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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 6, January 30, 2010

Warning Note from the Past


Monday 8 February 2010, by SC

Sixty years ago in a message to the nation on the occasion of India becoming a Republic, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was aptly described as the architect of modern India, conveyed the following warning note:

We are fortunate to witness the emergence of the Republic of India and our successors may well envy us this day; but fortune is a hostage which has to be zealously guarded by our own good work and which has a tendency to slip away if we slacken in our efforts or if we look in wrong directions.

That was on January 26, 1950. The value of those words has increased with the passage of time. Today as we observe the sixtieth anniversary of the event that undoubtedly reinforced our freedom and democracy—namely, the adoption of the Constitution of independent India alongside the proclamation of the Republic—as also the eightieth anniversary of the declaration of Independence Day on January 26, 1930 during British rule (to highlight the demand for purna swaraj or complete independence made at the Congress’ Lahore session at the fag end of 1929), the words acquire new meaning and importance.

The Constitution played a vital role in not only strengthening the country’s unity and integrity but in also erecting the foundation of its allround progress based on the fundamental principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. True, the document could not provide answers to all the complex problems that a nation as diverse as ours faced as we confronted manifold challenges which the founding fathers of the Constitution had not envisaged. (One of these at present is that relating to the demand for small States in order to fulfil regional aspirations.) Hence it did undergo changes through major amendments that the prevailing situation warranted. Yet on the whole the Constitution in its essence has been able to stand the test of time. It has also served as a shining example before developing states that had emerged on the international scene throwing off the colonial yoke.

The last sixty years have witnessed India’s overall advance despite numerous setbacks in different spheres of activity. And while recording this advance we did not in any way barter away or curtail any part of our hard-won freedom. This was no mean achievement considering the enormity of external pressures we were subjected to. If today India is a major power—and certainly one of the most rapidly growing developing countries—that has been largely possible because of the opportunities provided to our citizens by our Constitution even though economic and social stratification in the nation remains on anachronism that needs to be removed if we are to register our unfettered march forward in the coming days.

Our scientific-technological achievements and unquestioned successes in such fields as IT do not bear repetition. In the realms of both nuclear technology and space science we have taken bold strides over the years. In heavy industry and engineering our growth has indeed been striking. The economic reforms, started almost two decades ago, have also helped in the rise of a reasonably prosperous and upwardly mobile middle class.

Yet these should not make us blind to our unfinished tasks. We still have many promises to keep. We have not yet been able to wipe off the tears of the poor and the indigent as the Father of the Nation had decreed. These hapless people, the bulk of our populace, continue to dominate the countryside, especially our most backward regions. The fruits of development have yet to reach them. In fact the economic reforms, which benefited some sections of society, have not only completely bypassed them but actually perpetuated and aggravated disparities in the polity as a whole resulting in socio-economic tensions as manifest in the assertion of Leftwing extremism over vast tracts of our hinter-land. The threat of displacement of countless citizens in the rural areas due to SEZs and MNC or corporate-led industrialisation has added to the crisis in this field.

Fissiparous trends, communal violence, caste-based atrocities have come to the fore in recent years primarily due to the weaknesses or inactivity of our democratic forces while the phenomenon of terrorist onslaughts, indigenous as well as foreign-inspired, are seeking to undermine public security (in this the promotional role is regrettably being played by one of our prominent neighbours out of petty animosity). The challenges before us in the present setting are thus stupendous, to say the least.

However, what is essential is to consolidate our internal unity. This can be done only by taking active steps to reduce the level of disparities among the people at large through amelioration of the condition of those at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. If that happens it woiuld enhance our national security on the one side and deepen democracy on the other. But for that to happen concrete measures most be taken to translate into reality the Directive Principles of State Policy as laid down in the Constitution. Only with the aid of such steps can we hope to fulfil the basic desire of the people for a better life. We may remain indifferent to the fast-developing situation on this score only at our peril.

And it is here that we need to pay heed to the warning note Jawaharlal Nehru with his extraordinary foresight had struck sixty years ago:

…. fortune is a hostage which has to be zealously guarded by our own good work and which has a tendency to slip away if we slacken in our efforts or if we look in wrong directions.

We cannot risk forgetting those memorable words as we face enormous problems turning into phenomenal challenges on the domestic front.

January 25 S.C.

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