When we speak of freedom or azadi, it brings to mind a very different idea of India. Today, we are becoming a country that can deliver eulogies and express opinions, but not initiate action to change the situation. Is that the meaning of freedom? Until we realise this, we cannot be free.
We speak of the right to education, but in the garb of education, we have created profit-making businesses. When Bhagat Singh had formed the revolutionary organisation, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), he had clearly stated that when we speak of freedom, we do not mean only freedom from the British. He said, “That is not the meaning of freedom. We need freedom in such a way that there should be no need to demand freedom again.” He wanted to end the atrocities of the zamindars on agricultural labourers, of the rich on the poor. When we were still under British rule, they divided us on the lines of religion by planting the seeds of hatred among Hindus and Muslims, but we saw through their plans. India stood united and we did not let their tactic hamper our struggle for freedom. Even today, we know there are people who are planting the seeds of hatred among us — Hindus and Muslims, upper castes and lower castes, rich and poor — but why are we falling prey to it and fighting among ourselves?
Countries around the world, like the US, China or Pakistan, cannot even think of waging war against us. It is our own people, who are internally terrorising the idea of freedom. When a farmer has an outstanding loan of Rs 4 lakh, he is made to feel like a criminal. But people like Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi can dig deep into the coffers of our country and abscond with the booty. We do not call them seditious. Bhagat Singh’s idea of freedom has been defeated — for there are conglomerates who are the zamindars of today and the common man is still being oppressed. Is this the idea of freedom?
In our country, people who raise their voices are booked under cases of sedition. I raised my voice for the Patidar community of Gujarat and I was booked for sedition. A common man’s biggest hope is the judiciary, but in many cases, a person has virtually been imprisoned for life while waiting for justice. Sometimes, it is demotivating because the system of our country — regardless of which party is in power — has proven that those who are in power can hound the rebel. All governments speak of the power of youth, but it takes them only a fraction of a second to deprive a young voice of its freedom of expression.
Several years ago, Rani Laxmibai sacrificed her life and her child for the country. But even today, women’s safety is a big question mark on the essence of our freedom. We see intermittent rage — like in the case of the Nirbhaya rape in New Delhi. When the incident happened, the BJP was in the Opposition and the UPA was in power. The BJP created a furore over women’s safety. Today, when they are in power, women are prey to crime just as often. Why is no one raising their voice now?
I think, as a people, we are to blame for abusing our right to franchise. We criticise a leader for five years for non-performance, corruption and a slew of reasons, but when elections arrive, we cast our votes in favour of that very leader. Our politicians will never improve until our voters improve. Do we esteem our freedom too lightly because we did not sacrifice anything for it? We do not respect our flag because we do not even remember the freedom fighters who laid down their lives for the tiranga.
We have a parliament that only opposes policies, regardless of which party is in the opposition. If there is a beneficial policy that has been introduced by the BJP, the Congress will oppose it and vice versa. We, perhaps, will never see a day when our politicians unite for a good cause for the citizens. Every party attacks the other over farmer suicides. No matter which party is in power, we continue to see farmer suicides. Why can’t the parties put their best brains together to come up with policies that can end farmer suicides and save lives? Earlier, the Aam Aadmi Party spoke a lot about farmer suicides and against the existing policies of various parties. Today, when they are in power in Delhi, have they proposed any policy to help farmers in their areas? Those who opposed the GST bill for several years have assented to it and passed it. We were opposed to FDI, today we have implemented it and it seems the best option. The youth in free India are unemployed. Do we need Make in India or Live in India? Ironically, we speak of Ganga rejuvenation and the contract is awarded to companies from Singapore just like companies from Japan have heavy stakes in our airport projects. Private companies in India are waiting for projects to grow. We are talking about smart cities instead of smart villages. In short, those in power are acting against the interests of the country.
It has been 70 years since our independence and gratitude is due to leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. But today, we are using their name for our politics. We are going backwards. When I was growing up, I could not find a single leader to look up to. My heroes are from history — mainly Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Rani Laxmi Bai. This is because the older generation of politicians in our country only speaks superficially of infusing young blood into politics. Within their minds, they do not wish to see the youth replace them. They do not want to let go of power. They are, in fact, painting a very different picture of young leaders even from our history. There is a constant attempt to portray Bhagat Singh as someone who advocated an armed rebellion; it is completely untrue. Bhagat Singh respected and followed Gandhiji to a great extent. Until the last moment, his family followed Gandhian principles. Some factions are trying to enforce the idea that he wore a saffron turban; it is untrue. History shows that Bhagat Singh always wore a black turban during protests as he disguised himself as a Sikh.
To me, freedom means that a person living in this country has the right to express his opinion — if he thinks it is right, he should be allowed to express himself. Until the time that we, as a people, do not stand on a common platform — not as Hindu or Muslim, rich or poor — for the sake of the country, we will not enjoy true freedom. The British ruled us for 200 years because of lack of unity. Today, the corporate world is exploiting our differences using politics as a tool. We should be united as 1.25 crore Indians, nothing less.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘The freedom to raise my voice’)