Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Independence Day of India – A Retrospection

Today, the nation is celebrating its sixty–fifth Independence Day. The day is marked by certain standard, taken-for-granted events – a national holiday, unfurling of the national flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi by the Prime Minister followed by his nationally televised speech in Hindi, our national language, before a gathering of ministers, members of parliament, diplomats and selected groups of school children; similar functions held in state capitals with unfurling of national flags followed by customary speeches by chief ministers as well as in all government offices, educational institutions and other organizations all across the country. All these rituals are mostly held in the forenoon so that traffic and all other related phenomena settle to a normal pace by noon. People celebrate the rest of the day just like any other public holiday. It will be worthwhile to retrospect and reflect on the changing significance of the day over the past sixty-four years.

Many of us living today must have been children or youth when India was declared to be independent on 15 August 1947, which was celebrated with such an upsurge of popular enthusiasm, exhilaration, and jubilation in villages and towns alike throughout the length and breadth of the country that its tinge lingers on with us even now, even though we didn’t quite grasp the political and national significance of the event then. The day began very solemnly and significantly with the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech at the stroke of the mid night hour on 14-15 August 1947 by the first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in the Central Hall of the Parliament in what was then the Constituent Assembly of India. He dwelt on the larger significance of the event in the context of the grandeur of India’s long march undertaken thousands of years ago in these terms, "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. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance… At the dawn of history, India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and grandeur of her success and failures. Through good and ill fortune alike, she has never lost sight of that quest, forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of misfortunes and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us…. The appointed day has come - the day appointed by destiny - and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about. It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!” On this occasion, he mentioned the trials and the tribulations gone through and sacrifices made by those who participated in the freedom struggle lest we forget them in the euphoric celebration that day, “Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now”. He, however, particularly highlighted the task and the responsibilities brought forth by the freedom to be accomplished by the present and future generations of Indians, in general, and their leaders, in particular in these words, “That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means, the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest men of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over”.

It was a magnificent speech made on the historic occasion when the genius of a vibrant nation with a rich past, which remained suppressed for almost two centuries, was coming into its own - a speech made by a person who had keen understanding of its past, who was in the forefront of the struggle to win that freedom and who was conscious that he was to play a leading role in realizing the post-freedom vision for India. Sixty-four years to the day after that speech was solemnly delivered, it will be of great interest to critically see and objectively evaluate how that vision unfolded over the decades. In the initial years after that momentous occasion, in the enthusiasm, fervor, momentum and dynamism of front ranking leaders of freedom movement, India made great strides in all round development - something which was not witnessed earlier. In spite of the persisting socio-economic problems, the mood of the masses was expectant and palpably upbeat. However, as the years and decades rolled on, the leaders of the freedom movement faded away, and the post-freedom fervor wore off, decline in various spheres of national life began to be visible. Degradation of politics and political morality, corruption in public life, social unrest and insurgency and persistence of poverty became rather obvious. These perversities did not seem to be imposed or imported from outside. Their seeds were there right from the beginning, they were rather systemic. That is why they grew systematically – becoming more and more strident with time, from one regime to another. It is this aspect of our freedom which we should coolly and objectively analyze on this occasion.

For this analysis, one has to go to the very basics of our freedom struggle and its objective. Before the advent of Gandhi in this struggle, the national movement spearheaded by the Indian National Congress (INC) was aimed at securing more representation of the Indians in the governance of India. There was also a section of INC which advocated for total freedom meaning thereby getting rid of the British people in Indian governance, leaving it to the indigenous people. When Gandhi came on the scene, he saw that the system of governance that the British had designed and operated in India was meant to exploit the resources of a colony and impoverish as well as degrade its people. So, initially he agitated against the system and its unjust laws, rather than against the British people as such. Later on, when he got convinced that the exploitation and consequent degradation of the people constitute the raison-d’être of the British people coming to and being in India, he called upon the British to quit India and leave it to its own destiny. The principle of non-violent passive resistance adopted by Gandhi for the freedom movement made the British succumb to grant India political freedom by transferring power vested in the British Parliament to India through Indian Independence Act, 1947. While this Act granted political freedom to India to frame its own Constitution, it provided for continuance of the then prevailing Govt. of Act, 1935 till the new Constitution was framed and enacted. Although mere political freedom was not the ultimate objective of our freedom struggle, it was a necessary step for securing the desired freedom and hence its grant was no doubt a momentous event for the nation. Nehru had acknowledged this fact in his speech by saying that the achievement being celebrated was “but a step, an opening of opportunity to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us”.

While framing the Constitution of India, a conspiracy of circumstances and factors resulted in a Constitution which declared the aspirations of the people for ‘a democratic sovereign republic’, securing justice liberty and equality to all its citizens but it paradoxically retained essentially the prevailing British colonial system for governance of a free nation in the Constitution. Machinations of the departing British colonial government in collusion with the vested interests of India and less than complete understanding and commitment of the first rank followers of Gandhi to his ideas and ideals resulted in this paradoxical flaw in the Constitution. Gandhi, who was saddened to the core by the partition of India and its aftermath, was a forlorn person while the exercise of framing the Constitution was going on in the Constituent Assembly. His ideas for governance of a free India, which he espoused throughout his leadership of the freedom struggle on the basis of which he inspired millions to join it and make sacrifices were subsequently murdered in the Constituent Assembly by adopting such a seriously flawed Constitution in the name of “we, the people of India” on 26 Nov. 1949, less than two years after he was physically murdered. While giving his Tryst with Destiny speech in the Constituent Assembly, Nehru was perhaps intuitively aware of the deficiency of the followers of the Mahatma in fully comprehending his visionary message when he paid his tributes to his Master in these words, “On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility”.

Now that the nation has seen and experienced the various misfortunes that have befallen it and the various ills that have afflicted it over these six decades of its journey as a republic - something that were beyond the imagination of Nehru when he was inspired to make that speech and something that was apprehended by Gandhi in the event of his essential preaching for governance of free India for which he pleaded virtually till the last day of his life being ignored by his very front rank followers - it is high time for us, the present generation of the citizens of the Indian republic, to revisit Gandhi’s message for governance of free India. Change of the system of governance, as advocated by Gandhi from day one of India’s struggle for freedom under his inspiring leadership till his last day and as is truly befitting a democratic sovereign nation, is the crying need of the hour. This is all the more urgent now when the nation is in upheaval on issues like rampant corruption, crushing poverty of the masses, insurgency and terrorism and there is a danger that it may take recourse to a shortsighted short-cut to get out of its present difficulties to be frustrated again later on, like what happened more than three decades ago when it massively responded to JP’s call for ‘change of the system’ but was short changed for merely ‘a change of the government’.

Realization of the eternal and eminent relevance of the Mahatma’s message and making a solemn commitment to implement his prescription for governance of free India by amending the historical error committed during the framing of a new constitution for a nation waking after a long slumber will be a fitting tribute to the architect of India’s independence and an apt celebration of its independence day. Thus, we shall materialize the vision for a free India unfolded on this very day sixty four years ago when India’s first ‘tryst with destiny’ was accomplished. Our second ‘tryst with destiny’ is still to be redeemed.

Patna, India
15 August 2011