Some Thoughts on the Eve of India's Independence Day

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I am greatly beholden to PM, so is this nation of 'ek sau pacchees krore deshwasi', for inviting suggestions for his Independence Day speech. It's a privilege no other PM ever accorded us. They spoke their 'mann ki baat' at all times, only Mr. Modi uses such national moments to elicit 'jan ki baat'. This emboldens me to open up my heart in this short piece. Though he will receive millions of suggestions which may even include the ones I make here, still I dare to go ahead, if for nothing, then for the edification of my soul.

We are now a 'free' nation with freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom to pursue any occupation anywhere, and with many fundamental rights including the one recently recognized: right to privacy, 'freely' granted. But some organisations and influential men within PM's influence think only right, but not rightly.

In this hallowed land of 'sants' and 'sufis', flourish organisations like Hindu Yuva Sena, Sanatan Sanstha, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti avowedly intolerant towards any version of Hinduism and Hindu way of life other than their own. Their followers are suspected of eliminating radical thinkers like Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare who dared to be critical of their belief. There are others that brainwash and radicalise our Muslim youths for participating in Islamic wars elsewhere. With such niggles in national sinews, its citizen cannot avail of free practice of faith. A huge opportunity lies before the PM to do a Nehru on what Nehru did 69 years ago when he banned RSS till it gave an undertaking of good conduct. Please do the same.

And there are men, all within the PM's influence, who 'freely' and publicly fulminate against Muslims touching a cow, or who pontificate that as long as people eat beef, cow related lynching will continue to happen.

I see two fetters to freedom in this. Is the occupation of cattle rearing and dairying being denied to Muslims? Secondly, is the country's law and order and justice apparatus to be commandeered by mobs to dispense instant justice in kangaroo courts in suspected 'cow' crimes? Aren't victims being denied the right to trial by a 'free' court? Surely, these 'learned' dignitaries from PM's stable don't mean all this, then why say it? They deserve the PM's public rebuke on this momentous day. That would keep brewing xenophobia in rein and sound so reassuring, particularly, to our minorities.

Then there is this little matter of freedom from want. The dystopia of recurrent famines that killed millions under British Raj is no longer with us. But a little less than a third of our people are still impoverished, going to sleep hungry for one meal a day is all they can afford. A distressing number of our children are malnourished and stunted. Many are vagrant, homeless and subject to multiple abuses including sexual abuse. Even among the ten million or more able-bodied, literate young men and women who enter the job market annually, few find settled employment in organised sector, the rest have skills that render them unemployable and are therefore compelled to eke out a living selling pakodas or running betel shops or in extreme cases enter the maelstrom of crime. Surely the nation has failed them secure even basic wants.

Should we then be borrowing to put elites on bullet trains or borrowing for purposes that eventually puts food in gnawing bellies and jobs in empty pockets? Or should tax monies go into building world's tallest statues on land and sea? Building these symbols of national hubris on empty bellies of citizen is a cruel expression of vanity. We are not even at the stage where the rich western economies were fifty years earlier. Their citizens had won the battle for basic wants long-long ago. Yet many still do not have bullet trains and their monuments too are still small.

We need to introspect, deep and wide. Has the economy been freeing more people from basic wants by yielding more jobs than that lost? Is it distributing its income more widely? On both counts, the lessons from operation of market economies like ours are no longer hidden. It only exacerbates income inequalities. For a country in lower middle-income category, it implies mounting numbers of empty bellies and more millionaires and billionaires. Latest statistics bear it out - 'crowding' in the millionaires' club and further down sliding in rank in the world hunger index.

We need a different development paradigm, the traditional belief of trickle down of national income through GDP growth is busted. Development needs new moorings. And how to go about it should be uppermost in our national consciousness. Resolving to secure not ease of doing business but ease of eliminating basic human wants should be the national flavour this Independence Day.

I may sound morbid but freedom from fear and want, and freedom to avail constitutional rights is a sine qua non of a maturative democracy. A citizen in dread or one agonising with hunger isn't 'free' in any sense of the word.

I repeat, I may sound alarmist but it would have served a noble cause if it prompts a quick rethink. And it is always good to err on the side of caution.


A R Mishra, Patrakar Nagar, Patna

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