India’s Republic Day was forever marred last year when the flag of Khalistan was riotously hoisted on the Red Fort last year, under the garb of farmers’ protest. While the ‘right wing’ response was by and large rightly of shock and humiliation, certain people within the wing continue to downplay the severity of the incident. This necessitates the need to highlight the importance of the state’s supremacy, if not outright monopoly, on violence in order to maintain the state. And what better lens to do that than the Ramayana, the story of the king who became god due to his execution of King’s dharma.
Prabhu Rama was king first and foremost and all his actions were guided by that aspect of his Avatara. Even Goswami Tulsidas, despite all his bhakti rasa for the divinity inherent from the beginning in his version, was acutely aware of this fact.
This is beautifully depicted in the Vali vadha episode, when the mortally wounded Vali tries to shame Sri Rama by questioning the latter’s authority and the means of attack, in his last moments. When Vali questions the way he was killed Sri Rama replies thus,
मम भुज बल आश्रित तेहि जानी। मारा चहसि अधम अभिमानी॥ [You dare harm the one who finds security or has a contract of security with me]Kishkindhakanda, Ramcharitmanas | 1.4.9
It is indeed a call for sharanagati in the absolute sense but at a gross, physical, worldly or political level, it is the proclamation of state power and the promise it makes to every citizen and a warning to every enemy of the state. It is, in fact, a touchstone, a measuring rod against which a state’s effectiveness, its power, and its ability is to be measured by its citizen.
Especially in modern terms when the state monopolizes power, it is the primary oath taken up by it to provide safety and security to its citizens so that they can be free of fear to pursue their goals, without needing to arm themselves or to resort to violence for protection or retribution. In that is implicit the state’s right — as well as duty — to make sure that it remains unchallenged, both symbolically and in real terms, by violent aggressors, lest the citizenry should be tempted to emulate the aggressors and defy the State’s monopoly on violence.
It also percolates in terms of tackling internal security by overt and covert enemies and threats posed by external enemies. It also means the ability of the state to stand behind those nation-states with which it has an alliance and strategic partnerships.
As a psychological and political character, Vali’s features and abilities are much in common with the internal security threat we had to deal with since 1947. He is someone who takes away half the power of his enemies in battle. Insurgents and the problem of insurgency are quite similar. They are not open enemies like Pakistan or China (Ravana), but neither are they friends. While they do not challenge the national government’s right to rule, like Vali was never a direct challenge to Ayodhya, they are a threat to the state apparatus and the social contract of the state with its citizen, especially that of security.
Further, they fight guerrilla warfare, where the state is put at a disadvantage. It’s a war of attrition where damage by violence, loss of allegiance, and erosion of law is sought all at once. While they are free to inflict maximum damage, the State is bound by its own social contract to its citizens in dealing with them. In such a battle, the insurgents indirectly take away half the power of the state to inflict violence against them, much like Vali did to his opponents.
Arguments given by Vali after he is brought down are similar to over-the-ground apologists of these internal enemies- the so-called “urban Naxals”, and their other mutations in media and civil society.
In such a situation, the state ought to remember Sri Rama’s proclamation above- that its first duty, highest morality is to secure those who seek refuge in its power. Everything else — image, votes or sentiments — comes a distant second. ‘Exposing’ the enemy, as the defendants of this inaction would love to repackage it, cannot be a state’s strategy to deal with the Valis. Eliminating them while inflicting minimum collateral damage is the way for the State, even if that means covert or underhanded attacks.
Sri Rama was not a man to give into niceties; he acted as per situation and in accordance with rajadharma. When he did send an envoy to Ravana, the external enemy, it was not to “expose” him but because war with Ravana was an open war with a force entirely inimical. At the same time, he did not send any envoy to Vali because that would mean Sri Rama himself would have gotten exposed as vulnerable, and his ability to act with precision and inflict maximum damage would have been compromised. Sri Rama was a just king but also unrelenting in pursuit of dharma and justice. Ruthlessness and being just are not necessarily contradictory — in this case, the latter is delivered by the former. That was why he was nara-vyaghra or nara-shardul (the tiger/lion among men).
Sri Rama also justified his right to act against Vali, otherwise a small-time sovereign of his own fiefdom, by invoking his ancestry of Chakravartin (“earth-conquering”) kings, who had taken an oath to protect rajadharma in not just their own kingdoms but over the entire mortal plane. This shows that when the very structure of social contract and statecraft is under threat, the most powerful of the sovereigns should not pussyfoot around jurisdictions as well- food for thought to the apologists who argue that the State’s power to act is limited by the “federal” structure. This is also the only time Sri Rama implies wily tactics — something Vishnu and his other avataras unhesitatingly used, but Sri Rama otherwise desists from.
Thus, instead of searching for ‘masterstrokes’ and hidden strategies in dealing with a Vali-like enemy, the state should be ruthlessly judged on grounds that whether it was able to secure those who respected and followed the social contract called Constitution.
“मम भुज बल आश्रित तेहि जानी/ मारा चहसि अधम अभिमानी” should be the guiding principles of the state for internal security.
With inputs from Surajit Dasgupta and Mrinaal Prem Swarroop Srivastava