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Mainstream, VOL LII No 5, January 25, 2014 - Republic Day Special

Whither India?


Tuesday 28 January 2014, by SC

The day our country observed its first Republic Day by adopting the Constitution of free India and proclaiming itself as a Republic, our first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a message to the nation on January 26, 1950, underscored the following:

There is a peculiar appropriateness about this January 26, for this day links up the past with the present and this present is seen to grow out of that past. Twenty years ago we took the first pledge of independence. During these twenty years we have known struggle and conflict and failure and achievement. The man who led us through apparent failure to achievement is no more with us but the fruit of his labours is ours. What we do with this fruit depends upon many factors, the basic factors being those on which Gandhiji laid stress throughout his career—high character, integrity of mind and purpose, a spirit of tolerance and co-operation and hard work. I can only suggest to our people that we should found our republican freedom on these basic characteristics and shed fear and hatred from our minds and think always of the betterment of the millions of our people.

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.

We are due to observe our sixtyfifth Republic Day in five days from now—that is, next Sunday. This is when we are reminded of those words of Nehru precisely because (a) the basic factors on which Gandhiji laid emphasis in his time are practically absent in the present-day political class, and (b) there is no gainsaying that we have barely guarded the ‘fortune’ with adequate zeal by “our own good work” in all these years and hence the tendency of it slipping away from our grasp has become stronger than at any time in the past; no doubt this has also been the consequence of both the slackening in our efforts to guard it properly and our looking “in wrong directions”.

As a matter of fact, at one level the crisis facing the political class in the country as well as the polity as a whole is one of the most severe India has seldom witnessed in its post-independence history.

Five years ago it was written in these columns in this journal’s Republic Day Special 2009:

As dark clouds of uncertainty hover over the horizon prior to Republic Day, our domestic situation is no less discouraging. While internal forces of detabilisation are working at a feverish pace to translate their nefarious designs into reality, our own deficiencies are enfeebling and weakening us. The country has doubtless registered spectacular successes in different realms of science and technology and our GDP growth has of late attracted world attention. Nonetheless the neo-liberal paradigm we have unquestioningly embraced as the only means for development in today’s globalised world, while facilitating the rise of a vibrant and upwardly mobile middle class, has accentuated disparities across the nation with many in the countryside forced to endure persisting penury even as the other India shines brighter than ever before completely unconcerned of the misery of Bharat, representing the bulk of our populace. (The Dalit assertion on the one side and the Maoist onslaughts on the other in large tracts of the deprived landmass are the inevitable consequence of this phenomenon.) These apart, the Satyam fraud has once again focussed attention to the murky misdoings of the corporate houses and no amount of protestation of this being an isolated case of delinquency, as is being propagated by certain elements in government, will sell since Satyam’s similarity with Enron’s fate cannot be concealed by any degree of obfuscation. And such developments have also affected the credibility of the media, whose probing eyes had overlooked the kind of fraud Satyam was indulging in precisely because dominant media conglomerates are intrinsically linked to corporate interests in one form or another.

In these five years mega-scale corruption has affected all sections of society and scaled unpre-cedented heights. And what is most shameful, alongside corporates the political class, especially those politicians in the highest echelons of the governments, both at the Centre and in the States, have been afflicted by this malaise which has grown exponentially with the passage fo time. Indeed the Bofors scam pales into insignificance before the scams of today—2G spectrum, Coalgate etc.—in terms of dimension and magnitude. This is why there has been an upsurge of the people at large—the common masses representing the aam aadmi—through initiatives by civil society outfits like India Against Corruption and subsequently political interventions in the form of organisations like the Aam Aadmi Party.

The meteoric rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the political horizon of the national Capital has been the most striking development in this period. This was reflected in the latest elections to the Delhi Assembly. It emerged as the second largest party in the State legislature with 28 seats closely following the BJP which could secure the maximum number of seats on account of the anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Congress (due to both massive corruption and runaway prices of essential commo-dities) which was forced to bite the dust and had to remain content with a paltry eight seats. But in the process the AAP frustrated the BJP’s attempts at government-formation even if the latter could do so in such major States of north and central India as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. That was doubtless a blow to the prime ministerial aspirant of the main Opposition party at the Centre giving rise to the spectre of his remaining the PM-in-waiting in perpetuity. What is more, with outside support from the Congress the AAP formed a government in Delhi.

More noteworthy was the AAP’s unconventional style of functioning. It took on the police for being inactive in tackling the rising cases of sexual assaults on women and taking prompt action against drug traffickers. Thus at times its moves took the shape of vigilante acts and invited sharp criticism from various quarters. Its CM decided to go on a dharne before the Union Home Minister’s office in South Block (on being refused permission to do so he with his ministerial colleagues sat on dharna in front of Rail Bhavan in central Delhi) demanding suspension of the policemen who had disobeyed the Delhi Law Minister’s directive. The Opposition and influential sections of the media as also a number of citizens assailed the AAP Minister’s strongarm measures against Ugandan women who registered their protests and filed police complaints and AAP activists were charged with having hurled racist slurs, something which the latter flatly denied. It was also a bizarre scene of a CM going on dharna and spending the night on the footpath with his ministerial colleagues.

The CM and his Ministers did court controversy but they were accompanied by their supporters—the AAP activists—in their thousands. And the public opinion, despite strenuous efforts by sections of the media, did not turn against them even if many voiced reservations over the tactics employed. This was enough to prove that the persons in authority ruling the State or the nation for years, regardless of their political complexion, have lost public endorsement but not the AAP leadership. The lakhs of persons lining up to join the AAP after its spectacular success in Delhi is also testimony to its mounting stature.

No doubt the AAP leaders in government in Delhi have to learn to govern for which purpose they have been elected to power. But their undiminished public following shows that the people are restless and are ready to join the political stream to change the prevailing state of the country through constitutional means even if these are not strictly in conformity with set conventions. Without minimising the crisis staring us in the face this phenomenon does offer more than a ray of hope that things can change for the better in the days ahead.

This does not at all mean that one should be oblivious of or minimise the serious threat from the communal forces on the prowl. The prospect of the BJP capturing power through the ballot remains a potent danger to the edifice of our secular democracy. Yet the positive features of the AAP phenomenon cannot also be dismissed offhand.

This is where one actually feels the need of the stalwarts of yesteryears who guided our nation through all the trials and tribulations before and after freedom. The possible eclipse of the premier national organisation, the Congress, in the coming national elections due shortly is a mtter of deep concern (now that the Left-propelled Third Front idea has proved to a non-starter and the Left itself is in disarray due to their own follies). Yet there is still time for it to rejuvenate itself by seeking to learn from the AAP experiment. But for that to happen it has to go back to the values of the freedom struggle (especially those espoused on January 26, 1930) it had chosen to abandon under the influence of the proponents of the neo-liberal paradigm of development, totally alien to the Congress ethos developed since the days of our battle for independence.

Against the backdrop of the crisis facing the polity the challenges before the nation beckon the people to turn them into opportunities for advance braving all odds. That is the only way India can move forward if it has to steer clear of all the fissiparous trends raising their ugly head and defeat them through united action in the days ahead. That is the perspective before us on this Republic Day.

January 21 S.C.

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