Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 10: Rethinking the Indian Republic

I got used to the greeting - Happy Republic Day. This is a new trend, I would not recall being greeted with this ten years back, but something has caught on since then. I would be tempted to think that we Indians have become more conscious about the republic, but may not be so - it is more like Happy Diwali and Happy New Year perhaps.

However, as we return again to our Happy Republic Day, it is important to look back to ourselves, and also our constitution, that unusally long document which wanted to say what we ought to be. It was adopted by our leaders full of hope, who wanted to govern India as a modern country. They were ambitious, otherwise who will talk about universal adult suffarage in a country of millions of poor, landless and illiterate; they spoke about secularism in an ancient land, where daily lives are governed by traditions and beliefs; and they believed in socialism while the riches of the country was mostly concentrated. They wanted to forge an united identity, above the melee of languages, cultures and beliefs. India was possibly the most ambitious project in democracy the world has ever seen.

As we stand back after 58 years, some part of it looks too ambitious, indeed. We are as unequal as we ever were, not just in terms of what we have, but also what we can have - in terms of opportunities. But, at the same time, the democracy project has been a resounding success, bringing forth the biggest and profoundest affirmative action programme in History, leading to a political realignment equal to the revolution that was ushered into American politics by Barack Obama, every day.

As for secularism, we are at an inflexion point in India, where the ideals of our secular country is at a low point than it ever was, and we are obviously lost in the middle of events like the ones in Gujrat 2002 and Mumbai 2008.

I don't really think we have a choice but being secular though. How else do we build a modern country. We have at least 200 million people in India who are not Hindus, and possibly another 500 to 600 million who do not suffer from Brahminical complex? It is only naive to suggest that we create a modern, prosperous country without 70 to 80% of the population. However, those who suggest this kind of things possibly did not know the other 80% exists.

Besides, without being secular, we stop being democratic. The point is not just the 80% population here. It is about one can not be free without everyone around him/her being free. Because excluding other human beings from our lives make us less human. And, besides, though I do fully understand the pains of those who lost their loved ones in Mumbai 2008, and those who did the same in Gujrat 2002, I also know our secularism and freedom are not worth losing over anything: economic progress, assassin's bullet, or even the terrorist's madness. I know the words of Benjamin Franklin by heart - Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.


As I say, we are at an inflexion point in India's history. We have an election in next few months, and we shall usher in, most possibly, a government which will dedicate their energies to changing what we believe, forever. The Hindu nationalists surely learnt from their loss last time, and if given power, they will sway out of the middle road they have already tried and leave the modernist agenda behind. We are possibly going to see an extreme era of politics driven by fear and xenophobia, the end of our republic, secularism, freedom and democracy.

This day, 26th January 2009, may go down in our last Republic Day when we were free to dream unless we strive to save the dream.

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