Seventy-one years ago, when the clock struck midnight, our country became independent. As we enter the 72nd year, it is time to reflect on our past, take stock of our present and think about the future. The sacrifices of our freedom fighters and armymen and women — indeed millions of people — have been a part of this journey. However, today we are told that the hard work of these people in nation-building, over these past 71 years, does not amount to anything.
Citizens are of paramount importance in democracies and institutions are established to protect their rights. Today, each pillar of our democracy is under attack. Our administrative structure is unable to operate impartially, the state of the judiciary is such that judges of the Supreme Court have said that democracy itself is in danger and we all know the state of the media. When the institutional pillars of a democracy lose their impartiality and transparency, the country becomes a victim of partisan politics. A former judge of the Supreme Court has said that “a society not vigilant shall lose its liberties”. Therefore, it is not enough for people to vote but it is equally important to hold the government to account. As long as these institutional pillars are independent, not only will democracy be secure but the country will also prosper. Public servants in institutions are striving to do their duty despite being constantly hindered. The Opposition is the conscience-keeper of the government. It’s unfortunate that it’s being described as a daldal, or a quagmire.
There is lot of noise in the media and social media and we seem to have forgotten how to talk to each other. The nine o’clock news has become the noise o’clock news. We seem to have forgotten what the relationship between citizens, the media and a government should be. We have forgotten what the goals and responsibilities of governments are. Our country is the largest democracy in the world and its unique constitutional framework was decided by our great founding fathers, including B R Ambedkar. The Constitution placed limits on democracy precisely because, without limits, a democracy can very easily slide into anarchy and even tyranny.
A democracy must also allow for and promote different political opinions within its polity. Therein lies its beauty. However, today differences of opinion lead to being labeled anti-national. Fingers are even pointed at those who who have been honoured with the Nobel Prize. I would like to draw attention to the Bhagawat Gita. In the 32nd verse of the 6th chapter, Lord Krishna tells Arjun that the sign of a true Yogi is one who treats everyone with equality and who finds his own happiness in the happiness of others and feels pain in their pain. Indeed, Ram Manohar Lohia wrote that seeking to establish equality is as important a goal as searching for the truth. However, today people are being divided on the basis of religion, caste, gender, region and language and the seeds of animosity are being sowed amongst them. Women must play a pivotal role in the development of any society but the state has failed to ensure even basic security for them. Lohia wrote that any war on poverty is a sham unless it is also a war on caste and gender discrimination. In other words, equality, not only before the law but within society, is of paramount importance.
Today, some people only want one kind of thought to animate our political thought. Many poets have written of India as a beautiful garden but today it seems that some people only want one kind of flower to be visible in this garden of ours. However, the beauty of gardens comes from the variety of plants and flowers and their unique colours. Put another way, one wonders what kind of painting a person would create if we only gave them one colour? Indeed, one wonders whether any person’s mother ever told them how to express their love for her? Every child loves their mother in their own unique way and it is the love that matters, not how it is expressed. Similarly, people of different communities, regions and languages love their country in distinct ways. We have to understand that economic development will not be possible until we take along people from every caste, every class and every faith. After all, unless there is social stability, how can there be economic stability and growth?
The importance of development to economic growth is crucial. However, it is only possible when people are not worried about their basic security, education and health. Every day, the economy is being discussed on the television and statistics are marshaled to show how India is moving towards prosperity. But to know the truth we must listen to the farmer’s pain, pay heed to the labourer’s cry and ask the poor person about what development they feel has been done for them. We must ask the middle classes how they are coping with huge price rise. We must inspect the registers of small traders and vendors and see what their statistics tell us. Development is in India’s DNA but this DNA is being tampered with just like the seeds of our farmers have been tampered with and modified. The effects of this on the environment and, indeed, on society are there for all to see.
By 2020, India will be the youngest country in the world. But what kind of future will our young people have in a country where farmers are committing suicide? What guarantee is there that they will inherit a secure and prosperous country? By 2019, there will be more than 1.75 crore first-time voters and their future prospects need our complete focus. The lack of jobs is leading to insecurity among the youth. However, instead of tackling problems, misinformation and hate is being spread so that it distracts people from real issues and concerns.
Today, the rural poor sell whatever little land they have to avail of private healthcare. Government hospitals are not being able to provide the services they need. People are leaving villages for the cities and the pressure on cities is increasing. Seventy per cent of our population lives in rural India. We must remember that agriculture is India’s soul. Indeed, the dreams of smart cities will be incomplete without smart villages.
At such a juncture, the salience of samajwad (socialism) becomes even more important because it is not just a political affiliation but a state of mind. The strength and future of the country lies in economic equality, social justice and unity. This is the dream that Ambedkar and Lohia had when they wrote letters to each other in 1956 vowing to work together. Sadly, Ambedkar died in December 1956 but I feel that today we have the opportunity to fulfill their dream. A return to these values across the world will help us tackle global issues, such as the environment, which are no longer local or national problems.
All citizens of India must come together to sustain each others’ hope for a more prosperous and secure future. We must take a vow that, of course, we will spread happiness, but we will also not forget to bear the burden of others and march shoulder-to-shoulder with every Indian.
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