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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 35

Thirty Years After

Tuesday 19 August 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


Remembering August Fifteenth has become a ritual followed with religious punctilio. This is as it should be, for the august day marked the end of national bondage and the dawn of Freedom.

But the balance-sheet of the thirty years since Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolour on the rampart of the Red Fort is a shame on our conscience as a nation, a proud nation that rightly claims no small place under the sun. Poverty, grinding, heart-breaking poverty pervades the picturesque landscape of this rich land, and yet the sight of this poverty does not break our hearts, at least the majority of those who are better off. The poor and the affluent live side by side in the land of Gandhi, and this grotesque coexistence is officially blessed as our very cherished mixed economy.

Our freedom struggle had enshrined as one of its objectives the eradication of the scourge of untouchability. To instil a sense of human dignity into the untouchable—the vast mass of the rural poor—Gandhi had christened him as Harijan, the man of god. Thirty years after winning power, India’s political elite has not only permitted this accursed institution to continue but is today only excited over the atrocities committed on the Harijan.

Which political party in this country of six hundred millions can honestly claim that it has dedicated itself unswervingly for not only the removal of the Harijan’s disabilities but for the eradication of the very social roots of the system that keeps him under economic subjugation? No doubt, many, if not most, of them talk of socialism, but few can claim to have been engaged in organising the millions of rural poor so that they may hold their own. Had this been achieved in substantial quantity, the face of India would have been different today: the village poor would have fought out its own battle, social and economic, and with that the ugly, dehumanising disparities between the rich and the poor would have been reduced, if not eliminated.

What is true of the rural poor is equally true of his urban counterpart. As Industry has made considerable stride in these thirty years since independence, the working force running the industries has grown in numbers, but a very small section has been drawn into its own organised movement. The vast unorganised sector in our working class is the most glaring testimony to its colossal neglect by those among us who claim to be standing by it. Could not a powerfully organised movement of the working class be built in thirty long years? France and Italy did it. What must be lacking in our case is a leadership of grit and wisdom.

Our freedom struggle drew its militant contingents from the nation’s youth with their death-defying spirit of sacrifice. What is the record since independence? The political establishments have failed to inspire the youth. Only the extremist fringes of both the Left and the Right could mobilise small sections of the youth. And the rest, the huge mass of them, have been criminally neglected by the political leadership, hardly bothering to provide them with any perspective or ideology. They were meant, largely, to be cheer boys or mastan gangs to be inducted into service only during election seasons. No wonder that in this abnormal vacuum there should appear such a hideous apparition of confirmed criminal proclivities as Sanjay Gandhi, propped up with all the resources of Authority.

Bereft of the sustenance of the organised working force, industrial or agrarian, and also of the mobilisation of the self-denying youth, politics in these thirty years, by and large, could not but be a plaything of a handful occupying the nation’s High Table. There is nothing surprising that today after three decades of independence, we have to witness a spectacular devaluation of political leaders. It is of little consequence for the nation as a whole if Yashwantrao Chavan prefers the Congress to carry the burden of Indira Gandhi’s political sins, instead of expelling her for all the misdeeds committed by her. Equally inconsequential in the long run are Raj Narain’s antics or Charan Singh’s hectoring or Morarji Desai’s pontifications. Behind them all are moving, silently but definitely, the manipulators of Big Money who really ruled behind Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and are today equally active in the parlour of the Janata Establishment.

It is time for all good men and women imbibed with tested patriotism and invested with social conscience—whether they belong to the Janata or the Congress, the Communist or the Socialist—to come together and take up the onerous but sacred task of organising the millions in our fields and factories battling with back-breaking poverty, and instilling into them the consciousness of the decisive role that History enjoins upon them to play in the politics of this great country.

The August Fifteenth after thirty years beckons us to build a true democracy in which Freedom from Poverty shall not be just a distant objective but a living reality.

(Mainstream, August 13, 1977)

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