Jai Shri Ram literally means victory to Lord Ram, the prince of Ayodhya mentioned in various versions of Ramayana. This slogan is in the news for long. Jai Shri Ram slogan trends every other day on social media in India. In recent times, this religious slogan has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Raising this slogan is no longer considered religious, it is a political slogan to further the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While the entire BJP and its ally Shiv Sena uses Jai Shri Ram slogan as a battle cry, their opponents, particularly West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has launched a massive campaign against it.
During Lok Sabha election, Mamata Banerjee was seen stopping her car to slam those shouting Jai Shri Ram. Her irritation with the slogan has taken an unusual turn where her opponents have started teasing her by shouting Jai Shri Ram if they see her at an event.
In May, days after Lok Sabha election results were announced, seven people were arrested in Bengal for shouting Jai Shri Ram as Mamata Banerjee’s cavalcade passed through their area.
To counter the BJP’s charge of Muslim appeasement, Mamata Banerjee flagged off Jagannath Puri rath yatra last week. She was greeted with chants of Jai Shri Ram from the crowd and a section of BJP supporters.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, too, has joined Mamata Banerjee in raising his voice against Jai Shri Ram slogan saying it is not part of Bengali culture.
All this has happened in the backdrop of cases of mob lynching in which victims belonging to Muslim community were forced to chant Jai Shri Ram by the perpetrators. Tabrez Ansari, 24, was allegedly lynched in Jharkhand last month. He was accused of stealing a motorcycle in Seraikela Kharsawan district of the state.
Ansari was allegedly tied to a pole and beaten up with sticks by a mob that forced him to shout Jai Shri Ram after ascertaining that he was a Muslim. This incident took place on June 17. Ansari died of his injuries on June 22.
In a similar incident, a 16-year-old boy in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur was beaten up after his assaulters found him wearing a skull cap and asked him to chant Jai Shri Ram which he refused to do at first.
Where it all began
It is not yet clear when Jai Shri Ram entered the political space but it came to be identified with the BJP around the 1990-92 Ram temple movement, which was launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – an extended arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) family. An active participant in the temple movement was BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani and his protege Narendra Modi.
But before the BJP made Jai Shri Ram slogan as its own, it was already in popular use in late 1980s courtesy the TV serial Ramayan produced by filmmaker Ramanand Sagar. The slogan, Jai Shri Ram was used in the TV serial as a battle cry by Hanuman and others in Lord Ram’s expedition against Ravan, the king of Lanka who had abducted Sita, the wife of Ram.
The earlier popular slogan or chant was Sita-Ram and Siya-Ram, which were frequently used as words for greeting one another. The popularity to Sita-Ram is credited to a freedom fighter and peasant activist Baba Ramchandra, who had impressed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with his organisational skills.
In his autobiography, Nehru credits Baba Ramchandra for making an old cry of Sita-Ram “an almost warlike significance” and “a signal for emergencies as well as a bond between different villages”.
After Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the VHP and parallel political campaign of the BJP, Sita-Ram gave way to Jai Shri Ram and became an essentially political slogan raised more during the time of elections.
Now in Parliament, streets
Riding on the slogan of Jai Shri Ram, the BJP improved its tally in the Lok Sabha from two seats in 1984 to 85 in 1989, to 120 in 1991 and to single-largest party with 161 MPs in 1996.
With Atal Bihari Vajpayee practically in charge of the BJP between 1999 and 2004 with the responsibility to run a ruling coalition, the slogan of Jai Shri Ram retreated to form background score. The defeat of the BJP in 2004 and in 2009 forced the BJP to rethink its strategy.
The slogan returned with greater vigour in 2014 even though the party – with Narendra Modi calling the shots – did not give much space to construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya. Jai Shri Ram was a frequently used slogan in BJP’s rallies.
As prime ministerial candidate, Modi addressed an election rally in Faizabad, the district that holds Ayodhya, which many believe to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Though, Modi, in 2014 election rally, did not talk about Ram temple, he did refer to Lord Ram a number of times in his speech with the crowd chanting Jai Shri Ram.
Modi did not go to Ayodhya until May 2019, when he addressed an election rally. Speaking at the outskirts of Ayodhya, Modi talked about defeating terrorism and New India but Jai Shri Ram was the dominant cry in the rally.
The slogan has made to the Lok Sabha now. BJP members heckled Trinmool Congress (TMC) MPs in the Lok Sabha shouting Jai Shri Ram when they came for taking oath as newly elected members of the house in June. This came as a reaction to Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to the slogan, which she said was a threat to Bangla culture.
The BJP has made substantial gains in West Bengal where Jai Shri Ram has become the cry for galvanising party cadres against the ruling TMC. The BJP has alleged that one of its workers was lynched by TMC members for chanting Jai Shri Ram.