A time of despair, and soul-searching
The nation is sailing through very turbulent times. The ship rocks wildly these days, so much so that one may worry of a real danger of sinking in the treacherous waters into which we have entered. We have been sailing in this forbidden direction for a long time, a deliberate turn in which, like it or not, we all have had a hand even though it is one regime that has led us perilously straight into stormy seas. More storms can be seen on the horizon. Many who signed up on this project may now be heard lamenting, and saying we did not know this is what it meant. Given where we are, this is one tryst too much to bear. It has split the nation, alienated people and broken what makes us one in our hearts and minds. In short, a land hollowed out and drained of its vitality and the life force that binds us as one India.
The current times represent an internal act of disrobing that leaves us stark naked – robbed of the wealth of intangibles, the high ground that has been the makeup of the Indian values and ethos for times immemorial.
We are a nation of believers, with an idea of destiny as an important part of our make-up. Is it then destined for India to be one more nation that tried and failed, again and again, a demonic hand sending us to the bottom of the heap and leaving us to mourn our fate rather than take charge and lead?
Was it destined for us, one may wonder, to suffer as we do today, torn asunder by strains, strife and divisions forced on every part, segment and bit of India? Or is it that the stories of India (the world’s largest democracy, a constitution that respects all religions and people who open doors to all ideas and imaginations) were crafted carefully to sell us ideas that we appear not to care much about, let alone comprehend, buy and defend?
For surely there should be something deeper into the makeup that India has reached a low so soon, sliding so fast into terrain that many might not have imagined they would get to see in their lifetimes. The current times represent an internal act of disrobing that leaves us stark naked – robbed of the wealth of intangibles, the high ground that has been the makeup of the Indian values and ethos for times immemorial. We never thought our own government could do this to India – the nation’s legacy, heritage and vitality trifled with in the manner it is today. It was the British, we thought, who divided us and plundered us.
The nation must prepare anew for times of struggle, to rewrite and rework and revisit a lot of what we thought was a part of us and our ways of living and growing.
“Even as we look on,” a loyal Englishman, H M Hyndman once said, “India is becoming feebler and feebler. The very lifeblood of the great multitude under our rule is slowly, yet ever faster ebbing away.” Quoting this in his book ‘The Case for India’, the historian Will Durant wrote: “Any man who sees this crime, and does not speak out, is a coward. Any Englishman or an American, seeing it and not revolted by it, does not deserve his country or his name.” We could replace that with Indian today. The irony is lost on the BJP, which has on its website a scanned copy of the 1930 version of the book and the quote, highlighted with three vertical lines! The party of course likes to say that India was a great nation once. And they are doing everything for us to offer the contrast to it today – the past will look even more glorious if 75 years after Independence, we continue to surpass the guile of the invaders.
All of this strikes several notes of despair, given that there is hardly an institution that is robust enough to stand up and defend the nation from this relentless and wild assault.
There has to be soul searching to find the road ahead, if the nation is not to tumble from crisis to another. How is it that a Constitution that is now with us for 70 years, a document that “has been hailed as a prescient model of multicultural accommodation, ahead of its times in instituting the cultural rights of minorities and affirmative action for historically disadvantaged groups within a broadly liberal-democratic framework” (to quote a more nuanced analysis by Rochana Bajpai in the book ‘Multiculturalism in India: An Exception?’), has not stood the test of the times?
While we bemoan economic collapses, this is the real collapse that we have been happy to live with – a nation that offers protections but lives up to none of it, a nation that celebrates Mahatma Gandhi as the father of the nation but has violence embedded in every bit of its rule and administration.
Of course, the Constitution is not a lifeless document. It is lived every day and while we experience the signs of a collapse, we must ask if this is one big blow that is bringing it down or have allowed it to be hit again and again, a million blows through our Independent history rendering it so feeble that it can no more stand up. While we bemoan economic collapses, this is the real collapse that we have been happy to live with – a nation that offers protections but lives up to none of it, a nation that celebrates Mahatma Gandhi as the father of the nation but has violence embedded in every bit of its rule and administration.
Of course, none of this takes away from the leaders who have brought us here. Dr. Rajendra Prasad had said it then: “If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best of even a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country.” (President of the Constituent Assembly Dr. Rajendra Prasad, concluding speech, on 26 Nov. 1949).
Since the worst fears of the framers of the Constitution have come true, this is a defining moment in the journey of India. Whichever way the events play out, India will not be the same again. The nation must prepare anew for times of struggle, to rewrite and rework and revisit a lot of what we thought was a part of us and our ways of living and growing.
(Jagdish Rattanani is a journalist and faculty member at Bhavan’s SPJIMR. Views are personal)