Some 63 years from now, at the midnight hour of 15th of August, 1947, when the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declared India to be independent and thus announced the ‘tryst with destiny’ of this young nation which had with it dreams and aspirations of not only its then 350 million citizens but also the watchful and anxious eyes of billions of people around the world.
Some looked at this young nation with admiration. A nation who had the courage to challenge the imperialistic British rule with nothing but the sheer strength of sole and that strength was the Ahimsa of Mahatma Gandhi. Ahimsa which forced the grand British Empire whose ‘sun never used to set’ to submit before the resolve of Indian people to create for themselves their own destiny and to show the world an alternative path to peace and prosperity. While some looked at it with admiration, there were others who were apprehensive of the extent to which this young nation will have its tryst with destiny.
Now, 63 years later, we can say that the nation has traversed an arduous and challenging path from its infancy to manhood. Its tryst with destiny has taken it through Nehruvian Socialism and non-aligned movement, Indira Gandhi’s green revolution, Rajiv Gandhi’s IT, telecom revolution and Manmohan Singh’s liberalization, besides having to endure four wars and a brief period of emergency rule and not to mention host of other problems like terrorism, Kashmir, Punjab, Bhopal etc.
For a nation that is just 63 year-old the experiences that the destiny has put it through are very vivid and trying. Nevertheless, a nation of now almost 1.25 billion has shown brilliant resilience, steadfastness and innovativeness to carve out a niche for itself and earn respect of its peers and those who are already a success story. After all who can boast of almost 6-8% percent continuous growth rate even in the time of recession? With the number of companies making to the list of fortune five hundred and acquisitions and mergers by our companies overseas increasing steadily year by year, it seems that we have initiated a trend of role reversal and are all set to colonize the West. Who could have imagined 20 years from now to see our metropolitan cities to metamorphose into bustling megapolis with a network of expressways and foreign brand luxury cars cruising down it at neck breaking speeds, hosts of luxury hotels providing you with all kinds of services money can buy glitzy shopping malls and multiplexes. Certainly a perfect case of India catching up with developed world.
But, while cruising at high speeds down the expressways in our swanky ‘phoren’ (as pronuced by Indian neo-rich) made cars we get so much carried away by the power and comfort of these fine marvels of engineering and symbols of wealth that we totally fail to notice the real world outside the air-conditioned environment of our saloon. If sometimes we do care to cast a glance outside our make believe world, it is to appreciate other person’s ‘symbol’ of wealth and to compare it to ours or to appreciate the beauty of damsel walking by. But, if we care to be not so selective and discriminating while surveying the surroundings, then we cannot help noticing small fragile figures wrapped in rags with a begging bowl in their hands and many other similar creatures though, not as miserable but, not much better off either, walking around the streets. I believe this is the aam-janta (common man) of India about whose well being our netas (politicians) throughout the political spectrum show so much concern.
Aam-aadmi in India earns a less than a $1.25 a day and constitutes about 45% of the staggering Indian population of 1.25 billion!! Most of the poor up to 75% come from rural areas and consisted of daily wagers, self-employed householders and landless labourers. This means that a third of the global poor now reside in India. From Kashi to Mathura, Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Ahmadabad to Itanagar, this unfortunate soul can be found on every traffic crossing and at every nook and corner of the street struggling hard to earn his next day’s meal. Despite the declaration of various scheme by our concern 'netas’ to help this common man there is very little hope for him to get even bare subsistence to maintain a life of dignity. Similarly, the big claims of high GPD growth by our 'revered' economists inspired by the western mind set sounds like ‘Latin and Greek’ to the common man as it has not delivered him anything so far. In fact, this poor man has become the casualty of the economic growth story so idolized by the present day economists.
There is no reason for the people of the middle class as well to be rosy-eyed about the report card of the nation presented before us by our so-called esteemed economists juggling and manipulating figures. Except for a few exceptions of success stories there are no sincere and honest means through which we can hope to improve our lot or climb up the ladder of social hierarchy. With the cost of everything including daily provisions skyrocketing, thanks to new form of legalized gambling – forward trading, and middlemen or, so called dallas (broker) of the food market working in collusion to create an artificial staggering gap of prices between the farmer and the consumer and thus pocketing the difference, we have little hope of going beyond from merely arranging resources to meet our daily basic needs.
With education shops popping up like mushrooms all over the country and cost of education becoming agonizingly costly, I think we are being gradually denied even our basic constitutional right to quality education in a subtle manner. In the nutshell, a new kind of caste system has replaced the old caste system and this caste divide is equally sacrosanct like the previous one with just one exception. Earlier people of only higher castes used to enjoy the special privileges including education, now this privilege is open to everyone who has perfected himself in the art of making money by whatsoever means. And as with practice you become more perfect and with God’s grace are able to amass wealth beyond certain point, then behold, you are above the law as well!! I don’t think one needs a proof to corroborate my statement as we are all witness to this phenomena occurring daily before our very eyes in one or the other form. And don’t even dare to approach the judiciary over this matter as by the time you get justice, if you get it at all, you may be long gone and your children would be bearing the burden of clearing the debt you had incurred by this brave 'misadventure' of yours. Unless you are lucky enough and catch the attention of the media.
To add an insult to injury the government from time to time has been announcing a hike in the salaries of the already overstaffed bureaucracy. Ironically, they get the taxpayers' hard earned money precisely to make the life difficult for him. This is not an overstatement born out of personal bitter experiences, though there is an element of truth in it, but I think it is an open fact to which most of us will agree. We cannot ignore the heart bleeding stories of widows or parents of fallen soldiers doing infinite trips of the concerned government departments literally begging before the callous babus (clerks) to give them what should be theirs at the first place. The media is full of such stories. So much for the respect of those who put their lives on line to defend the sovereignty and integrity of our great nation so that we could have peaceful sleep.
Unfortunately, like in the real life of most of us, our great nation, during the course of its progress from an underdeveloped country to a corporate giant has totally lost its soul. A soul that Mahatma Gandhi, father of our nation, had with extreme care and compassion nurtured was destroyed over the course of time. The values of Satya, Ahimsa and Paropkaar (truth, nonviolence and charity) have been completely annihilated in the name of expediency, quick-gain and self serving value system. The eyes of a common man that looked with glitter and enthusiasm when at the midnight hour of 15th of August, 1947, our first Prime Minister delivered his speech announcing the birth of a nation and promising each citizen of this country a life of dignity, prosperity and opportunity to fulfill his dreams, have now become stony with anticipation. He has become tired of listening to promises after promises yielding no results. Maybe he has stopped believing in all this cock and bull stories and maybe he is now getting restless. The manifestation of this can be very appropriately seen in the increase in naxalite insurgencies in four states and turmoil in the North-East and even in Kashmir.
I feel, this 15th of August, instead of celebrating it with great pomp and show and exhibiting our own manufactured achievements, we should take time off to sit and reflect and try to find out what went wrong during the course of our development that pushed us astray of our intended path and brought the situation to such a pass. Unless we do this with an open mind and with sincerest of intentions to find out the truth and try to look within critically without any kind of prejudices we are not going to come upon any substantial conclusion and this unfortunately will not take us far no matter how optimistic or rosy-eyed we may prefer to become.
Unfortunately, despite our big claims and our insistence to remain in fool's paradise, I feel our nation is sitting on a powder keg. And unless we realize the gravity of the situation and resolve to take concrete steps to solve here and now and not diffuse it, only then can we hope to emerge as a successful nation our forefathers and those who had fought hard for its independence had dreamt about. The greatness of a person and a nation alike can be gauged at the time of crises. Hopefully, our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh stands up to the moment of truth and does something about it immediately before it is too late. Nothing will pain me more than to see our esteemed PM playing the role of last Mughal Emperor, Bahadurshah Zafar whose writ never used to function beyond Lal Quila (Red Fort). Or, even more sadly, enacting the role of Mikhail Gorbachev before the disintegration of Soviet Union. I hope better sense will prevail upon everybody, politicians and citizens alike and help us in taking correct decisions leading us to light from the darkness of ignorance.
Vladimir Kaushik, India
Freelance Journalist &
Head of Millennium Press