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Mainstream, VOL LII No 34 August 16, 2014 - Independence Day Special

Spirit of August Fifteenth

Friday 15 August 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

August Fifteenth, the day when the Tricolour of independent India was hoisted on the ramparts of the Red Fort thirtyseven years ago, not only brings back the imprishable memories of the nation’s freedom struggle in which millions upon millions participated, but also reminds us of the pledges unredeemed and the commitments unfulfilled.

In the four decades since independence, the nation has been unified as the mosaic of petty princedoms disappeared; the economy has been strengthened with planned industrialisation; the democratic process has been expanded; the security of the country reinforced through the policy of self-reliance in defence, tested out when attacked by greedy neighbours; the cultural life has ceased to be dormant; and the nation’s role and responsibilities widely acknow-ledged in the difficult international environment.

All this and a lot more have been achieved and there is ample reason to be proud about this record. Perhaps on other country has registered the level of progress after over-throwing the colonial yoke as our country has. And yet we cannot claim to have reached the goal we set out thirtyseven years ago.

The Order of the Day on August 15, 1947 directed by Free India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said: “To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”

What is the actual record? The freedom and opportunity for the common man is to be measured against the lengheing shadow of unemployment; poverty has not left the majority of the people while less than forty per cent of them are literate; prosperity has come to less than ten per cent, and the running of the democratic order is becoming more and more expensive with less and less chance for the individual unbacked by vested interests to participate in legislatures. And do our existing institutions, social, economic and political, ensure justice and fullness of life to the common man and woman who abound in overwhelming numbers this great Republic of ours?

This is not the moment to be cynical about those pledges and commitments; the time has come to think seriously how best we can overcome the impediments that stand in the way. It is a matter of shame for the entire nation that as its wealth has grown the bulk of it is cornered by a few leaving the majority with an utterly raw deal. It is a measure of our disgraceful insensitivity that we are becoming habituated to talk about the widening disparities without our conscience getting stirred.

If a new social order has to emerge—and that is precisely what those noble words of August 15 envisaged—then many of the existing structures have to be reshaped, values re-injected, outlook transformed. Nothing, really nothing, must be considered sacrosanct that holds back the realisation of an equitable socio-economic order. An unreal debate sometimes surface in our national life about the inviolable sanctity or otherwise of the Constitution, and most of us get het up about the presidential or parliamentary system of government, about more powers for the States or less. What matters really is the score by the measuring-rod that Gandhi handed us down, how far have we progressed to wipe every tear from every eye.

Today, as we look around, we find our independence assailed by corrosion from within and by threats to the physical integrity of the country. In the running of our democracy, we have let distortions come in, that entrench obsurantism in the form of caste loyalties and communal passions: thirtyseven years after independence, it is amazing that instead of our system, out mode of public activity getting modernised, the clock is being put back. The amassing of wealth is characterised by the massive accumulation of ill-gotten black money which inevitably has polluted our politics. All this in turn undermines the fibre of the nation, and once the national fibre is weakened or damaged, it is bound to weaken the nation’s will and capacity to defend the integrity of the country and keep its frontiers inviolate.

Today as we face such a grim prospect, let us at the same time remember that the spirit of this great nation, its majority of the unlettered, famished and unclad, can never be broken from outside. It is all the more imperative that those in our national life who have eyes to see and ears to hear, must bestir themselves so that a mighty massive upsurge in defence of patriotism is unleashed, and with that purifying flood all the dross and the dirt are washed away. Must we not rise above the petty squabbles and futile confrontations that mark election battles, and help in the process of patriotic mobilisation for justice and equity, which alone can enable this nation defend and enrich its independence?

(‘Editor’s Notebook’ in Mainstream,

August 11, 1984)

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