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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Swaraj—Unto the Last

A Patriotic Thought

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by V R Krishna Iyer


Swaraj for whom? Ambanis or adivasis? For the proprietariat or proletariat? For a developmental future of the destiny of a billion Indians or an MNC-mortgage of our national resources to foreign freebooters for whom the bells of Bharat’s material and human wealth toll the knell of social justice and egalitarian right to life of the have-not sectors in dignity and divinity? For a ‘socialist, secular, democratic Republic’ which belongs politically to “We, the People of India” geared “to wipe every tear from every eye” of the lowliest and the lost, or for Privatization Unlimited flowing from the dominant exotic North in collaboration with native creamy layers? Or for a bastard culture of mammon-mad, class-intoxicated, insatiably materialistic pleasure or power to plunder, or a neglected indigent agrarian community dreaming of a fairer deal after Independence, or for a technologically advanced industrialisation involving extravagant and pollutive investment making the rich richer and the poor poorer and making Swaraj a mirage and Swadeshi suffer seppuku? Quo vadis Bharat Mahan and people’s raj which was Rajiv Gandhi’s 21st century vision and Mahatma Gandhi’s glorious mission to achieve which he launched a do-or-die struggle? Where is the promised transformation after 60 years of Freedom or are the vast people still deceived by an illusion, what with their great expectations darkened utter frustration?

An expressive description of India’s contradictory condition is graphically similar to what I remember reading in the opening passage in The Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch-of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. (Charles Dickens)

The basic structure of our Republic and the fundamental status of human rights in its plural dimensions are contained in the great Preamble to the Constitution which stresses the socialist, secular, democratic nature and ethos of our society and State. Similarly, Parts III and IV of the Constitution project the value-vision of our Founding Fathers. But perhaps the most priceless part of our constitutional value-system is found in Part IVA (Article 51A) spelling out the fundamental duties of every citizen, be he supremo of State power or pariah of powerlessness.
Article 51A runs thus:
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institution; to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.

These duties are binding on the President and Prime Minister and every other Minister at the Central and State levels as well as every other high echelon in public service and legislature. Of course, the judges are in office only after taking their oath of allegiance under the Constitution. Alas! Having taken the oath of office, if the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister or any other oath-bound functionary consciously contravenes his constitutional obligation, he deserves to forfeit his office because what is supreme is the Constitution itself. It must be remembered that the Preamble, unlike in an ordinary statute, is an integral part of the Constitution, breach of which is too grave to be forgiven. Moreover, political parties in power must abide by their own great traditions or stultify the grand features eloquently expressed by the sublime leaders who represent India before the world, like, for instance, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranatha Tagore, Lokamanya Tilak or, above all, Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. In this context, I may mention, with great emphasis, that the Indian National Congress once presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi is the real Congress Party. If there is a grave ideological deviation from the principles of those days, it will be a betrayal of our Independence. It is equally important that the country has broadly accepted Vivekananda inspirationally, secularly and socialistically. This ‘cyclonic sadhu’ once addressed the working class:

Our proletariat are doing their duty…is there no heroism in it? Many turn out to be heroes, when they have some great task to perform… and it is you who are actually doing this, ye ever trampled labouring classes of India; I bow to you.
- (Marx and Vivekananda, p. XVI)

THE greatness and glory, the wonder and wisdom of India that is Bharat is best expressed by Max Muller:

if we were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power, and beauty that nature can bestow-in some parts a very paradise on earth-I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant-I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life-again I should point to India.

To be truly Indian is to be verily universal.
The unity and fraternity, the commitment to social tranquillity and concern for humanity are integral to India’s comity and camaraderie in the international community. We should never go after the Atlantic Big Power authoritarianism. We must remember that Nehru once asserted with dignity in Parliament in an answer to President Eisenhower’s saucy retort: “We are not international mendicants.” Even so, our present policy and even internal economy ill-accord with these great sentiments and national sovereignty which govern Indian ethos. Sometimes I have been surprised at our comrades in the Communist Marxist Party curiously supporting a Central Government which has a Yankee yen and dollar loyalty. I am then reminded of what Marx and Engels once thought and said. By the 1870s Marx and Engels began to have apprehensions about some of their followers, who proclaimed themselves ‘Marxists’, that they would falsify the basic concept of scientific socialism and turn it into a dogma. By that time Marx had dissociated himself from such ‘Marxists’ with his famous reply, “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” This was not, as is sometimes assumed, a casual remark, but a statement frequently repeated by Marx, expressing his growing misgivings about the ‘Marxists’ appearing at that time. Engels also shared these sentiments. He called many of these ‘Marxists’ as “people whose incompetence is matched only by their ignorance”.

Every hour of power, every public figure who commands the state’s authority shall remember what the first Prime Minister proclaimed as integral to our independence in his historic speech committing the nation to the profoundest obligation.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we slip out from the old to the new, when as age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed finds utterance. It is filling that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

This unending undertaking is an empowerment of the weakest Indian as a command to the highest instrumentality of state. Our generation is heir to the sublime sovereignty under our Constitution. Any deviance, delinquency or dereliction by any in charge of constitutional authority is grossly guilty of fiduciary duty at the instance of the humblest have-nots.

Alas! We have promises to keep and miles to go before we, the least and the lowliest members are free in divinity and dignity, life’s necessities and equal opportunities. Than alone Indian humanity can claim as a reality Swaraj—Unto the Last. Why Unto the last? Because:

No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy. (Herbert Spencer)

The author, a distinguished former Judge (now retired) of the Supreme Court, was the Law Minister in the first Communist Party-led State Government in Kerala (1957-59).

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