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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 6

In Gandhian Mould


Saturday 26 January 2008, by SC


Fiftyeight years have passed since our first Republic Day when we gave ourselves a Constitution and turned the country into a Republic that ensured the consolidation of the independence we had won two-and-a-half years prior to January 26, 1950 as a consequence of the manifold strenuous struggles undertaken and extraordinary hardships endured by our freedom fighters led by that exceptional personality, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in their bid to shake off the foreign yoke. It is thus time for stock-taking with a view to understand how far the nation has progressed since we adopted the Republican Constitution and what has been the nature of that advance.

Despite all limitations, the most outstanding achievement in the past 58 years has been the reinforcement of our parliamentary democracy within our constitutional framework. If we look around us we are struck by the durability of both our Constitution and the democratic form of our parliamentary governance; this is indeed a unique phenomenon in the so-called Third World comprising the independent developing nations which emerged out of the colonial system that dominated the international scene for two long centuries. Few developing states, in our neighbourhood and beyond, can claim such a distinction. This comes out in sharper relief if we compare India with Pakistan and Bangladesh especially in the light of the latest events in those two South Asian entities. And that further underlines the stability of India’s socio-politico-economic process, so essential for effecting genuine national renewal.

The country has doubtless registered allround progress in the last six decades. This is reflected not only in our spectacular GDP growth but also in that fact that the Indian Union has already won recognition as a major global actor by dint of its scientific-technological performance manifest as much in its nuclear capability as in the strides it has taken in the field of information technology (wherein our successes do not bear elaboration). If the present US Administration is keen to forge closer ties with New Delhi in the post-Cold War era, it is largely because of the demonstration of our undeniable capacity in such areas (although one should never suffer from any illusion that Washington is motivated by altruistic proclivities). The same holds true of China which too is well aware of where we stand in specific fields as illustrated by the Chinese leaders’ latest pronouncements during our PM’s just-concluded highly rewarding visit to Beijing. As for Russia, it is fully conscious of India’s superpower status in certain realms of activity wherein Moscow it has had no hesitation in recognising New Delhi as a twentyfirst century giant.

All these developments, coupled with the rise of a vibrant and burgeoning middle class, testify to India’s emergence as a major power over the years. And this has become possible because of the sound foundations laid since the first years of our Republic by the architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who understood the importance of self-reliant growth at a time when several governments in our region were drawn into military blocs under the spell of the Pentagon’s all-pervasive dominance.

Yet this is not the entire picture of our post-independence tryst with destiny. We have also to reckon with the other India, that is, Bharat. If India is flourishing today, it must be admitted in all humility that Bharat under the impact of abject poverty, destitution, hunger, oppression and exploitation has witnessed little or no progress whatsoever since the colonial days. To ignore this stark reality of economic stratification of society is to remain blind, due to ignorance or by design, to the actual state of affairs.

The continuance—and even accentuation—of backwardness, especially in our vast rural hinterland, has been accompanied by the rise of fissiparous trends as seen in the increasing sway of casteism and communalism in today’s India. Caste prejudices remain intensely strong in a majority of States, in North India in particular, while recent years have witnessed a phenomenal rise in the communal consciousness based on both the majoritarian impulses and the minority feelings engendering Hindu fanaticism on the one end and Muslim fundamentalism on the other to the utter dismay of the secular and progressive sections of our polity. The latest assaults on the Christian community in the tribal areas of Orissa and Chhattisgarh on the part of the Hindu obscurantists provide a fresh idea of the magnitude of the threat on this score. The thumping victory of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the recent State Assembly polls in Gujarat is yet another ominous signal as the Modi Government’s fascist face has been unmasked time and again since the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in the State—a phenomenon that has triggered a backlash from the radical sections of the principal minority community heightening the scale of communal tension and animosity thereby endangering the secular fabric of our nationhood and the country’s democratic structure, both of which have enhanced our standing in the world at large.

The common people, especially those who strive in vain to eke out their existence, have lately been at the receiving end as the liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation (LPG) programme, outlined by the West in general and spelt out by the US-driven international financial institutions in particular, is sought to be implemented with crusading zeal by our indigenous vested interests. And this programme is manifesting itself in the current scenario through the special economic zone (SEZ) scheme; a strange conglomeration of Left, Right and Centrist political establishments are vying with each other to execute it without any consideration of its socio-economic consequences. Thus Nandigram in West Bengal, Jagatsinghpur in Orissa, Navi-Mumbai in Maharashtra, Dadri in UP present the same spectacle with Nandigram topping the list thanks to the fascist onslaught of the Marxist ruling party in the State in a brutal display of state power. Surely Karl Marx must be turning in his grave!

Yet what is remarkable is that our ordinary populace, representing the aam aadmi, are not meekly submitting to such offensives. A popular movement of resistance is gradually building up everywhere (and here too Nandigram is showing the path despite unforeseen adversities). This is where one discerns once again the strength and resilience of our democracy. For it is that attribute of our inheritance from the days of the freedom struggle which is inspiring our teeming millions to fight for their survival. No doubt the democratic environment does amplify Dalit assertion on one side and the Maoist upsurge on the other. However, the popular resistance to the neo-liberal onslaught is essentially being spearheaded by selfless activists wedded to mass political action. And it is this feature of the struggle that renews faith in our initiatives for national regeneration notwithstanding all our infirmities and drawbacks (reflected in the ubiquitous corruption as well as mounting criminalisation in every layer of society alongside the recent ill conceived attempts to circumscribe our independence and sovereignty at the behest of the overseas hyper power ever active in perpetuating its hegemony worldwide).

But more significantly, what is exemplified in this struggle is the abiding relevance of the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi the sixtieth anniversary of whose martyrdom we are about to observe next week (January 30). For it is the Gandhian tradition of non-violent mass mobilisation at the grassroots that is being carried forward by such a resistance movement in different corners of the country far away from the limelight. In the process a new chapter is being unfolded in the endeavour for overall transformation of the nation into a veritable ‘heaven of freedom’ as was envisaged by the Poet at the height of our battle for emancipation from alien rule. And this in turn is resulting in further enrichment of our democracy and Constitution. As we observe our fiftyninth Republic Day this week, the significance of this outstanding occurence cannot be overemphasised.

January 22 S.C.

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