Jatayu Has to Fight Terror Because Mythology Is Good Politics
In the land of Ayodhya, appropriating the Ramayana means political capital which translates into easy votes.
Why does Jatayu need to fight terror?
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said at a Ram Leela in Lucknow that Jatayu was the first to fight terror, he wasn’t just indulging in some festival rhetoric. He was consciously translating the narrative of the ‘war on terror’ into the best-known Hindu mythological tale in India.
And he was doing so in Uttar Pradesh. A state with deep (and often polarising) religious beliefs, where the Ramayana is not just an epic poem but a historical account of a time when gods roamed the earth. A state which, interestingly enough, is also heading for a closely-fought and important election in 2017.
Using the Ramayana and Hindu symbols like the ‘sudarshan chakra’ to explain the political atmosphere in the country is exclusionary. But it is a good political move for any party in Uttar Pradesh, which is why Jatayu has to fight terror. Even if he doesn’t want to.
What’s Ramayana Got to Do With Surgical Strikes?
But Modi’s comments are not the first time that the characters from the Ramayana have made an appearance in political statements about India’s recent counter-terror efforts. After the surgical strikes, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said Hanuman was the first person to carry out surgical strikes across the border.
Shortly after, posters showing Modi as Ram and Nawaz Sharif as Ravana were plastered across Varanasi. The posters were put up by Shiv Sena, but the symbolism of viewing Modi’s strong leadership through the god-like aura of Rama is unmissable. And, in fact, it has also become a recurring motif on Twitter.
But it’s not just the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has developed a sudden interest in the battle between Rama and Ravana. Just this month, controversial Uttar Pradesh Congress member Haseeb Ahmad and his associate Shrish Chandra Dubey put up a poster inspired by the Ramayana. The poster showed Rahul Gandhi as Ram aiming to kill Amit Shah, portrayed as Ravana.
Clearly in the land of Ayodhya, appropriating Ramayana means political capital —which translates into easy votes.
‘Be Like Jatayu’: Why Ramayana is a Better Choice than Mahabharata
‘Be like Jatayu’
No, this is not the next viral meme on Twitter. But what Prime Minister Modi wants everyone to be. Why? Because Jatayu fought against ‘terror’ to protect a woman’s honour and “we might not be able to embody Ram”. The shift in role models from Ram to Jatayu is interesting because it lays bare why the political establishment has resorted to quoting the Ramayana.
Because ordinarily, the Ramayana is not a war epic. In the Hindu mythological pantheon, that pride of place belongs to Mahabharata. (Remember your grandmother forbidding you to keep a copy at home because it might start conflict within the family?)
Ram, despite being a warrior, is seen as a morally upright hero. He fought a war because of duty. Jatayu emerges as a peripheral character who is more aggressive. Just perfect for political appropriation in a vitiated and polarised atmosphere defined by war mongering.
Terror Victims? Sorry, Hindus-Only
But so what if Prime Minister Modi used Jatayu as an example? Why should we read so much into it? Well, for one, Prime Minster Modi is a politician who relies heavily on rhetoric, so one can’t dismiss his statements as just political rhetoric.
Secondly, and more importantly, by repeatedly referencing the Ramayana in the fight against terror, Modi is potentially excluding thousands of victims of terror in India who are not Hindu. When the Prime Minister of a country creates a narrative of a nation based on a Hindu religious epic, it is an inherently dangerous precedent.
Even if it is a political remark aimed at a upcoming election made at a Ram Leela.
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