he would reply in one word, a welfare state should be like Ram Rajya…”. This fascination with equating ‘good governance’ with ‘Ram Rajya’ is not new, so much so that the two are almost used interchangeably. It would be worthwhile to dig a little deep into this ‘Ram Rajya – Good Governance’ equation. I am interested in examining the following aspects of the PM’s statement, namely, the origin and meaning of the term ‘good governance’, ‘the meaning of the term ‘Ram Rajya’, the justification, or otherwise, of equating the two terms and the current PM’s invocation of Ram Rajya, Good Governance as well as Mahatma Gandhi in the same sentence.
The concept of ‘Good Governance’ found a formal mention in the 1992 World Bank Report titled “Governance and Development”. The term was defined as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development’. This concept has been variously used and interpreted by various national, international and regional organizations and institutions. Some of the key elements that have been present in most of the interpretations are accountability, transparency, rule of law, appropriate legal and judicial frameworks and participation. This is not an exhaustive list, but a list of certain elements that find a mention most frequently when good governance is talked about.
Accountability, has been used variously to mean the responsibility of the Government, various institutions and the public servants and employees for their actions, towards the public, from which they derive their authority. Talking in context of one of the most recent and major decisions of the current regime, it has definitely not shied away from taking responsibility for the overnight demonetization of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes. It has presented this exercise with utmost pride, conveniently coopting the 125 crore population of the nation, making it seem as if this was some sort of a national fight against all the possible vices of corruption, terrorism, black money and what not. Some ‘minor’ details have however been overlooked in the process. The government has not bothered to hold itself accountable for the death of between a hundred and a hundred fifty people, the closing down of small businesses, the loss of thousands of jobs, the innumerable difficulties faced by the poorest sections of the society due to cash crunch and the nationwide dissatisfaction and unrest among the people towards the entire exercise. The Government has also failed to hold itself accountable for the daily shifting goalposts, the justification for this exercise sometimes being fighting black money, at other times fighting terrorism, then removal of counterfeit currency, then a push towards digital transactions and so on and so forth. The Government has failed to hold itself accountable for undermining the authority of independent autonomous institutions and acting like a dictatorship in the garb of democracy. The Government has failed to hold itself accountable for misguiding and misleading the public and the complete failure of this totally disruptive exercise. So much for accountability.
Transparency, the next element that is a prerequisite for good governance, has been the forte of this government. The entire demonetization exercise was carried out overnight, without even the stakeholders being in the know, let alone the general public. Further, the Government has very transparently followed the agenda of promoting symbolic nationalism, destroying dissent and dissenters, upholding the ‘’Hindu Rashtra”, coopting historical personalities like Gandhi and Ambedkar, one turned into a crusader for cleanliness (Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan), and the other a crusader for digitalization (BHIM App).
Laws, rules and ‘rule of law’ – these terms have been interpreted and re-interpreted to suit the situation and the person. FTII students, Rohith Vemula and his mother, human rights activists fighting for the tribals of Chhattisgarh, Priya Pillai, Nandini Sundar, Mohammad Akhlaq, JNU fraternity, and so on and so forth have had a taste of the Rule of law of the land. In fact, every common man has had a taste of the constantly changing ‘rules and laws’ of the land with respect to demonetization. Every citizen has been sufficiently guided about the rules that govern the modes of showing respect to the National Anthem.
The legal and judicial frameworks have been so strengthened that voicing one’s opinion against the dominant perspective and going against it has become the most serious crime, requiring forceful detentions, refusal to grant bails, years and years spent in jails etc. while causing death of innocents (provided they are ordinary non-influential people, or in some cases, deer), being involved in communally motivated crimes, etc., are not even seen as crimes.
Lastly, participation, which is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy, is in the most strengthened position, because 125 crore Indians are coopted into every decision that one man takes, speech after speech it is made clear that everything that is being done is in the name of those 125 crores, for those 125 crores and with full support of those 125 crores. Autocracy had never before been masked so completely with democracy.
Having discussed ‘Good governance’ and its implementation in the current political regime, it would be useful to turn our attention to ‘Ram Rajya’. What is the reason for such fascination with this term? The term ‘Ram Rajya’ refers to the rule under King Ram of Ayodhya. With our propensity to adduce historicity to mythology, Ram Rajya is talked of as if it was a historical kingdom, existing at some point in history. This, however, is itself a myth, as no concrete historical proof of the existence of any such kingdom has yet been found. On the contrary, we have had in our history, numerous great kings and kingdoms whose administrative competence and other abilities have been recognized and lauded. Yet, these kingdoms have not been made synonymous with ‘Good governance’. Secondly, setting aside the ‘God’ status adduced to Ram for a moment, can and should Ram Rajya be called an ideal state, something worth emulation? Not going into other details of how this kingdom was organized and how it functioned, I would like to point out just one aspect, the treatment that was meted to Queen Sita by the King as well as the citizens of Ayodhya. Can a state in which women are treated in such a disgraceful manner, be called an ideal state? Should it be called so? King Ram justified his actions on the pretext of fulfilling peoples’ wishes. If this was the true meaning of democracy according to King Ram, then why did he not bow down to peoples’ wishes when they were exhorting him to become the King rather than proceeding towards forest, when he was exiled by his father for fourteen years? King Ram, till the very end, stated that re-exiling Queen Sita was in deference of peoples’ wishes, despite him being fully aware of his wife’s chastity. Was it not his duty as a king to protect someone whom he knew was innocent? Can an ideal state justify punishing the innocent in deference to the majority? Is this what the Rule of Law states?
Coming finally to the Modi-Good Governance-Ram Rajya-Mahatma Gandhi combination. How justified PM Modi is in talking about Good Governance is amply clear from his track record of Good Governance as stated above. Equating Ram Rajya with Good Governance is highly questionable to say the least. Taking refuge behind Mahatma Gandhi in invoking Ram Rajya is again a replay of the old tactic of the present regime, of trying to coopt yesteryears leaders for its own petty gains. Even otherwise, Mahatma Gandhi’s stamp of approval on ‘Ram Rajya’ as an ideal state to vouch for cannot be absolute. Even the beliefs and utterances of the great need to be opened up and questioned, if and when such need arises. Lastly, even if the PM truly believes in striving for Ram Rajya, the actions of the current regime, in practicing total autocracy, despite protests by millions, are in complete contrast to those of King Ram, in his practice of blind and unhindered ‘democracy’ (as he believed it to be).
Nivedita Dwivedi is pursuing my MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.