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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 34, August 14, 2010

Celebrating Independence Day

Sunday 22 August 2010, by Shree Shankar Sharan


It will be our 64th Independence Day on August 15, 2010 and a time to celebrate according to our official calendar. Personally, I have found little cause for celebrating it as our independence Day. Achieving independence of the British was hardly a rare event. Firstly there had been many more invaders of our country who had beaten us either temporarily or till they had been ousted by another invader like the Mughals by the East India Company and then the British Government or had been been defeated by powerful Indian resistance like the Marathas against Mughal rulers in large parts of the country or nearly defeated by the sepoys and civilians of India in our first War of Independence in 1857.

Again it produces the delusion that India did not enjoy sovereignty over her people (except in small principalities). This was indeed a colossal lie or colossal ignorance or vicious propaganda of the Western historians. The Magadh empire under Chandragupta and Asoka, and the Gupta dynasty under Chandragupta 2 and Harsha-wardhan in the Hindu period and the Mughal empire under Emperor Akbar are the golden periods of not only Indian but world history. According to Toynbee, the world never had a nobler king and and a greater messenger of peace and coexistence of all faiths and races than Emperor Asoka of Magadh.

In several millennia of her history this vast country had many ups and downs, many victories and some defeats none of which has been publicly celebrated. We need to let time forget the British impudence against India not just by force but by deceit and divide and rule and erase its memory from our minds like the Greek invasion of India. Independence Day only rubs in the memory of the short spell of British rule in India and negatively concedes their supremacy or superiority over us. The great Indian civilsation was bound to gobble them by force or by assimilation as it did to other invading hordes of Central Asia with some exceptions.

What was rare and special to the occasion was that a mighty empire was made to bend to the will of India not by violence but by truth and non-violence, a spiritual legacy of Asia, under humanity’s brilliant leader and spokesman Mahatma Gandhi, who thereby became a global mentor of the poor, the deprived and the discriminated against. It put an end to racial discrimination, the product of Western arrogance and the White’s mission to civilise the world. If we have to celebrate the 15th August it should not be as Independence Day but as Equality and Brotherhood Day since the UN has already declared 2nd October, the date of birth of Mahatma Gandhi, as Non-violence Day. Asia day would have been equally suitable but would hurt our African brothers.

Indeed what do we celebrate our independence from? Although we are politically free, and many would question it because of the continuing Western dominance, are we free mentally? As statistics would have it, there are more people speaking English than there were in pre-1947 and more wanting to send their children to English-medium public schools than before 1947. The trend is also catching up with the poor who see a dimmer future for children who do not know English. In matters of dress the men to begin with and women more recently are taking to Western attire. As the medium of communication English enjoys a primacy over regional languges or the national language. We no longer refer to our country as Bharat or Hindustan but India. Indian films have produced a hybrid called Hinglish. Our best minds think, write and communicate in English. The Prime Minister and other important Ministers address their own people in English. Two things are happening as a result. We are losing a mark of national identity and a sense of pride in being Indian. We are also losing our creativity in favour of borrowing everything Western.

Secondly, the country is being split between India and Bharat divided by the language in which they converse, Bharat being in a continual disadvantage vis-a-vis India. A barrier is being raised between the rich and the poor making the latter feel neglected and unwanted losing faith in their leaders and given a chance turning to extremism. Indeed Gandhi’s swadeshi and empowerment of the people through panchayati raj and Nehru’s mixed economy and non-alignment have been given a quiet burial under the euphoric slogan of globalisation and pretended show of deep deference.

To our global leaders, India has ceased to be an ikon and the moral leader of the world.

WE are undoing our Constitution by following policies that alienate our people, specially those in want. In economic policy we measure our success in growth and not the main beneficiaries of growth. Distribututive justice has become a forgotten slogan. An Incomes Policy of the government is an anathema to the ruling party who only make appeals to curb conspicuous raise in executive salaries but turn the other way if they are not heeded. The minimum salary measured by the wages of NREGA of Rs 100 a day for a family of five, remains a fine prescription to keep the poor poor while the executive salaries soar. The growing rich and poor divide is likely to be politically explosive and dangerous. Poverty and growing unemployment is breeding mass support to Naxalites and Maoists in several poor States.

Yet like ostriches we refuse to believe that there is more to Naxalism than breach of law and order. A joint command structure of police and paramilitary has been set up as if we were fighting a war against an enemy. Maoism and Marx and Lenin’s theories of class war, class enemy and class struggle, and frowning on bourgeois democracy as fake with the exception perhaps of British democracy may be irrelevant for true democracies which care for the poor but can we in all honesty make that claim? Marxism and Maoism cannot be regarded as anti-national even though there are flaws in their logic. We as democrats should sit with them resolve and rectify their doubts and should not shy from owning mistakes or a change in basic policy which will promote employment and lessen poverty, for example, by land reforms and giving Panchayats a say in the location of industry beside compensation and a share in equity of the company. I have come across a beautiful policy in China that if you have an industrial job you lose a proportionate share of your land.

There are many instances of neglect of our agriculture. Irrigation is no longer a prime policy. Rural debt has to be reorganised by converting the moneylender’s usurious debt into bank debt. The policy of cutting agri-subsidies should only be gradually introduced and not be drastic and sudden. Crop insurance has to be rigorously enforced and no deaths permitted in rural areas in consequence of a government policy or non-enforcement of a policy.

Education is being visited by a progressive policy under the Right to Education Bill which should not be diluted. The bill on the right to food has to be quickly deliberated and adopted

We should not gloss over our failures like the PDS or NREGA but correct them or overhaul them. They are the life-line of the poor and should be addressed speedily. For NREGA it is wrong to offer employment only through schemes of hard manual labour which women and old people cannot cope with. Light manual labour schemes like spinning and weaving and khadi should also be brought under its ambit now that it has been named after Mahatma Gandhi.

To put an end to corruption siphoning off the poor man’s money we should open accounts in the name of BPL families to which survival money of Rs 500 a month should be transferred directly by the government and banks. Survival money should not depend on commensurate labour but as duty to see that nobody dies of starvation. NREGA earnings should be additive to survival money and integrated with the Plan.

The colossal problem of corruption in high places needs to be relentlessly fought by the supreme leaders of every party. I remember Lal Bahadur Shastri contemplating refusal of tickets to corrupt candidates in the next election. Alas he did not live to see that day. But 100 billionaires being elected to Parliament by various parties bodes ill for the future of the country’s egalitarian vision and the credibility and probity of its leaders.

The government should desist from a policy of repression be it in Kashmir on protesting children or the North-East or Maoist leaders to promote a policy of reconciliation and cessation of violence which cannot be achieved by government diktat. Our country is delicately balanced between progress and chaos. The more people-friendly our policies are, firm within the limits of law and tempered with mercy, the safer will our democracy be. Our foreign policy has to be imbued with the same spirit. Nor should we needlessly compete with China in projecting ourselves through frivolous and costly events like the Commonwealth Games.

With these observations let me wish you a happy Independence (Equality and Brotherhood) Day and urge you to march ahead towards our cherished goal of wiping evey tear off every crying face. And urge the government to honour their pledge to this effect to the people and our founding fathers.

Shree Shankar Sharan is the Convener, Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail: shankarsharan

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