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Jai Shree Ram

By Pooja Garg Email By Pooja Garg
July 2024
Jai Shree Ram

Thanks to the Indian voters, Ram Rajya, as we understand it, may finally be coming—though not in the way expected but in the way needed.

India has been my motherland. It is also the land where my mother lives. And now that I am in America, from this far away, she feels indistinguishable from the land she inhabits. Both are melded together in what they mean to me—nurturing and homecoming.

I have always known my mother to have furious energy and ideas to change the world—and car tires—in equal measure. Growing up, I saw her regularly fight corruption in government departments, corporal punishment in schools, and patriarchal structure in the family that stood between me and my wish to ride my bicycle. To her shy daughter, she insisted that I speak up for myself. That is what she, the daughter of a freedom fighter, would also urge her fellow citizens. And it looks like her wish has been granted in the recent elections.

India has spoken. “We, the people of India” have had their say. In the words of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, the nationalist Hindi poet and a Padma Bhushan awardee who wrote in pre-independent India:

Abhishek aaj raja ka nahin, praja ka hai

Taintis koti janta ke sar par mukut dharo

Do raah, samay ke rath ka gharghar naad suno

Sinhaasan khaali karo ki janta aati hai.”

[“Today is not the coronation of the king, but the public / Crown the 33 crore* people / Give way. Listen to the churning of the chariot of time / Let go of the throne, people are on their way.]

This election was marked by its intensity and high stakes. More than anything, it was about asserting the right to dissent; the right to question, critique, and challenge those in power. The Constitution of India, as a symbol of freedoms and dignities promised to Indian citizens, became almost a leitmotif with people holding it up literally and figuratively during the campaigning.

The past few weeks have not only reaffirmed the enduring spirit of India’s democracy but also offered a glimpse into the country’s shapeshifting political landscape. Just when we thought the election result was a slam dunk, it was not.

As the dust settles on India’s fiercely contested 2024 national election, this time has also served as an invaluable reminder that democracy requires constant nurturing and active vigilance to be effective; that democracy is not just about elections but about the everyday exercise of citizenship, unwavering commitment to building a more just and equitable society, and constant engagement with issues that affect our lives. Issues like social justice, growing economic inequality, lack of jobs, agriculture crisis, and climate change.

The fact that the recovery of even a rag-tag opposition has caused so much cheer shows a fundamental belief in institutional checks and balances afforded in a democracy. It is now up to the opposition to move up from its jaded posturing and strive to be relevant. They have been given the opportunity to focus on constructive criticism and hold the government accountable.

The mandate in front of us mirrors the complexities and contradictions of the country that is India—where diversity is so much more than a demographic statistic. It is a coming together of ideologies, languages, and cultures in a centuries-old way of life. This election offered us a chance to introspect: is our inclusivity an artificial construct or do we really care? In that sense, this year, the national election took on a larger role—it became a celebration of plurality and an affirmation of individual rights. As India charts its course for the next five years, it does so amidst diverse opinions, ideas, and aspirations.

With the U.S. poised to go to the polls later in the year, one hopes that India’s mandate will serve as an inspiration to foster robust electoral processes and to nurture spaces that allow for diversity of thought and dissent. We are all hurtling towards our collective destinies in these interconnected times. Global challenges such as climate change, economic inequality, and technological disruption loom large. In such an environment, we need strong voices with the power to carry all people behind them to propel nations forward.

Irrespective of election wins and losses, this is a time when Lord Ram has been hailed more than at any other in recent history. If there is one lesson we can take from his life on nation-building, it is this: the dhobi had his say in the Ramayana even though he challenged Lord Ram. For India, Ram Rajya, as we understand it, may finally be coming—though not in the way expected, but in the way needed: as a society where dissent is not just tolerated but cherished in the pursuit of a more just, equitable, and inclusive nation.

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*33 crore = 330 million, the population of India at that time.

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If there is one lesson we can take from his life on nation-building, it is this: the dhobi had his say in the Ramayana even though he challenged Lord Ram. For India, Ram Rajya, as we understand it, may finally be coming—though not in the way expected, but in the way needed: as a society where dissent is not just tolerated but cherished in the pursuit of a more just, equitable, and inclusive nation.

 


Pooja Garg is Deputy Editor for Khabar magazine. An award-winning journalist and USC Annenberg Fellow for Writing and Community Storytelling, Pooja has worked as Special Correspondent with India Today and Delhi Bureau Chief for IDG. Founder of the South Asian Collective and The Woman Inc., she is the editor of From My Window anthology. Write to her at pooja@khabar.com.


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