Do not let the idea of India die
As Dickens would put it, these are the best of times and worst of times for India.
As the giant of a colorful democracy marks its 65 years as a constitutional republic, there is a great deal to celebrate.
It also faces formidable and existential challenges.
The country can rightly look back on its eventful journey of the past 67 years as a nation and huge strides it has taken in the shortest possible time with immense pride and satisfaction.
Few countries can claim to have grown at such a frenetic pace in the face of such overwhelming odds without surrendering the independence of spirit and social and moral equilibrium.
Given the humble beginnings of the journey in 1947 and the tough path of self-reliance that it chose under Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, we have certainly come far and have managed to accomplish has been nothing short of a miracle.
Today, India is not just one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a massive pool of talent and resources, it has established its presence in every sphere, from infrastructure to education to advances in science and technology.
But more than the progress in economic terms, if there is one single most important feat of which Indians can be truly proud of, it is their democracy.
The boisterous and unwieldy Indian democracy is nothing short of a living miracle given its size and the myriad adversities it faces in poverty, illiteracy and social and economic inequalities.
Yet Indians have never given up on their country or about a better tomorrow.
Many of them can’t read and are disillusioned with their representatives and parties.
But they have never give up on democracy and the power of their vote to deliver change.
Even during the most trying times in the nation’s history, like when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency, ordinary Indians — or the common man, in Arvind Kejriwal’s language — never gave up.
So if India has had such a spectacular and steady journey as a democracy, something that is rightly a source of envy to many of its neighbors, credit goes to the ordinary Indian.
In a neighborhood plagued by instability and uncertainty, India remains a comforting oasis of peace and security.
However, as the country marks another proud landmark as a constitutional democracy today, it stares at never-before-confronted challenges. Uncertainty shrouds the nation’s future.
Dark clouds gather over the horizon. In the words of Yeats: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The 2014 Republic Day is being celebrated at time when epic, groundbreaking changes are at the doorstep. India is on the cusp of change-and certainly not for the better.
Change of governments and leadership is a matter of course and a healthy routine in a healthy democracy. Why should then one be troubled about the change of guard in Delhi? Especially when the one demitting the office is as inspiring as this one.
The latest opinion poll by CNN-IBN and Lokniti promises the BJP an electoral windfall in the excess of 200-220 seats — its best performance yet.
Not surprisingly, the Congress is in for the most memorable drubbing in its history.
But you do not need pollsters and pundits to tell you how totally discredited and unpopular this government is.
The UPA coalition is on its deathbed and Dr. Manmohan Singh is ready to act as its undertaker.
Which is a pity considering what India has achieved under the UPA in the last ten years.
It has managed to lift nearly 200 million people out of poverty, added to the purchasing power of middle classes and brought things that were considered inaccessible within the reach of ordinary people.
The Right to Information, rural employment schemes, farmers’ welfare schemes, right to education and the recently acquired right to food and anti-graft law Lokpal are measures any government could truly proud of.
While the failure to market these achievements effectively may be a critical factor, it is the series of corruption scams surfacing over the past couple of years and the uninspiring, uncommunicative leadership that really cooked the Congress’ goose.
While Singh can be forgiven for not being a typical politician and people’s person, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi did not help with their equally remote and distant leadership style, leaving the party rudderless and creating a vast leadership vacuum at the top.
If the sudden burst of energy and proactive leadership that Rahul has lately been displaying had come a bit earlier, the party wouldn’t be in the mess it is in today. Less than three months before the polls, it’s too little too late.
If India’s young voters — and majority of them are young — identify with a divisive figure like Modi who is in his 60s, rather than with someone who is 20 years junior to him and definitely more reasonable and youthful, there is something seriously wrong with the Congress. It takes extraordinary talent to be this unpopular despite inheriting a rich political legacy and world’s largest political party.
If India is pining for someone who is seen the world over as a mass murderer and a symbol of the worst forms of fascism and religious bigotry, the Congress is squarely to blame and history will never forgive the party for it.
It is its corruption and its betrayal of people’s trust that is driving the voters into the arms of a party that has a long history of promoting religious strife and violence. It views vast sections of the nation — its religious minorities and oppressed groups — as second class citizens. The Muslims, a 200-million strong community, in its view doesn’t belong in India.
What would be the country’s future under such a divisive party and leadership? This is not an academic question and not something that only concerns Muslims and other minorities. A complex country of a billion people with myriad identities cannot afford the tyranny of one man and a divisive ideology that militates against everything that the Constitution celebrates and stands for — tolerance, freedom and equality.
What is most disturbing about the whole business is the total indifference and apathy of the so-called secular political parties.
While the Congress is in a coma-like state, there is no attempt by others to check the onward march of fascism.
Twenty years ago when the BJP looked to take power in Delhi under Atal Behari Vajpayee’s leadership, a plethora of parties including the Left had rallied together to stop him. And compared to what is on offer now, Vajpayee now looks as benign as Santa Claus.
While the Left remains marginalized, people like Nitesh Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and others who had the potential to check the onward march of fascism are content in their own cloisters.
Mulayam has committed virtual political hara-kiri with his recent antics.
Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party seems to offer a tiny ray of hope amid this doom and gloom.
But it is too young and green and is yet to find its feet. It is largely confined to Delhi and other urban centers.
Besides, it doesn’t have an organizational structure on the ground to take on the challenge.
So in all probability India appears all but headed for a Modi prime ministership — something that was discounted by pundits until last year.
But it was feared all along as a real possibility by minorities and civil society activists.
As India celebrates the 65th Republic Day, there is little to celebrate.
The very constitution that the Republic Day celebrates and which promises freedom, dignity, equality and security to all its citizens is under siege.
It would be a great tragedy if all that this great nation has achieved over the past 67 years as a democracy and as a society that remains a source of inspiration to the world is squandered.
Do not let Gandhi’s dream die.
Do not let the enemies of Idea of India succeed.
- Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based writer and Editor of CaravanDaily.com
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