July 23 is a special day as it marks the birth anniversary of two of the most illustrious freedom fighters — Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Chandra Shekhar Azad.
It is our solemn duty to remember them and bow our heads in reverence to their memory. We owe a lot to these great sons of our motherland, who had an unwavering commitment to the cause of India’s freedom. To build a New India, the young should have role models of such stature to look up to and emulate.
Tilak was a passionate patriot who awakened the national consciousness through his speeches, writings and actions. He firmly believed that the lack of unity and national pride were the main reason for India being subjugated by colonial powers. Similarly, Azad’s life is a saga of total identification with the cause of the country’s freedom and the willingness to make the supreme sacrifice for it.
As we look back at our country’s freedom struggle, we see several legendary icons who had different viewpoints on how to achieve freedom. But what was common among all of them was the unflinching commitment to the nation, an extraordinary fervour to forge a national identity and instil a sense of national pride and self-confidence. It is this spirit that saw us successfully emerge as an independent nation. It is this spirit that is vital for our country to make sustainable progress.
Perhaps the time has come for every Indian, particularly the youth, who comprise the majority of today’s population, to develop the fervour of a fearless revolutionary like Azad and the zeal and commitment of a nationalist like Tilak to meet the challenges the country is facing on various fronts.
Millions of selfless Indians participated in the freedom struggle and were led by courageous leaders like Azad and nationalists like Tilak. Azad plunged into the freedom struggle in his teens and daringly told the magistrate at Varanasi when he was arrested along with other boys that his name was “Azad”, father’s name “Swatantra” and that his address was jail. He was given a punishment of 15 lashes. Freedom of the motherland was the sole objective for Azad, who hailed from an indigent family. While he was a revolutionary to the core, Azad led a disciplined life and was unflinchingly upright in terms of his principles and values till the very end.
Tilak’s celebrated slogan — “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” — made him immortal in the annals of history. He was a scholar and social reformer, who stood against dowry, the marriage of girls before the age of 16 and favoured prohibition. He was a strong advocate of swadeshi and used cultural events like the Ganesha festival for political awakening during the freedom struggle. He likened our nation to a tree, of which the original trunk is Swarajya, and its branches, swadeshi and boycott.
The painful truth is that 70 long years after attaining Independence, the country is still saddled with the problems of poverty, illiteracy, drinking water, electricity, housing shortage, sanitation, gender discrimination and a glaring urban-rural divide, which, if not bridged at the earliest, will hamper India’s progress. We can no longer afford any full stops in India’s growth story.
It is truly an irony of the times we are living in that even as scientific and technological advancements are revolutionising the way we live and have shrunk the world into a global village, new barriers are getting erected in different regions on various pretexts by vested interests. Years ago, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had cautioned against the world getting fragmented by narrow domestic walls and the “clear stream of reason” getting lost in the dreary desert sand of dead habit. Yet, we find people increasingly getting divided by the walls of casteism, communalism, religious fundamentalism and nepotism. Of course, corruption and terrorism have become the biggest enemies of India’s progress. There cannot be two opinions that India has not made as much progress as it could have in the past 70 years. This is not to find fault or point a finger at anybody.
The country cannot be allowed to be pulled apart by social, communal or regional dissensions, which is what the adversaries of India want. We can no longer remain like insouciant bystanders and I particularly appeal to the youth of the country to be in the forefront of creating a New India.
Today, India is the sixth largest economy in the world and has the potential to become a developed nation and one of the top economies in the next 15-20 years. We can achieve the goal if we collectively display the will to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, urban-rural divide, ensure top priority to agriculture, education, health and industry and empower the vulnerable sections.
With the economy in the ascending phase, it is important for the country to fully reap the demographic dividend. We need to initiate reforms in various fields from politics to education to make governance corruption-free, responsive and make India a knowledge-centric global centre of innovation and excellence — a country, where all sections of people co-exist harmoniously and live securely in peace and prosperity.
It is all the more imperative for us to draw inspiration from the lives of our celebrated heroes of the freedom struggle such as Tilak and Azad. History will not forgive us if we forget that they shed their blood and sweat to overthrow the yoke of slavery. They sacrificed their lives so that we could breathe the air of freedom and equality. It is our moral responsibility to strive to attain the ideals their vision of India was infused with.
From Swarajya as our birthright, let us move to Surajya as our fundamental right — that will be our real homage to these great freedom fighters.