Edged out of the Republic

Pass the baton to a new generation for whom liberty doesn’t mean the right to do wrong.


Prasanna Mohanty | February 4, 2010

Abraham Lincoln had the right idea but he wasn’t able to offer the complete recipe for the magic potion called democracy in creating a government for the people, by the people, of the people. Just the fond hope that somewhere, like the fleece and the grail, it existed. So, all these many years down the road in the world’s largest democracy you get the distinct feeling that it is more valid to paraphrase the Winston Churchill sentiment of never have so few got so much from so many for so damn little than see our adventure as a celebration of freedom.

For the most part, the pleasures of that liberty guaranteed by the constitution have not percolated to the average Indian. In fact, they have bypassed most of us and made us marginal spectators to the democratic process. The pillars of the privileged have captured the essence for themselves and work on the principle of an elitist pyramid with their exalted positioning making up the summit.

The bureaucracy, the politicians, the celebrities, the judiciary, the rich and the famous, even the mandarins of the media, all have their memberships in what is a genially reciprocal network of exclusive clubs that run the country and keep the great unwashed marooned at the gates.
Every now and then, in a collective surge of pious drama these good folks make captive one of their own — a delicate sacrifice freighted with the instinct of survival —  some well-known person, an errant top cop, a corrupt politician, a scandal ridden socialite, an inebriated scion, some embezzling captain of industry, a high profile star caught poaching in a forest, and much is made of bringing these people to book. Even Kasab the killer is given the benefit of our sparkling system. But not little Raju down the road who got picked up in a police round up and cannot call his family these past five days. Gee, we have it down pat. Then, in a swirl of self congratulations, democracy is patted on the head and put to bed with a warm cup of half cocoa and half sanctimony, see, what an equal nation we are, our system works for all. Till next time when there is need for a little bloodlust to be slaked.

And as these infrequent episodes in orchestrated cleansing play out for the public, the millions who form the silent Indian spectator wonder what it must be like to actually enjoy living in those bastions of free India where rights are actually coveted and exercised, cared for and protected.
Because, to be true, what has changed for them since Nehru spoke of this nation’s tryst with destiny and awoke midnight’s children to the dream?
Sometimes, you wonder if the Indian per se has just been colonised again, his master replaced not rejected, his liberty still chained.

What rights can actually count where people are rounded up and languish in jails for years without due process. On a whim. Where cases take years to serve out freezing cold justice that is bereft of meaning. Where the caste system rears its ugly head and is actually perpetuated through denial. Every minute of every day. What price the casual rape of women, the indifference to their education and the sexism that thrives, the absence of decent medical care, the wall of contempt that rises when the poor and the helpless seek the shelter of social justice, where religion is once again sharpened into a weapon, where even love is measured by dowry and the rights of these men, women and children lie crushed in the dirt with none to do them reverence? What is the democratic tenet for making human life so cheap and tawdry, for taking hope and deforming it into despair, what is it exactly that we celebrate on January 26 in a lopsided sovereignty when we have shut the door on most of us?

Since those of us who tango in delight at these anniversaries have had absolutely no role whatsoever in becoming a republic and have forgotten if we ever did learn what 200 years of servitude meant, I find it not only incongruous but mildly wasteful.

To my more dubious set of values I’d rather recall with much more sobriety the reasons or flaws in the national character that allowed the foreign yoke to take over in the first place. That way we can ensure how to lock the door so it won’t happen again.

All too often celebrations by proxy are gratuitous and serve as cosmetic surgery on the harsh realities that confront our tomorrows. We seek the knowledge of the past but we cannot keep living in it.

Perhaps my impatience has an intemperate side to it, one fed by the hypocrisy of it all. The ones who make the most noise and patronise the public with exhortations and shrill hurrahs are the very people who have corrupted the power and the glory, robbed the national till, torn the values that were handed down from generation to generation, soiled our togetherness, created divisiveness through religion and caste and creed, exploited the land and brought us to a pass far short of where we should have been.

I also cry for my beloved country and I also feel the warmth and affection of her earth, sense the power of her flowing rivers, the majesty of her mountains, the glory and the greatness that goes with being Indian.

Is it time that we put the past on hold and grasped the present so we can point it to a better future and settle down and channel our energies into repairing the damages caused by our collective neglect. If Nero fiddled while Rome burned we might be wreaking our own discordant havoc by living in blinkers.

We moved from 357 million people to over a billion in sixty odd years. Our public services and their servants became greedier and created an irreconcilable difference between the promise and the performance.

As our social values drooped we had a wonderful, incandescent upside. There were victories of survival against all odds, of showing a great resilience and of coming up tops, of individuals who wove the fabric of freedom and created a vibrant, diverse and dramatic pattern, of a country that did what the world said couldn’t be done, of sixty years in which the Indian per se showed his mettle and created his own infrastructures, his industry, his self reliance.

The global diaspora where Indians stepped out and established enviable bona fides is a saga in itself.

The arts, the sciences, literature, the armed forces, the awesome minds of our scientific fraternity, the power and the glory of the Indian survivor, the pride in our family unit, the sense of honour and duty and grace and dignity that may not only be Indian prerogatives but were forged in a powerful crucible and mark us for what we are. Our faith, our innate secularism, the meaning we gave to being neighbours when the mob was upon us, our music, our sport, our creativity and that across-the-land spirit of never say die. And never shall.
That I will celebrate. All of it. Every day. For it is the core of the legacy given to us by the true freedom fighters and it is what we have with which to create a new will and testament for our children.

But as the troops march down Rajpath and the music warms the soul on a cold and frosty morning, as the buntings splash colour and the aircraft rise in salute I will pray that the baton is passed to a new generation of Indians, a generation for whom freedom and liberty are not the right to do wrong but an opportunity to right those wrongs.



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