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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 35

Legacy We Uphold


Saturday 18 August 2007, by SC


As India completes sixty years of its existence as an independent nation, our thoughts invariably go back to those immortal freedom fighters who waged numerous struggles in varied forms, both violent and non-violent, to shake off the foreign yoke and usher in the dawn of freedom from alien rule. We also recount the extraordinary, and at times superhuman, sacrifices that they underwent in the battle to ensure our country’s emancipation from the oppression and exploitation of the British Raj that had stifled our progress and halted our advance. And while doing so we must without fail offer our sincere homage to the greatest revolutionary of this great nation—Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who, as Jawaharlal Nehru aptly pointed out, moved the millions in our vast subcontinent. In his foreword to D.G. Tendulkar’s Mahatma, Nehru wrote:

The amazing thing about Gandhi was that he adhered, in all its fullness, to his ideals, his conception of truth, and yet he did succeed in moulding and moving enormous masses of human beings... There was no compromise in him with what he considered evil. He moulded a whole generation and more and raised them above themselves, for the time being at least. That was a tremendous achievement.

However, besides Mahatma Gandhi we had a galaxy of leaders—not only his close associates like Nehru but persons of the calibre Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who, with all his differences and conflicts with Bapu, never hesitated in characterising him as the Father of the Nation in the midst of Subhas’ heroic exploits in South-East Asia as the commander of the Azad Hind Fauj. We had courageous figures as Surjya Sen of the Chittagong Armoury raid fame, Khudiram Bose who kissed the gallows at a tender age; and we had the legendary Bhagat Singh. We also had the socialist and communist stalwarts who sacrificed everything for the liberation of the Indian masses, willingly suffering privation, persecution and torture. It is the cumulative effect of the endeavour of all those personalities that we are independent today.

This year marks not only the diamond jubilee of our independence, but also the 150th anniversary of our First War of Independence which the British had deliberately tried to belittle by calling it Sepoy Mutiny. One vividly recalls the observance of the centenary of the Great 1857 Revolt in 1957 and Nehru’s stirring speech at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds on the occasion. But this time the 150th anniversary of that event is being sought to be observed on a wider scale so that the essence of our freedom, nationalism and nationhood is propagated to the grassroots, something that did not happen fifty years ago in 1957. Dissemination among the masses of the significance of the 1857 Uprising in today’s context is of inestimable value as it would provide a glimpse of the exceptional role of the common people, especially the peasantry in North India, in their bid to uproot British rule as well as bring into focus the remarkable Hindu-Muslim unity forged in the flames of that struggle.

Looking back over the sixty years that we have traversed since our attainment of independence in August 1947 we cannot but point to the substantial progress we have registered in several fields—in nuclear energy, space research, heavy industry, the IT sector in particular—despite all our constraints, some of them due to external pressures but mostly because of limitations imposed by our democratic system of governance.

Indeed preservation of the democratic structure in India is one of our most striking achievements for which legitimate credit must go to those giants, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, our first PM, who steered the country amidst all difficulties in the post-independence period. It is democracy which had given our teeming millions a power which their brethren in some of our neighbouring countries, especially Burma, have been tragically deprived for long years—the power to exercise the franchise and make the leaders at the helm accountable to them. The nineteen months of Emergency (1975-77) were indeed an aberration but once the people’s unfettered right to vote was restored, they used it to such devastating effect that the whole world was astonished beyond measure—they inflicted such a resounding defeat on the Emergency raj that its reimposition is next to impossible in today’s conditions in spite of the serious challenges we face on many fronts including those from terrorist depredations as well as secessionist movements in different parts of the country (notably J&K and the North-East). What is most encouraging is the growing realisation among wide sections of our populace that those challenges can be effectively met by not constricting but broadening democracy, something the leadership in our northwestern neighbour, Pakistan, has yet to fully comprehend. (Of course, the attacks on human rights in democratic India are also a feature one cannot possibly overlook. But what is striking is that voices of protest and resentment against such assaults are being raised from unexpected quarters within the country, something unthinkable even a few years ago.)

The democratic system of governance did impose constraints on the pace of our advance, and yet our progress has not been inconsequen-tial. Nevertheless, what cannot be denied is the bitter truth that the fruits of our successes have not percolated down to the lowest segments our polity. Thus while the overall growth, as manifest in the spectacular rise in the GDP, has been quite impressive it has definitely been lopsided—the widening disparities, reflected in the vulgar display of opulence and wealth by the rising band of billionaires and nouveau riche on the one side and the abysmal poverty in the rural areas as well as urban slums (where people are forced to do everything to eke out their existence) on the other, being an eyesore for an India that, according to our leaders, is on the move for a place in the sun. These disparities have doubtless grown exponentially with our uncritical accep-tance of the policies of globalisation alongside those of privatisation and liberatlisation. According to the latest findings of the Commi-ssion on the Condition of the Unorganised Sector Workers, while official figures claim the decline of the number of people below the poverty line, 77 per cent of India’s population constitute the “poor and vulnerable group”—that is, those who survive on Rs 20.30 per capita; as many as 79 per cent of the unorganised workers, 88 per cent of the SC/STs, 80 per cent of the OBCs and 84 per cent of the Muslims belong to this category. For those only concerned about our thriving middle class and the rapid rise of billionaires these figures are of course alarming but these do not surprise or shock those well aware of the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots that threatens a gradual Latin Americanisation of India in terms of socio-economic deprivation of the majority of our populace.

The political fall-out of such a phenomenon is not difficult to gauge. A year ago, on the occasion of Independence Day 2006, it was written in these columns:

...the worsening economic conditions in the vast rural landmass has given renewed impetus to the Left-extremist upsurge in large tracts of the country, especially the most backward regions of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and even Maharashtra and West Bengal. The most significant aspect of this upsurge is the enhanced participation of the bhumiputras—the depressed indigenous populace represented by the tribal people comprising the Dalits, Girijans and adivasis. The attempts to tackle both the terror acts like those in Mumbai and Srinagar as well as the rural violence resorted to by the Maoists and Naxalites through strong-arm administrative measures (or the ill-conceived Salwa Judum strategy that has the dangerous prospect of unleashing a civil war among tribals) without any political move to address and remove the causes of discontent that engender such acts of terror cannot in the least bring about a lasting solution to the problem which is intrinsically intertwined with alienation of large segments of our own citizens in the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

It needs to be emphasised that that alienation has increased far more in the course of the last twelve months to the detriment of Indian unity.

In such an environment fissiparous trends of casteism, communalism, regionalism are on the rise. The casteist assault assumes different forms, even as Dalit assertion, illustrated in Mayawati’s massive victory in the UP Assembly polls notwithstanding her ‘rainbow coalition’, is also a fact of life. The majoritarian onslaught by the Hindutvavadis is a grim reality even if it is currently confined to States like Gujarat. In order to spearhead regional aspirations regional parties have struck deep roots in various parts but the divisive nature of these elements comes out starkly during inter-State disputes involving river waters for example. In most cases the national perspective, underscored several years ago during the memorable Visalandhra struggle, is missing.

At the same time there is an escalation of intolerance on the part of religious fundamentalists as revealed in the wanton assault on novelist Taslima Nasreen, already hounded out of her own country by the revivalist forces, in Hyderabad. This strikes at the root of our democratic values and civilisational ethos that our freedom struggle preserved through all adversities.

Side by side corruption has taken enormous proportions in every sphere of activity and is eating into the vitals of both our economy and polity. Unless drastic measures are taken to curb the proliferation of black money, this scourge cannot be rooted out from our body politic. Needless to underscore, this too severely undermines our democracy from within.

The worsening socio-economic conditions in the countryside are forcing farmers in even apparently properous States to commit suicides at a time when they are faced with manifold problems linked to rural indebtedness and public sector banks are absent in the rural areas to offer requisite loans on easy terms for the benefit of the needy. And there is no lessening of the magnitude of the suicides despite certain rectificatory steps, howsoever inadequate. In fact everywhere it is the aam aadmi who is at the receiving end. The SEZs coming up in different regions will further accentuate the misery of the common people regardless of the corporate media’s protestations to the contrary. The unique resistance of the people of Nandigram to the proposed chemical hub of the Salim group of Indonesia has recorded considerable success with the West Bengal Government’s retreat but the political moves to suppress the local residents through violent means continue unbated. The Left parties’ agitation for land in Khammam and the consequent police firing have heightened tensions between the ruling party and the supporters of the UPA dispensation; and this is not confined to Andhra Pradesh.

These tensions have reached a critical point with the Manmohan Singh Government’s deci-sion to operationalise the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal which the Left parties are opposing on the ground that this agreement amounts to what former PM V.P. Singh has eloquently described as a “charter of dependence” on the sole superpower. There are serious apprehensions of the UPA leadership taking concrete steps to jettison the independence of judgment in our foreign policy as a consequence of such an agreement which, experts and scientists legitimately feel, would adversely affect our sovereignty in the long term. It is on such occasions that one is reminded of the words of our first Prime Minister who, during his visit to Washington D.C. in October 1949, had categorically told the US House of Representatives and Senate that “we do not seek any national advantage in exchange for any part of our hard-won freedom”—words that acquire added importance in the present scenario.

The conditions in the domestic sphere and the international arena are getting increasingly complex by the day. This is the time when we need to recall our freedom struggle and those who gave their life and sacrificed their youth for our tomorrow. We remember the countless martyrs and their selfless dedication—in particular Bhagat Singh, the seventyfifth anniversary of whose martyrdom we observed a few months ago. We also remember the distinguished freedom fighter P.C. Joshi, the first General Secretary of the Communist Party but for whose indomitable spirit, organisational acumen and political foresight the Communist Party would not have taken the national shape that it was able to get in the forties; in the year of his birth centenary we need to realise what price he was compelled to pay for standing by and steadfastly defending India’s political independence when his colleagues tried in vain to paint it as jhooti azadi in a bid to stage the caricature of a ‘revolution’.

On the sixtieth anniversary of our independence it is our incumbent duty to carry forward the legacy of those stalwarts of our freedom struggle in order to strengthen and reinforce our cherished independence, sovereignty, secularism and pluralist ethos, freedom of thought and action—all epitomised in our unique democracy which needs to be made meaningful for all our citizens at the earliest through the widest possible mass mobilisation for national regeneration.

August 14 S.C.

[(Readers, Please Note

This Independence Day Special being a little less than double the size of an ordinary number, there will be no issue of Mainstream on August 25, 2007. The next issue will appear on September 1, 2007.

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