‘Self-rule’ & ‘liberty’ are things that my generation has not had to struggle to earn – we were the fortunate ones, we were born free. Our forefathers paid the price for the freedom that we enjoy so dearly all the time (also abuse, on occasions). So in that sense, it is rather hard for someone like me who was born in the monsoon of 1984 to imagine, how alluring the scent of the 15th August must have been to those who toiled their life for it, in the fateful year of 1947. It would have taken a nerve of steel to deliver that iconic and historic ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech in the marvellous assembly setting.
They do not create such men any more!
Think of it, Bapu lodged himself far away in Kolkata; doing what he liked best – helping and building communities, dousing the fire of hate off, away from the glitters and the lustre of the New Delhi, the capital of a nation that had just become a sovereign. Such saintly demeanour, one can not but stop in awe of the great Mahatma. India is a deeply spiritual land, home of rituals, traditions and customs; most of which predate the modern identity of the nation by a few centuries if not millennia. The sense of community, the idea of belonging comes to us Indian in ‘plurals’. Amalgamation, in my view, describes us the best. We’re the ultimate culmination; like multiple rivers, streams and tributaries meet the ocean to become one, all citizens when they pronounce their Indianness, other identities that they also hold; of caste, creed, colour, culture, cuisine, custom, language and others fade into the background, (or should I say, “should fade into the background”)
If winning freedom from the British demanded every drop of blood of our forefathers, sustaining and securing its ‘free’ state expects every drop of sweat of us Indians. Keeping a continent size country, which is home to 1.3 billion people is not an easy chore. There is a constant struggle, often complex and multidimensional between forces that unite and also the influences that seek to divide us. We are in a category of our own. Within the overarching Indian identity that all of us wear with pride, other sub-antecedents compete with one another sometimes in a moderately violent and uncompromising selfish way too. In the last 73 years, India has seen caste divide what religion united (I will vote for the candidate of my caste) and also religion uniting what caste divided (We have to make Hindus win), she has also endured religion divide what nationhood united (Go to Pakistan). It is humanly impossible to sum the idea of India in a way other than to say that there are 1.3 billion Indians and there are 1.3 billion ideas of India. (I am taking the liberty of assuming that everyone begets just one Idea of India, which we know is not true, entirely)
Given the circumstances, how do we conclude and more importantly how do we converge everything Indian in a capsule, is a question that has remained at the core of all nationalistic and political debates that have occurred in the country over the course of the last 73 years? Someone like me (with limited intelligence and scant erudition) thinks -“Is such a thing even possible”?
To me, ‘The Idea of India’ is neither static nor a singular one, it has never been and it never will be. India is about knitting a variety of Ideas by the combined thread of constitutionality, plurality, equality, civility and unity in diversity. We’re a land of peaceful co-existence, of harmonising difference and worshipping morality and fundamentals of natural justice, not just social but also economic and that of ethnicity. For India to exist, it will have to remain together!
“We’re a constitutional parliamentary representative democracy amidst federal structure (centre and the state), with liberal signature”; at least that is how the idea of India was conceived originally by our founding fathers and mothers. And that right there is one expression that sums it all up. It has the depth the width and the length to accommodate everyone, every notion, every idea, every imagination, every fact and even has generous room for fiction. Our constitution is the supreme binding force, which most eloquently outlines the set of principles that we all shall uphold in our conduct. The creators of the constitution kept the provision for the document to remain current by giving the legislators the powers to add, delete and modify laws.
‘Rule of law’ was established, peace-loving and law-abiding citizens of this great nation, allowed the book of the constitution to shape our lives and thus a contour of the modern Indian identity was forged.
In the last 73 years, India conceded multi-party, multi ideological political parties to be formed and operate freely and fairly, as should be the case in a liberal civil society. Evolution is not always a happy process, it is effectively about becoming ‘something else’; when species get lucky, they develop into a form that gives them the ability to cope up and adapt to the changing circumstances better and to survive first and then thrive. There are also times when evolution goes wrong which results in the extinction of the species. The idea of nationhood is deeply connected with the system of governance and in a multi-party democracy, politics is equated with governance in an umbilical bond. A highly competitive political system, opens the stage for lateral entries, leading to a wider stage of participation but it also inadvertently reduces mainstream constructive, and citizen-led narrative to a number game; in which getting to 2/3rd majority becomes more important that journey that a party or an individual takes to get there. The number and only the number matters – this mindless, rush creates grounds for all kinds of practices to creep in the electoral process. Morality is forgotten and is often considered a hindrance in the path of blatant and audacious ambition. Citizens unknowingly start craving for a bloody fight; gladiatorial contest comes up for display, every time elections are announced.
In the transition of power from colonial rule to democratic self-governance, in the last 73 years, we have had a peaceful run. When I say that I discount the passionate political jostling, poor policymaking and missteps that might have been taken by various leaders, to further the cause of their ‘idea of India’. The first dastardly attack was launched on the state by the daughter of the 1st PM of the country and the freedom fighter who spent nearly 4K days in jail in the struggle for independence, when she declared emergency, rolled back fundamental rights and jailed every voice of opposition. The nation was young then it had not forgotten the freedom struggle, it got back together, brought her to her knees and the atrocity ended in 2 years.
The 2nd and perhaps, even more, potent blow to the founding principles of India is underway now. This time we are living in an undeclared emergency. This version of the attack is intelligent, sophisticated, aided ably by legal and commercial resources and it wears the mask of the mandate of the people but is every bit as brut as all authoritarian regimes have been in the human history. In 6 yrs of BJP-RSS rule under PM Modi India has witnessed, a departure from its rich traditions. The large heart of the republic seems to have shrunk itself so that it could be hidden and locked inside the bud of the lotus flower, the political symbol of India’s right-wing. In the last 6 years, we have seen dissent being punished, jailed and even killed. Individual liberties have been crushed under the feet of the strong deep state. Almighty PM rules on whims, he showed his dictatorial streak for the first time when he invalidated 84% of currency notes in circulation. Economic destruction that followed still has not passed us. India is undergoing the rise of majoritarianism, values of constitutional morality have been forgotten. Parliament, the temple of democracy, is used as a notice board, the tradition of debate on legislation is no longer in vogue. The PM steamrolls every piece of legislation by force of brute majority in the lower house and the upper house, institutions like CBI and ED are unleased to make those opposing to fall in line. Election after election we have seen opposition leaders and their aids raided by the central agencies, and if that does not work out, a perfect deployment of horse-trading wins the day for the ruling party. Goa, Haryana, MP and Karnataka are fine examples. Weeks before the 74th independence day, the ruling party was hell-bent to bring the Rajasthan assembly down too; but it survived against all odds.
Nehruvian consensus does not have the approval of the ruling dispensation. How article 370 was abrogated and then the manner in which an entire state was converted in an open jail is no secret, a year has passed but still, all the political leaders of the valley have not been released. Those who have come out have had to trade their right to speak about the abrogation on a bond for freedom. The supreme court refused to hear the petition of habeas corpus, as a result, it is pending for over a year; citizens are under curfew without (high speed) internet for nearly a year in the world’s most militarised zone and all of this in Bapu’s land under a functional democracy.
A wise man once said that ‘we have very strict rules but it gets compensated by the fact that none of us is required to follow them all, at all times’ – such is the state of our constitution at the moment. If you look closely you’ll find democracy is in suspension. Civil rights in recession and the state freedom of speech can be assessed by the fact that a lawyer was found guilty of contempt of the court because he tweeted criticising the CJI; the fact that the lawyer is a harsh critique of the PM and also a political opponent should tell you the rest of the story. The ethnocultural diversity that India recognised and celebrated as a strength has been lost too. We’re no longer a land of equal citizenship, for the first time in its history, the parliament signed off on a bill that takes ‘religious’ identity of a person before granting citizenship, into account- CAA. No prizes for guessing that the Hindu right-wing party in power excluded, Muslims and accepted everyone else, in that piece of legislation. Dissent is being criminalised, poor Dr Kaleef is in jail for 6 months and a day before the 15th of Aug, his stay has been extended by 3 more months, for making a speech criticising strong man CM of the ruling party.
Founding fathers of the nation envisioned an India on the ideals of shared patriotism, but that notion is being challenged by the communal supremacists, who believe India is the place for Hindus and everyone else and especially Muslims are 2nd class citizens. Communal majority under the gab of poplar sovereignty is asserting its right-wing ideology upon the soul of this nation, that was built for all people, on the principles of ‘equality before the law’.
Time has come for India to unite again to fight to retain its freedom from – majoritarianism, despotic rule. To re-establish, a humane liberal state one which values civil liberty and liberal constitutionalism. India needs to find its provincialism from the darkness of cultural and religious nationalism, that surrounds it. Constitutional morality is required to be established again, dissent needs to find its respectable space again in the public discourse. Media needs to be freed from clutches of the fascist forces. Indian people have to come together to protect the diversity of the state.
We need to resurrect the India of love, the India of hope and the India of equality again.
My idea of India recognises her identity from antiquity to eternity but not at the cost of freedom of its citizens.
Jai Hind .. Jai Bharat.