Home > 2017 > Freedom Fighters lament India moving away from the Ideals of Equality, (...)

Mainstream, VOL LV No 35 August 19, 2017

Freedom Fighters lament India moving away from the Ideals of Equality, Justice and Dignity for All

Sunday 20 August 2017

by Bharat Dogra, Jagmohan Singh

The freedom movement of India is a vast saga of great sacrifices, very inspiring courage and an overwhelming commitment to securing liberty from the bondage of colonial rule, a commitment which enabled a very large number of freedom fighters to endure the greatest hardships for long periods without wavering from their firm commitment. This will always remain a source of great inspiration for persons and groups who want to devote their life to a higher cause. At the same time it is important to remember that while ending colonial rule or moving in this direction was certainly the immediate goal of freedom fighters most of them certainly looked beyond this and expressed clear and strong views about their commitment to an India based on equality, justice and dignity for all citizens.

There were of course several streams in our great freedom movement. There were the revolutionaries, best symbolised by Shahid Bhagat Singh and his colleagues, there were the much larger number of Congress members in the main Gandhian movement, there were the Congress Socialists, the movement led by Subhash Chandra Bose and then there were the other Left groups. There were also various movements of workers and farmers which were very much a part of the larger freedom movement. However, what is common to all these movements was that they all were committed to socialism and secularism, while the very sad reality today is that today we are farther away from the ideals of secularism and socialism than we were ever before in the post-freedom days. What is worse, as things stand today, we seem to be drifting further away from these two ideals at a relentless pace.

There can be difference of opinion about the details of socialism, but its most essential component is certainly the reduction of inequalities and coming as close to equality of income and opportunities as possible. Many freedom fighters were keenly following events in contemporary world from this perspective and they enthusiastically supported those changes which showed promise of reducing inequalities and helping the poor and oppressed people. As the critique of colonial rule was also based to a large extent on the systemic plunder of our country and its masses including farmers, artisans and workers. The freedom fighters very naturally wanted a system based on equality which prioritized the removal of poverty and deprivation.

Unfortunately the trend in recent years has been towards increasing inequalities and this trend has further worsened during the last two or three years. Forces have been unleashed which will increase inequalities even more in the near future. In the first three decades after independence there was certainly an agenda of redistribution of land in favour of the landless and poor in rural India but this has been given up now and replaced by a strong role for governments to find land for corporate interests. Crony capitalism and the rapid cornering of resources and contracts by a few favoured top corporate players are increasing and some of these big players have ambitions of near monopolistic control in some key areas. Such factors not only increase economic inequalities but in addition are also a threat to democracy.

Recently the Commitment to Reduce Inequalities Index was released for 152 countries. In this index the rank of India has been placed way below at 132 which means that in terms of commitment to reduce inequality India is among the worst performing countries. In fact this report has specifically criticized India for this low commitment while also pointing out that there is a huge potential for reducing poverty in this country by reducing inequalities—just reducing one-third of inequality can result in ending the poverty of 170 million people.

Most of our freedom fighters were deeply committed to the unity of the country based on social equality, respect for all faiths, communal harmony and non-discrimination. This unity was on the one hand necessary for driving out the colonial rulers and on the other hand this was also necessary for justice and peace in post-independence India. With some exceptions India has a reasonably good record of communal harmony and adherence to secularism in the post-independence period taken as a whole. Of course some mistakes needed to be corrected but the overall record was reasonably good. We are not denying that some very unfortunate incidents took place and some very serious mistakes were made, but still taking the entire post-independence period as a whole there was a reasonably good record of secularism and communal harmony in India.

But this record has been marred in the last three years because of many tragic incidents of discrimination and violence, worst of all in the many incidents of mob lynching which spread panic among vulnerable sections in several parts of country.

Our freedom fighters for many years faced the cruel repression of imperialist forces and from this as well from their understanding of imperialist plunder of the country they developed a common understanding of a strong resistance to imperialist forces. The legacy of the freedom movement tells us that we should continue to resist new and emerging forms of imperialism. However, instead of such a positive development, we see big corporate players cornering land and resources in Africa and the government being very generous towards the most exploitative multinational companies including those which want to dominate food , farming and seeds by spreading GM crops or in other ways. While our struggle during the freedom movement was for reclaiming our sovereignty and self-reliance, we now find our policies being guided more and more by the interests of these multinational companies and the wider imperialist interests.

When Shahid Bhagat Singh and his comrades showed the path of opposing imperialism plus bringing in real change by giving the slogan of ‘long live revolution’, they were emphasising the importance of changing the entire system based on inequalities and exploitation, social discrimi-nation and communalism. On Independence Day, can we reaffirm our commitment to the aims and aspirations of these freedom fighters?

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. Prof Jagmohan Singh is the Chairperson of Shahid Bhagat Singh Centenary Foundation and a nephew of Shahid Bhagat Singh. He has been involved closely with various human rights initiatives as well as presentation of ideas and writings of freedom fighters in the proper perspective.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62